16 October, 2008

Bray minor footballers produced a whirlwind start  which saw them through in the Wicklow final against a very well coached Blessington side on a scoreline of 2-6 to 1-6, thus completing a great double with the hurlers who had already won the County Championship.

The victory completed a magic trip by this squad who have won all the championships from U-10 (North),  U-12,U-14, U-16 and U-18 on Sunday. What makes the feat special is the team also won  the All Ireland Feile in Tyrone four years ago, which gives them an unique place in the history of Wicklow football.

The group came together in  1999 as eight and nine year olds and it was as much this long and enduring camaraderie and friendship which won out at Aughrim on Sunday as any  great  play on the day. Having had a  dream start in which they were 2-4 to 0-1 up after 16 minutes, Bray then missed a series of chances  with the light wind in their back and by giving away a penalty and two pick-up frees late on, opened the door for Blessington to  resurrect themselves on the changeover.

The West boys  stormed  into contention with four unanswered points in the second half which left just the minimum between the contenders as they headed down the final straight.It was then that the Bray lads rallied each other and the fact that they didn't let the ball pass the half way line for the last five minutes was testament to the blood and guts approach which said: "We will not be beaten.".
With Man of the match David 'Gigo' Haughton scything through the defence with strength and pace and Jordan Egan dominating midfield, it provided the platform for big John Breslin to race through and score a brilliant point which lifted the siege.

With time almost up, Gearoid O Murchu won a wonderful free with sheer persistence which refused to  allow  Blessington comfort on the ball and Paul Cunningham slotted over the free to signal  a cherished victory.Bray though know only too well that it was that first quarter when they played  a perfect game of intense football which closed down Blessington at every turn which won the day. That and the tactic of finding  both Cunningham and Breslin with long balls  had the losers in all sorts of trouble from which they never fully recovered.
Two frees from Cunningham and then an exquisite pass from him to Gigo saw the centre-forward draw first blood with a goal at the second attempt. Moments later the marauding Egan cut through the defence for the umpteenth time and his handpass left Cunningham in the clear to slot home Bray's second strike.

The placing of Egan - the best minor midfielder in the county - at right half forward was a master stroke by the Bray bench as most of the damage came from the fact that he lorded it in the air and then had the pace to cut ribbons through the Blessington defence.
Mark Nolan was magnificent until shipping an accidental high tackle and Aco Keating's industry directly led to the first goal.
With ten minutes to go to half-time, Bray's sprint from the blocks began to sag and they plainly had not the fitness to go all the way with the intense game set out for them.

This saw Blessington come storming back and  it was then that the Bray management had to thank their backs for the amount of covering and harassing they put their bodies through in the cause of the Bray jersey.
Sean Byrne was magnificent at fullback, pitted against no less an opponent than Dean Siney, who had scored 3-6 in the semi-final against Luke O'Tooles. Byrne's performance of strength, speed and pure skill kept a tight rein on Blessington's talisman and when he won one particular head to head duel midway through the second half which saw the  forward having to foul him, it was a seminal moment in the game's many turnings.

Eoghan Wogan was another hero. What's new? He not just won ball deep in Bray territory but had the presence of mind to travel with it until he could give  a telling pass. The two Murphys - Cailean and Aaran  were again magnificent  and Adam Benson fought a chest infection to give his all and in the end two of his ball from defence carried a lot of weight further up field. Captain Conor Power held the high ground against an array of opponents and under his leadership, Bray didn't know the meaning of the word lose.
Conor Thomas had been this team's goalie for six years but played outfield in the first half because  of his outstanding catching ability. 

This gave Stephen Carton his chance between the sticks and when he got injured making a brilliant save just before half-time which affected his vision, Bray were lucky to have Thomas to revert to the No 1 position.  And he produced one great save at a crucial time to keep out a certain goal.

In the forwards, Gigo's performance on no less an opponent than Ronan Doyle was magnificent as he kept his  team going forward and ended up with 1-1 to his name. When Gigo gets that look in his eye, other teams should watch out. And he had it yesterday. So too had Egan who  missed the semi-final win over St Pats. Now here was a man who played two games rolled into one for Bray on Sunday and with a little luck, his runs could have yielded a goal or two to his personal account. O Murchu worked and foraged in a role unfamiliar to him to allow the long ball into the deadly duo of Cunningham and Breslin. The front two are hard to mark and in fairness Blessington had two great players on them - Paul McLoughlin and Niall Keogh - who fought for every ball as if their lives depended on it.
In the end though, the Bray lads held sway and had their enormous commitment to the cause rewarded.

Bray were forced to lline out without two first team stalwarts - the  dashing Fergal Devlin in defence who broke three ribs playing rugby and the high fielding Ronan Cunningham in attack, who dislocated his shoulder in training. On the day  the Emmets were lucky to have Sean Prendergast to come in, for he saw a lot of ball and was unlucky not to get at least two or three scores. With Aaran Murphy injured, Devlin showed great bravery in going on and playing brilliantly, carrying a series of attacks to the Blessington team from deep. Robin O'Sullivan strength and coolness on the ball was vital in those final ten minutes when he won and kept possession to great effect as a third midfielder.

The Bray Management of PJ Cunningham, Pat Wogan and Frank Devlin would like to thank the subs which weren't used, Dylan Kavanagh, Chris O'Connor, Niall McCague, James Talbot, Ross Murphy (Injured), Ronan Cunningham (Injured) for the way they supported the team right through. And they would also like to thank Darragh Scully for his expert input from outside and that of John Henderson, Liam McGraynor and Dave Barry for their commitment from within the club to ensuring the Bray minors ended up as champions. As Peter Keogh said afterwards - Double champs,because earlier this summer, the hurlers won their minort championships.
BRAY EMMETS - S Carton; C Murphy, S Byrne, E Wogan; A Murphy, A Benson, C Power (Capt); A Keating, M Nolan; J Egan, D Haughton (1-1), G O Murchu; P Cunningham (1-4, 0-3 f), J Breslin (0-1),  C Thomas. Subs S Prendergast for S Cartopn (inj). F Devlin for A Murphy, R O'Sullivan for M Nolan.