Castleknock make history against Fingallians to take Dublin Intermediate Football Crown

Castleknock 1-10 Fingallians 1-7

By Stephen O’Meara; author of two soon to be released books “Understanding Gaelic Football; A Technical Guide” and “Why are There no black Players on the Dublin Football team? And other G.A.A. questions.” @somearagaa

In one of my upcoming books I’ve posed the question “Do Mayo bottle in Finals”? Losing seven out of seven in relatively recent history, consensus has grown that that the only perceivable explanation is that they bottle in finals. There’s a lot of forensic and statistical analysis to prove the point, but the heel of the hunt is that in at least six of those finals, they were simply beaten by better sides. 

With three final losses in a row for Fingallians, it would be easy to start bandying around forensically deficient arguments relating to bottle. Forget about it! Sides who come from seven and eight points behind, as Fingallians have done in this year’s championship, and sides who enter injury time trailing twice and level once, yet still come through, don’t have bottle issues. The simple fact is, that just like Mayo, in at least two of these three finals, they’ve simply been beaten by a better side.

The direction which Cuala have gone, comfortably maintaining senior status and finishing this season second or third in Division 2, clearly indicates that they should have been expected to beat Fingallians two years ago. And while you could argue about the respective quality of St. Olaf’s and Fingallians, as Castleknock continue their rise to the top table in Dublin football, there’s little doubt that in the future we’ll be able to look back and say the same thing as we can about Cuala. Quite likely to end up in the top five of Division 2 this season, they could well be a Division 1 league side next season. Sunday’s result had nothing to do with bottle. It quite simply was that the side with the best players won. 

For all of that, with just over ten minutes remaining, with the Swords men having come back to within two points, a long ball was sent into an isolated Paul Flynn. Having looked almost dead in the water at half time, the sense of expectancy from the Swords crowd was palpable. As would be the case on three occasions late on, however, Castleknock’s full back, Graham Hannigan, was up to the task of winning, or at least stopping Flynn from winning the ball.

All things considered, the dynamics of the game ran largely as I had foreseen. And considering the fact that Fins would score a total of 1-7, it’s fair to say that the damage was done in the opening quarter when Castleknock would score 1-6 to Fingallians’ 1-2. As I’d expected, Castleknock’s two wing forwards were at the crux of this early period of dominance with 1-4 of this 1-6 either scored or set up by number 10, Kevin Kindlon, or number 12, GrassRootsGAA Star Man, Shane Boland! 

Their first, in the second minute, was sent in by Boland, won by Colin Lynch at corner forward and handed off to the unmarked Kindlon who kicked over.Things, however, would swing Fingallians’ way before Castleknock’s opening quarter onslaught. Firstly, the man in the middle saw Donal Farrell being man handled off the ball, well ahead of the play and awarded a free which Mark Gibson converted from 25 odd yards. They might have followed that with a goal but Paul Flynn, who took on his man, shot wide.

Then in the seventh minute, a combination of fortune and opportunism saw Fingallians grab what they would have hoped would be a key goal. On the back foot as defenders approached, David Killeen tried to get a shot off from 30 odd yards. A combination of a less than perfect strike and significant wind saw the ball hang in front of the square. Flynn, to his credit, reacted first and got in behind his man, and fisted the ball mid-air past the advancing keeper, Cian O’Hara, into the net.

Despite the wind being literally in their faces, metaphorically, they appeared to have it in their sails. Almost immediately, however, they were brought back down to earth with a bang. A well worked move from the back, once again, found itself in Boland’s hands and he swung a peach of a cross field ball into the path of the, yet again, unmarked Kindlon. In behind the defence, Kindlon made no mistake in slotting past Kelleher in the Fingallians goals. 1-1 apiece.

This goal would mark the beginning of the onslaught as Castleknock would put up what would turn out to be an irreparable 1-4 in eight minutes. In the tenth minute, a superb tackle by Paul Flynn on Jamie Tunney fell into the hands of Matt Griffin who had it kicked over from distance before the Fins defence could react. Two minutes later Boland threaded another ball through to centre forward, Dessie Carlos, who was needlessly, if marginally, fouled 30 odd yards from goal.

He converted the free himself. Midfielder, Stephen Lynch (who I’d confused with Jamie Tunney in the preview, incidentally) won the ensuing kick out before playing the ball to Kindlon who kicked over to leave himself with an impressive tally of 1-2 after a mere 12 minutes. And before 15 minutes had elapsed, centre back, Tom Quinn, had kicked an impressive “45” over the bar to give Castleknock a 1-6 to 1-2 lead.
The game would lull for a period as both sides would have trouble reaching their full forward line with the ball. With Castleknock operating three in the middle, Jamie Tunney, Dave McConn and Stephen Lynch, Fingallians’ corner back, David Fagan, would generally be left to protect the full back line. This made for some difficulty for both sides in reaching their respective full forward lines with fluid moves. Paul Flynn’s impressive 17th minute point would be the only attempt at the posts which Fingallians would have between the seventh and 22nd minute.

Apart from having a significant wind in their faces, they faced a predictable problem. With Paul Flynn punctuating his role at full forward with roaming around his own half back line/midfield and with the super fit Ciarán McLoughlin at number 12 having to come deeper to receive the ball, there simply wasn’t the pace in the half forward line to penetrate. With Danny Campion, Donal Keane and McLoughlin to the fore, Fins were weaving their way out of the half back line well, but the gulf between there and the full forward line was generally insurmountable.

On the few occasions where they did successfully carry the ball past the Castleknock “65”, target man, Donal Farrell, was being stifled by a superb man marking performance by Colm Neville. Hannigan was sticking to Flynn like glue, no matter where he went, and on the few occasions where Flynn was hit with the ball in the full forward line, Castleknock efficiently got numbers around him.

At the other end, despite Castleknock having the lion’s share of the ball, crucially, Danny Campion at centre back was stifling Dessie Carlos’ impact on the game and the Fingallians full back line duo of Donal Clarke and Niall Fagan, as ever, were giving stellar man marking performances. The one exception to this came in an unlikely fashion as Colin Lynch superbly managed to gain possession of a high ball, two against one, in the 28th minute, before being fouled 25 odd yards from goal. Carlos slotted the ensuing free to put Castleknock 1-7 to 1-2 in front going in at the break.

By the 34th minute when Fins had kicked two points on the trot, two factors had appeared to swing the momentum in their favour. Most obviously, the wind, apart from the obvious advantages it brings, meant the increased possibility of hitting Flynn with long ball at full forward. Secondly, Castleknock wing forward, Boland, appeared to have gone to midfield. While James Tunney would most certainly find a home at wing forward later on, for the third quarter, whether by design or on account of somebody who wasn’t supposed to, drifting, they were playing with only four forwards. If it was a tactic, with a lead, facing the wind, you could see the logic.

The problem, however, was that it created two spare men in Fingallians’ defence, Campion and David Fagan, essentially creating a blanket defence for Fingallians. As was the case in the first half of their semi-final, Castleknock didn’t look like they had the key to unlocking this door guarded by men proficient in zonal defending. Castleknock’s plight wasn’t helped by the fact that they were playing into the wind. Only an outrageous effort from Griffin from outside the front line of the blanket defence in the 38th minute would get them on the scoreboard in the third quarter.

And so, with Castleknock 1-8 to 1-4 up with a quarter remaining, the move I’d suggested could be crucial for Fins, was made. The more man marking orientated Ciarán Costello was brought on at wing back and Keane was sent to midfield. With Tunney now operating as a textbook wing forward and Castleknock appearing to revert to playing with five forwards, it was a double whammy for Fins. Costello not alone kept tabs on one of Castleknock’s key players, Tunney, but also began to dominate Fins’ driving forward from the back. Meanwhile, Keane was let loose at midfield. And what do you know? Within four minutes Fingallians had scored three unanswered points!
First, Farrell finally got on top of his marker and scored after some neat interplay with Gary Donnelly. Then Keane let loose on a typical solo run after he won the kick out at chest height and kicked over. And two minutes later Costello drove forward from the back and sent a long ball into Farrell who had turned the tables in this man marking duel and won possession, kicking over a second in a few minutes.

With just over ten minutes remaining, trailing by a solitary point at 1-8 to 1-7, and with the wind at their backs, literally and metaphorically, it was starting to look good for the Swords men. However, at the point where Fingallians had started to overrun opposition in previous rounds, as I’d suggested, there was no such element in their favour on this occasion. Just as Fins had made a key substitution, Castleknock were bringing on the likes of Vinnie Turner, a semi-final starter who I’d fancied as an excellent and athletic wing back. The two sides would stand toe to toe until the end. 

When Griffin went one on one with Kelleher in the Fingallians goals with ten minutes remaining, it could have knocked the wind out of Fingallians’ sails, but with defenders converging, the ball fell (or maybe was knocked) from his hands and bounced off his knee, just wide. The ensuing kick out, however, fell straight to a Castleknock man who found Colin Lynch with a pass and Lynch kicked his first point of the game. Three minutes later, after a ping pong effect of turnovers in the middle third, it was Castleknock who were able to take advantage as Tunney was found with the Fingallians defence out of position on the counter-attack, and he popped over to give Castleknock the cushion of a three point lead again with six minutes remaining.  And so finely balanced was the game that it was likely to be the subtle dynamics which would be crucial. Offensively, Castleknock showed cool heads in holding possession and working the ball laterally outside the front line of Fingallians’ front line. With Boland taking the bull by the horns, crucially, they didn’t panic and offer the Swords men the opportunity for a counter-attack. 

Defensively, throughout, Castleknock’s centre back, Tom Quinn, had refused to be drawn out of position and when he had nobody to mark he gave an efficient and intelligent libero display paying due attention to covering the angles in front of Paul Flynn. However, when some other defenders found themselves free, they were less efficient in their covering. For large parts of the second half, as some Fingallians forwards drifted out field, their men held space in front of the half back line. The same alarm bells which should have been ringing when Fingallians exposed Ballyboden in the semis and Na Fianna in the quarters, seemed to go unnoticed on a number of occasions.

Two/three points up: playing into wind: (soon to be presumably) four in a row All-Star isolated man on man in full forward line! Alarm bells maybe should have been ringing. Full back, Graham Hannigan, had already saved Castleknock’s hide by spoiling Flynn on a high ball seven or eight minutes earlier with Fins just a point behind. And, perhaps the crux of the final part of the game came with two minutes left as a direct ball was put bouncing in front of Flynn, isolated near the “21”. Showing excellent man marking technique, however, Hannigan got his timing spot on and got out in front to claim possession. And yet, again, deep into injury time, the kind of high ball which Flynn has majestically plucked from the air in previous rounds, hung in the air. To be fair to Flynn, he has no right to win these kind of balls against defenders who merely need to get a fist to it, but so adept is he at taking such balls that there is a sense of expectancy when he is underneath them. With the clock ticking down, the Swords following held their breaths. Once again, however, Hannigan was up to the task and spoiled Flynn’s attempts to grasp the ball.As the man in the middle took a new slant on the rules and refused to allow either side make substitutions as injury time rolled on, he was eventually forced to. The limitations of the black card rule were, once again, exposed as McLoughlin looked to take a breaking ball through the Castleknock pack, deep into injury time. Hannigan, doing what almost any player would do in the circumstances, took no chances as McLoughlin looked to have a half clearing for a shot, and hauled him to the ground. It would be Fins’ last chance. 

As Castleknock looked to replace, not alone the black carded Hannigan, but whoever they had been trying to replace for the last number of minutes, bizarrely, the referee only allowed them to replace the black carded Hannigan. One unfortunate Castleknock man was deprived the opportunity to take the field for his part in history. The club, however, would not be denied as the whistle was blown to crown Castleknock’s finest hour as they take their place in the senior ranks after only 16 years in existence.

Star Man:Shane Boland (Castleknock)
Had Fingallians come out on top, you’d have been looking at a toss-up between Donal Clarke and Niall Fagan who gave outstanding man-marking performances from the full back line once again and Danny Campion who kept one of Castleknock’s major threats under wraps while dominating the play from centre back. Graham Hannigan’s man marking performance on Paul Flynn was both crucial and noteworthy as was Kevin Kindlon’s 1-2, but there was one performance you simply couldn’t look past.
I have a penchant for possession statistics and it was obvious after Shane Boland had delivered six balls to the full forward line in the first ten minutes that he’d be worth tracking. He tore Fingallians apart in the opening quarter when they opened up a crucial four point lead and made a massive 30 ball contacts throughout. If you’ve read my “Possession Performance Analysis” on Dublin games you’ll understand how this works, but you can work it out anyway. From 30 possessions he made a massive 11 “Positive Penetrative” plays, six “Mildly Positive”, nine “Neutral” and sent in one long ball. All of that is against just one wide and two turnovers. Those are immense stats, not to mention that he had the head to calm things down and control two periods of possession late in the game when they had the lead and Fingallians had men behind the ball.

Fingallians Squad List:
R Kelleher, D Fagan, D Clarke, N Fagan, D Keane (0-1), D Campion, G Campbell, D Deasy, G Donnelly, C McLoughlin, D Killeen, M Gibson (0-2, 2 frees), E Creamer, P Flynn (1-2), D Farrell (0-2), C Costello, C O’Neill, E Sweeney.

Castleknock Squad List:
C O’Hare, C Neville, G Hannigan, E O’Brien, T Shields, T Quinn (0-1, 1 “45”), J Rafter, D McConn, J Tunney (0-1), K Kindlon (1-2), D Carlos (0-2, 2 frees), S Boland, C Lynch (0-1), S Lynch, M Griffin (0-3), V Turner, D Kinneavey.

Thanks to Grassroots: