Marvellous St Michael’s reach All Ireland final

St Valentine's night will be a lonely one for many a belle in the Newcastle, Westside, and Bushypark areas of the city in two weeks’ time as the St Michael's bandwagon just keeps on rolling and gathering energy.

Kieran Stewart, who has returned from serious injury, makes an impact for St Michael’s as a sub.

Kieran Stewart, who has returned from serious injury, makes an impact for St Michael’s as a sub.

Croke Park and an All-Ireland final is now their final date with destiny at intermediate level, and roses and chocolates will have to be temporarily replaced by flags, hats, and headbands. The city club has really caught the imagination these last few months and as a reward for their majestic win over Ballyroan last Sunday they will face St Michael's, Foilmore (Kerry ), in the final under lights at 7.45pm on Saturday February 14.

There has been a romantic spin to this odyssey all year and last Sunday was a typical example.

All week it was uncertain where this game would be played with the foul weather conditions promised. Finally the fixture was confirmed for the unknown hamlet of Longford's Newtown Cashel on the banks of Lough Ree in Longford.

This, coupled with the fact that their opponents, Ballyroan Abbey, had annexed the Laois Senior Championship three years ago, made it obvious from the outset that Michael's would have to navigate some very unchartered territory to give them a chance of their big day in the sun (oops, floodlights as it will be ).

The big fear neutrals had for the Westside outfit was their perceived lack of strength in depth might let them down with the stakes so high. As it transpired nothing was further from the truth. When wing-back James Downes was dismissed after his second yellow card just before half time, it could have relinquished the impetus they had wrestled from the Laois outfit following Conor Hoctor's cracking goal just before the small whistle.

Only a point up with a man down and 30 minutes remaining, it didn't look good for the Connacht champions.

However their second-half performance was heroic and proved yet again how hard Michael's have worked all year, ensuring they are a far better outfit than the sum of their individual parts might suggest. It's what all teams aspire to achieve, but few accomplish.

Three substitutes in particular typified their resolve. Brothers Fionnan and Keelan Clancy formed a buttress across the half back line and gave their bodies and souls for the cause.

Kieran Stewart, returning from serious injury, tirelessly carried ball down the left flank. One incident stands out - the outstanding Damien Walsh intercepted a dangerous Ballyroan Abbey attack and found an outlet in Stewart in the left corner back position. Three passes later and Stewart was on a blistering run that ended up with him being hauled down in the scoring zone. Eddie Hoare dutifully kicked the resultant free from 30 metres and we had a two-point swing at a crucial juncture. These are the moments that get you through.

As always Eddie Hoare was their talisman, driving on his teammates at every opportunity. Alan Glynn and Damien Walsh were Herculean in their efforts to thwart the Ballyroan hit-men of Scott Conroy and Michael Tierney respectfully.

Tierney first entered our radar in the NFL game against Galway in Pearse Stadium a year ago where he scored six points and looked a prodigious talent. He will forever rue his missed free from 30 metres in injury time last Sunday that put paid to Ballyroan's last chance of redemption. Walsh had him sufficiently shaken at that stage for his radar to be out of kilter. Conroy started brightly with three points (2f ), but was forced to move further out the field - such was Glynn's impact on proceedings. Peter Ruane was a rock at centre back, while Patrick Regan overcame the towering presence of Ballyroan captain Daire Phelan. Regan's positional sense is also impressive, linking defence and attack seamlessly.

It was fantastic to see club stalwarts such as Tommy Kelly, Tom Nally, Joe Corcoran, Padraic 'Doc' Doherty, Damien Tummon, and Davy Walsh welcome their heroes off the Newtown Cashel pitch and start to hatch plans for their biggest collective trip to date. It's no more than they deserve, clubs are handed down from generation to generation, and all of those men have given outstanding service to Michael’s.

Huge credit too must go to the management team of Pat Regan, Peter Curran, and John Ruane for moulding this team into a formidable outfit. They have jumped all the fences put in their way to date.

And yet, there is still work to be done. A lack of discipline nearly cost them dearly just before half time.

Controlled aggression and correct decision making is what will help to get them through in the ultimate test against the Kerry champions.

Both Eddie Hoare and Conor Hoctor will know they were guilty of some poor shot selection when a more measured approach would have put the Laois men out of sight earlier. This is a good thing. Knowing there is more to work on focuses a team with only one hurdle left. They have done their city and their county proud in getting to the All-Ireland final. However, as Moycullen proved last year, the real pleasure is bringing home the silverware.

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