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London SFC Final replay

Tir Chonaill Gaels 1-9

Neasden Gaels 0-7

By Tony Tighe

When a side wins three successive championships you know you’re dealing with something special, and that indeed is the case with Tir Chonaill Gaels.

The glorious hat trick was completed in convincing fashion at Ruislip on Sunday afternoon, after they accounted for rivals Neasden Gaels at the second time of asking.

You felt that after the drawn match Neasden’s chance had passed; Tir Chonaill aren’t the type to dish out second chances. They will look back and rue some of the decisions that went against them on that first day, such as Gary McCloskey’s ‘point’ that all and sundry saw fly wide, but they can have little complaints here.

For such was Tir Chonaill’s dominance here their margin of victory could been way more substantial. But that’s not the way they operate. Their approach is akin to Ulster counties like Tyrone and Armagh, where they establish a lead and then do their damndest to protect it, and it worked a treat against the north Londoners.

Neasden enjoyed plenty of possession in the second half but they just couldn’t find a way through Tir Chonaill’s water-tight defence. The work rate of half-backs Johnny Hughes, Shaun Campbell and Stephen Boyle was immense, as they never allowed Neasden time on the ball once they stepped over the 45-metre line.

With that route blocked, Neasden went for route one but they encountered a similar scenario with Ronan Walsh and Hughie Cunningham always one step ahead, both reading the game superbly to incept.

It meant that as the final whistle approached Neasden looked a side that had simply run out of ideas. They just couldn’t create an opening and were resigned to finishing runners-up for the second consecutive year.

Neasden were always going to need an element of luck to capture their first title since 1999, and while they got some it turned out to be bad. Key forward Peadar Friel was consigned to the substitutes bench with a bruised shin, and things got even worse when Ruairi O’Loan was forced off at the midway point of the first half.

By that stage Neasden’s promising start had been undone. Paul Geraghty had started the game like a man possessed, and the midfielder’s early dominance around the middle saw his side register points from the evergreen Stephen Lynch and Barry Comer.

But just as their belief was growing, Neasden were hit with a sucker-punch. Gary McCloskey began to get the better of Geraghty, with the outstanding Declan Alcorn providing the key link between midfield and attack, and he started the move that led to the game’s only goal.

After yet another storming burst from the middle third, Alcorn played the ball out wide to Niall Quinn. A decoy run from Kevin Downes pulled two defenders away, allowing Quinn to pass inside to Martin Sweeney, who raced in on goal.

The angle was tight but that didn’t seem to trouble the Donegal forward, who lashed a stunning strike past Ciaran McGann to settle Tir Chonaill nerves.

Amazingly that would be Tir Chonaill’s only score until five minutes before the interval, as their inside forwards were starved of quick quality ball. Padraig Duffy levelled proceedings on 21 minutes with a long-range belter, but in the moments that followed Neasden saw the game slip away from their grasp.

Having spurned a couple of scorable frees earlier in the half, Tir Chonaill caught their opponents on the hop with two of the quick variety. Kevin McMenamin converted after fast thinking from Alcorn, before then turning provider for Quinn.

Two minutes later Quinn had his second of the day and an injury-time point from corner-back Hughie Cunningham saw Tir Chonaill go into the dressing rooms with a substantial 1-4 to 0-3 lead.

The signs were ominous for Neasden, who suffered another injury blow when Comer was forced off at the break. A good start was vital if they were to break Tir Chonaill’s winning streak, but instead it was their opponents who upped the ante.

The reigning champions came out with all guns blazing, although they contrived to spurn three decent chances in the opening moments. Then McMenamin took the mantle, firing over two majestic scores to put his team five points to the good.

From there on in it was a case of protect what you have. Tir Chonaill sat back and soaked up the Neasden pressure. Should they break through and score, Paul Coggins’ simply charged up the other end and re-established their lead.

A sign of Neasden’s desperation was the switching of John Feeney from full-back to centre-forward, but it failed to make any real difference as Tir Chonaill’s rearguard looked unbreakable.

With frustration rising, substitute Tony Hughes and McCloskey clashed in an off-the-ball altercation that looked more like handbags rather than anything else. But referee Brian O’Hara wasn’t impressed and dished out the red card to both.

Nevertheless, it didn’t knock Tir Chonaill out of their groove. Conor Beirne should have added a second goal later on but it made no odds. The Greenford men continue to be the top Gaels in London, clinching a record 13th senior championship.

And such is the ambition of this side, the focus has already turned to breaking London’s All-Ireland club championship duck in January. There’s no team better equipped.

Tir Chonaill Gaels: B McBrearty; H Cunningham (0-1), P Callaghan, R Walsh; J Hughes, S Campbell, S Boyle (0-1); C Beirne, G McCloskey; G Kane, M Sweeney (1-0), N Quinn (0-3); D Alcorn, K Downes (0-1f), K McMenamin (0-3).

Subs: L Gavaghan for Sweeney (39); L Gill for Quinn (60); L Mullen for Alcorn (60); D Cannon for Cunningham (60); C Moroney for McMenamin (60).

Neasden Gaels: C McGann; K Geraghty, J Feeney, B Comer (0-1); P McCone, B McDonagh, T Dougan; J Raftery, P Geraghty (0-1); S Maguire, P Duffy (0-2), M Duffy; R O’Loan, S Lynch (0-3, 2f), D Carty.

Subs: J Keaveney for O’Loan (15); D Donnellan for Comer (ht); T Hughes for M Duffy (ht); D Burke for Maguire (50); B Comer for Keaveney (60).

Réiteoir: B O’Hara

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