THE bonfire blazing at Wolfe Tone Park on last Saturday evening was a fitting tribute, as the people of Bantry turned out in force to welcome home their county-winning U16 football champions.
At the second time of asking, the young Blues made no mistake against Mallow (1-14 to 1-6) in the replay of the U16 Premier 2 football championship final, bridging a 22-year gap since the last underage football county title was won by the club.
From the start of this county final replay in Cloughduv, where conditions were ideal, Bantry were in the ascendancy, with Killian O’Sullivan opening the scoring.
There then followed a period where Mallow settled and caused Bantry problems all over. They got on top at midfield and put the Blues defence under severe pressure.
Goalkeeper Michael Casey pulled off a great save but Mallow got off the mark shortly afterwards with a pointed free.
They tacked on two more points from play and when they converted a penalty for a foot-block in the area, Bantry looked in all sorts of trouble.
Another point from the North Cork side saw Mallow lead 1-4 to 0-1.
Bantry now needed to up the work-rate and this they did, with midfielders Gavin Cronin and Killian O’Sullivan leading the charge.
The Blues started to get the ball into the danger areas and their chance of a second score came when they were awarded a kickable free.
Tim Foley’s attempt came back off the post to him and he made no mistake with the rebound, sending it over the bar. Captain Shane McCarthy knocked over one from play and now it was Bantry who swarmed forward. Cornerback Savo Dragas popped up to chip over a point and when Tim Foley converted a free just before the half-time, it left it 0-5 to 1-4. But Bantry had the momentum.
The lads in blue were on the attack from the restart with Arthur Coakley crashing a shot off the crossbar in the first minute of the second half.
Mallow did point from a free but it was in the following 20 minutes that Bantry played the football that won the county title.
With Ronan O’Mahony giving an exhibition at full back and all of the backs winning their battles, the Blues launched wave after wave of attack. Arthur Coakley and Daniel Murray kicked points and then came the move of the game.
Bantry won possession in their own back line and played the ball the length of the field for Shane McCarthy to bury the ball in the Mallow net. Next came a great solo run through the middle from Gavin Cronin, who coolly took his point. Arthur Coakley knocked over a close-in free and the rampant Tim Foley shot over the bar following a run from midfield a few moments later. Tim Foley tacked on another to make it 1-6 without reply for Bantry.
Mallow needed goals at this point and came in search of them but Michael Casey made a string of crucial saves to deny them.
They did get a point from play from a rebound following yet another stop from Michael but this proved to be their last score of the game, as Blues’ defence held firm.
Three more points from Shane McCarthy, Tim Foley and Daniel Murray left Bantry winners, with scenes of unbridled joy following the final whistle, as mentors, subs and supporters rushed on to the field to celebrate with the players.
Following the cup presentation, captain Shane McCarthy thanked team sponsors Bigg’s SuperValu, team manager Arthur Coakley, mentors Gerald McCarthy, Tommy Murray, Tony O’Shea and Brian Gleeson, all the squad who worked so hard in training all year and all who helped in any way with the team.
To go behind in the first half and have the character to turn it around and win in such an emphatic fashion demonstrates the spirit this group possesses.
The backs defended as a unit with discipline and bravery, led by man-of-the match at full back, Ronan O’Mahony.
The diamond in the middle of the field of Kieran Hanley, Killian O’Sullivan, Gavin Cronin and Tim Foley got on top and were the platform from where Bantry launched the winning push.
Team: Michael Casey; Fionn O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Mahony, Savo Dragas (0-1); Sean Hodnett, Kieran Hanley, Owen O’Flynn; Killian O’Sullivan (0-1), Gavin Cronin (0-1); Arthur Coakley (0-2, 1f), Tim Foley (0-5, 1f), Shane Keevers; Nicholas O’Sullivan, Shane McCarthy (1-2), Daniel Murray (0-2). Subs used: Eoghan O’Shea, Michael Healy, Aaron Barry, James Lavin (Russell Barry, Jack McCarthy, Aiden O’Sullivan, Barry O’Sullivan).