By Eamonn Kelly
Wonderful weather conditions and an all-finals league schedule attracted a huge crowd to Chicago’s Gaelic Park last Sunday. It was a marvelous sports spectacle as three of the four finals went down to the wire before each title was decided.
And, for the first time, the junior and senior football divisional titles were captured by the same club. St. Brendan’s, who were given little hope of success in either grade, defeated all the odds with both teams producing superb performances to achieve the historic double. Their juniors gave their best display of the season to defeat a much more fancied Pádraig Pearse team by five points. Even more impressive was the superb display of the star-studded senior squad who’s general performance all season has been poor. They outplayed favorites and current champions Wolfe Tones, to win by three points.
There was another surprise in the senior hurling final as Cuchulainn, with a high-powered first half performance, set the stage for a well deserved six point victory over Harry Bolands who were considered favorites to regain the Chicago title they last held in 1998.
The only team to retain their title was St. Brigids who had an easy victory over a week Erins Rovers squad.
St. Brendan’s 1-16, Wolfe Tones 1-13
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Giving their best performance in a long time, St. Brendan’s senior footballers regained the central division title they last held in 1998 with a well deserved three point win over current North American Champions, Wolf Tone.
This Brendan’s team, with several current and former inter-county players in it’s panel, had failed miserably over the past couple of years to live up to expectations. They finally reached, and perhaps exceeded their potential last Sunday with an outstanding performance in an enthralling final with old rivals Wolfe Tones. With continuous center field support from inter-county stars Eamonn O’Hara (Sligo) and Nial Buckley (Kildare), the forward line clicked on all cylinders. Never has this team played with such cohesiveness, fluency, speed and determination as on last Sunday. They took the game by the throat at a very early stage, creating one attack after another, throwing Wolf Tones totally off track.
To their credit, the Tones battled back like the true champions they are. Down eight points at the interval and behind by ten at the beginning of the forth quarter, they unleashed a great rally which created much fear in the St. Brendan’s camp and set the stage for a most dramatic ending.
With the enthusiastic crowd on their toes, Wolfe Tones outscored their opponents 1-3 to 0-0 in a marvelous nine minute period that came to a halt with the final whistle. Many pondered the outcome of the contest had this offensive burst got under way a little earlier.
O’Hara proved to be the hero of the hour with a superb display at center field and richly deserved the player of the game award. In attack, sharpshooter Martin Delaney (Laois) was right on target with short and long range shots, scoring a personal tally of eight points.
St. Brendan’s monopolized the opening ten minutes, shooting into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead, their scores coming from Buckley (2), Delaney and Ger Walsh.
By the end of the first quarter, Wolfe Tones cut the deficit to a single point with scores from Garry Mason, Rory Mone and J.P. Rooney.
However, in the 16th minute, Brendan’s regained their four point lead when Ken Killen blasted to the net and then Buckley and Walsh added two more points. Meathman Graham Geraghty countered with a Tones’ point before Delaney and Killen added more points to make the half-time score, St. Brendan’s 1-9, Wolfe Tones 0-4.
While Downman Mason opened the scoring in the second-half from a close-in free, St. Brendan’s continued to dominate proceedings, getting three unanswered points from Delaney, Senan Hehir and Mickey Fennelly. Facing a rout, Wolfe Tones began to turn the tide and exchanged scores with their opponents in a hectic period midway through the half. Then, in the 51st minute, their period of supremacy commenced. Mone started the offensive with a point from a free and the gap was reduced to six points when Peter O’Dwyer found the net.
The momentum continued with Mone, Pat Kealy and Peter McGinnity adding more scores to leave just three points between teams but then came the final whistle which triggered enthusiastic celebrations among St. Brendan’s players and supporters.
Cuchulainn 2-15, Harry Bolands 2-9
Cuchulainn senior hurlers have reached the NACB playoffs for the third time in their short seven year history by defeating defending national champions Harry Bolands by six points in a most entertaining final at Gaelic Park.
Like St. Brendan’s in the senior football final, Cuchulainn played their best match of the year after several mediocre performances in this year’s campaign. Harry Bolands, who have been improving with every outing, were clear favorites to take the divisional title but on this occasion failed to reach the heights of recent games. No doubt, while the absence of Alan Markham from their panel may have impacted the effectiveness of their attacking unit, the entire squad seemed lacking in determination and direction. In addition, poor shooting early in the game did little to settle their confidence as Cuchulainn began to dominate.
Cuchulainn, on the other hand, displayed more spirit than they did all season and availed of most opportunities that came their way. Foundation for their victory was laid in the center field area where Enda Flannery and Carl Grant were in command. Flannery in particular had a wonderful outing, earning him the man of the match award. Besides his hunger for possession, which resulted in ample ball supply to the forwards, he constantly dropped back in support of the back line when help was required.
St. Brendan’s 2-8, Pádraig Pearse 1-6
As in the two senior finals, the underdogs prevailed in the junior football final as St. Brendan’s produced their best form of the year to beat Pádraig Pearse by five points and take the title. If ever a team fell flat at the wrong time it was the Pearse. They were by far the best team in town all season suffering only one league defeat and, consequently, were odds on favorites to advance to the national playoffs. While playing below par for this all important fixture, they were in contention for much of the hour and contributed in no uncertain terms to an excellent football game.
With the exception of the final moments, no more than two points separated the teams throughout this well-contested game. Much credit for St. Brendan’s success must go to their halfback line of Joe Keane, Paul Rahilly and John Haran, with Rahilly gaining the player of the game for an excellent performance.
St. Brigids 4-13, Erins Rovers 2-1
A great Erins Rovers team that dominated Chicago ladies football for almost a decade and captured a North American title in the process have now turned over the gauntlet to their great south side rivals, St. Brigids.
An aging team with few newcomers on board could provide only meager opposition to a youthful St. Brigids squad in last Sunday’s final at Gaelic Park.
Kevin Barrys 5-10, Young Irelands 2-5
The score line tells the story of this intermediate football final:game in the Philadelphia division. Half way through the first half, two points divided the teams in favor of Barrys. In the next 10 minutes, four goals were scored in Barry’s favor and the game was as good as over.
Donegal 4-12, Washington, D.C., Gaels 3-10
Hot favorites Donegal were put to the pin of their collars to overcome Washington in a rip roaring junior football final. It took extra time to decide the final outcome. Washington should be proud of their performance and will be worthy junior ‘b’ representatives of the Philadelphia board in the playoffs.