NAAS 1-12 CLANE 0-6

One of the most highly anticipated finals for years turned into the dampest of damp squibs as holders Naas comfortably held on to their Joe Mallon Motors Senior Football Championship crown at a wet, windy, and rather miserable St Conleth’s Park on Sunday.

In so many ways it was typical of Naas’ performances in defence of their title this year. Solid, patient, mature. Workmanlike, unspectacular almost. But above all, enough. That’s not intended as a slight on the now two-time champions, rather a reflection of a poor game where they did what they had to do without need of embellishment.

For Clane, back in their first final for 24 years after an exhilarating campaign, this was the mother of all let-downs. It’s hindsight, but any team with an average age of 22 is at risk of underperforming on their first big day and they were probably ahead of schedule in getting to this final.

That said, there will be plenty of questions around the village about the tactics deployed on the day. Having promised a shoot-out and highlighted his team’s strength going forward, Tom Cribbin surprised most in attendance with a set-up designed very much to contain.

You’re not going to get your hands on Dermot Bourke with twelve shots at the posts. Undoubtedly, there was a plan to transition the ball quickly and accurately into their two key forwards, Brian McLoughlin and Shane O’Sullivan, standing in splendid isolation for most of the first half, but that never happened as Naas took a stranglehold on possession and patiently built against the wind, picking off five precious scores.

In response, Clane could not find a score until the 24th minute. McLoughlin, the only Clane man to earn league or championship minutes under Glenn Ryan this year, went scoreless through the seventy-plus minutes.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Clane kick-out was decimated, with Cian Burke’s restarts falling into Naas hands on thirteen occasions. The young goalkeeper did however keep his team in the game with two superb point-blank saves in the second half before Paddy McDermott eventually found a way through to put a shine on the scoreline.

Naas, one suspects, were as surprised by Clane’s conservative approach as anyone, but with Alex Beirne winning oceans of ball in midfield and distributing it calmly and effectively, they were able to dominate, even against the wind.

No Clane hands other than Burke touched the ball until Harry O’Neill intercepted a wayward pass in the third minute. Ominously the champions had turned over Burke’s first two restarts after two wides.

Luke Mullins was deployed as the long-range Naas free taker, and he opened their account after 4 minutes when Dermot Hanafin was fouled. Two minutes later Darragh Kirwan pounced on a loose ball in the ‘D’ to fire over what turned out to be his only point of the game. Indeed, the Naas starting forwards contributed only four points. Clane can claim to have got that part of their strategy right.

With Clane in a permanent state of retreat, Tom Browne, nominally a wing-back, found himself spending most of his time in attack, influentially at that, and he shot his side’s third point mid-way through the half.

The one-way traffic towards Kilcullen continued with Kirwan fouled and Eamonn Callaghan popping over the close-range free on a day he was well-marked by the promising O’Neill.

The totemic James Burke stole into the goalmouth and took a great ball from Beirne high in the air but passed up an easy mark and off-balance blazed wide, injuring himself in the process. He hobbled off shortly after half-time.

Clane threatened to reach half-time without a score, but O’Sullivan fired over from a good distance after McLoughlin had won a kick out to set him up.

Beirne, though, ever influential, brought the half to a close when taking a Callaghan pass to shoot his side’s fifth point.

Early in the second half, Naas had three quick attempts at the posts. Hanafin pointed but Kirwan was off target with two. O’Sullivan was then fouled 20 metres out and converted the resultant free to make it 6-2.

A Mullins free was followed up by a Ciaran Doyle point after Beirne had turned over another errant kick out but the Clane crowd finally had something to cheer with three successive scores. O’Sullivan’s free was followed by Clane over-turning Mullins’ kick-out for the first time and Sam McCormack punished them with a fine score from the left-wing. One of their better performers, Robbie Phillips then came forward to score and, somewhat incongruously, Naas were only three ahead, 8-5.

That was a short-lived respite for Clane, though. Browne came forward for his second score, a barnstorming Eoin Doyle run set up Kirwan for a goal chance which Burke diverted out superbly. But Mullins converted the ’45 to give them breathing space again.

Sean Hanafin, Burke’s replacement, had the goal at his mercy, courtesy of another Eoin Doyle run and quick hands from older brother Dermot, but Clane ‘keeper Burke pushed that one away as well. But when another sub, Jack McKevitt swallowed up another kick-out, Callaghan fed Beirne and he emphatically stretched the gap to five.

With two minutes remaining, O’Sullivan worked hard to fashion and execute a scoring opportunity to make it 11-6 but Naas had the greater bench strength and Jack Cleary made his presence felt with their twelfth point.

On a day when Naas defenders were often as dangerous as their forwards, two of them combined to finally breach Burke’s goal, Mark Maguire taking time out from marking duties to set up the pacey McDermott for a cool finish.

That put a more representative gloss on the scoreboard for a Naas side who look increasingly dominant within Kildare and with eyes now on a huge Leinster clash with the Dublin champions in early November.

NAAS: Luke Mullins 0-3 (2fs, 1×45); Mark Maguire, Brian Byrne, Cathal Daly; Tom Browne 0-2, Eoin Doyle, Paddy McDermott 1-0; James Burke, Alex Beirne 0-2; Paul McDermott, Dermot Hanafin 0-1, Brian Kane; Ciaran Doyle 0-1, Darragh Kirwan 0-1, Eamonn Callaghan 0-1 (f). SUBS: Sean Hanafin for Burke 35, Jack Cleary 0-1 for Paul McDermott 51, Jack McKevitt for Kane 53, Kevin Cummins for C Doyle 56, Eoghan Prizeman for Browne 63.

CLANE: Cian Burke; Harry O’Neill, Chris Byrne, John Lynch; Shane McCormack, Robbie Phillips 0-1, Cian Shanahan; Tadhg Montgomery, Sean Christianseen; Sam Reilly, Adam Fanning, Cormac Vizzard; Brian McLoughlin, Shane O’Sullivan 0-4 (2fs), Sam McCormack 0-1. SUBS: Cathal O’Brien for Christianseen 42, Jake Burke for Vizzard 42, Oisin Tighe for Lynch 49, Sean Callan for Fanning 60, Danny Egan for Sam McCormack 60.

REFEREE: Brendan Cawley

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