It started as a dark, foggy Sunday in Ruislip but by early afternoon the sun had blazed through, setting the stage for an equally glorious performance from our hurlers. Picking up where they left off in the semi-final our lads showed heart, pride and a steely determination that could not be overcome. From the moment the ball was thrown in they tore into their opponents, hassling, blocking and frustrating them at every turn. At the back we were tigerish and dogged, holding a talented St Gabriels forward line to just four points in the first half, while our own attackers kept up a relentless workrate that resulted in scores or forced a free. Our midfield duo of Mícheál Ó Laochdha and Tadhg Healy were tireless, fielding primary possession, putting their bodies on the line and winning even the scrappiest of tussles to ensure we were always on the front foot. We set the tone early on, hunting in packs, and scored first through an Eoin Chawke free, rifled over from the right wing after Tadhg Healy had won possession in big collision. Seán Ryan came out from his goal a few minutes later to launch a booming free from well within our own half to add to the tally. Despite being pegged back a few minutes later we were creating lots of chances through the pressure we were exerting, which eventually resulted in a pinpoint crossfield ball finding Martin Fitzpatrick on the edge of the square. Our captain made no mistake and rattled the net. We continued to press and by the time we reached the half-time mark another two goals had been added, the final one from a long-range Eoin Chawke free. However on the stroke of half-time we were dealt a hammer-blow as Martin Fitzpatrick suffered a serious knee injury and had to be carried from the field.
Our captain had been leading by example, acting as the focal point of our attack and taking the game to the Gabriels. There was no panic though, and Kevin McMullan sprung Mick O'Dwyer from the bench, who immediately started causing headaches for the St Gabriels defence. Our workrate was still paying dividends as we were still enjoying the majority of possession around the middle third, which gave our threatening forwards the chance to attack at every opportunity. Carlowmen Denis O'Regan and Daryl Roberts were proving to be a real handful in the corners, giving their markers no option but to give away frees, which were gratefully slotted over by Eoin Chawke allowing us to stretch our lead to 10 with just over 15 minutes remaining. Rory Costello was a constant threat, first on the edge of the square and then out to the half-forward line winning the ball and delivering to his teammates inside. Cathal Keogh was typically aggressive and hungry for the ball, timing his run perfectly to collect a pass from Daryl and slot over the bar. St Gabriels did manage to break through for a well-taken goal, but we refused to panic, and replied immediately as Eoin lofted over an excellent point from play from the right sideline. As the clock passed the 20-minute mark St Gabriels piled on the pressure, dropping a series of high balls into our goalmouth. Inevitably though, it was an Emmetts man who emerged every time. Our full back line were aggressive but level-headed and cool in their clearances and distribution. Paul Horkan was calmness personified, dealing with several dangerous one-on-one situations expertly, while his corner-men Mark Conroy and Steven Griffey snuffed out the threat of their dangerous opponents and delivered relieving clearances every time. Fergus McMahon was showing all his experience at centre-back, reading the play brilliantly and linking up fluently with his midfield. He also showed tremendous athleticism in giving an exhibition of high fielding and perfect first touch in tight situations. Paddy Breen and Seán Finn on the wings delivered the high-tempo performances that we've come to expect from them, making light work of the blinding low sun and skilfully hooking and blocking their opponents in a display of controlled aggression. As the timer wound agonisingly slowly towards the hour mark the gap had been reduced to six. The Gabriels men poured forward searching for a goal to puncture our confidence. It wasn't to be though - instead, in a cameo of our entire team's display, midfielder Tadhg Healy sprinted from out from our own 21 to meet an onrushing goal-bound St Gabriels forward with a thunderous shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. The ball was spilled and cleared, raising a roar from the Emmetts supporters and neutrals alike. There was time to exchange two more pointed frees, but moments later referee Brian Barrett raised his hand and called for the ball from Seán Ryan, sending the Emmetts lads into raptures.
It was a great day to be an Emmetts supporter and the victory seemed all the sweeter for the hard work we had to put in to earn it. At the start of the year few in London would have even considered us as contenders but, thanks to the dedication of our manager Kevin McMullan and selectors Mark Traynor and Denis Costello, this band of brothers grew in confidence and yesterday in Ruislip showed how much they were willing to give for each other. A massive cheer went up as Martin Fitzpatrick emerged onto the balcony of the clubhouse who, in lifting the trophy, dedicated the win to our chairman Tom Redmond in recognition of his decades of service to the club. The celebrations will be enjoyed but Kevin is sure to bring the lads back to earth as we return to the training pitch to prepare for an All-Ireland campaign - territory he is only too familiar with.
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