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2004 All-Ireland Vocational Schools Junior Football Final

2004 All-Ireland Vocational Schools Junior Football Final
Gaughan’s last-gasp goal propels Athlone CC to All-Ireland glory 
Athlone CC 2-10
St. Paul’s HS, Bessbrook 1-12

What a week it’s been for Alan Gaughan, whose dramatic injury-time goal last Sunday clinched this historic All-Ireland Vocational Schools JF title for Athlone CC. 
Last week, Gaughan was part of the St. Francis FC team which won a prestigious soccer tournament in Liverpool - in fact, he was named player of the tournament.
And he certainly put his soccer skills to good use last Sunday, as he sidefooted the winning goal from an acute angle after a frantic scramble around the St. Paul’s goalmouth.
Gaughan has developed a reputation as a goal poacher supreme and he certainly lived up to that billing last Sunday. In addition to that late strike, Gaughan also grabbed his side’s first goal early in the game. 
In what was a thrilling match, ACC showed enormous reserves of character in twice responding when the match looked like it had slipped away from them. 
The sides were level 1-6 apiece at half-time, but within 8 minutes of the restart St. Paul’s opened up a 3-point lead, 1-9 to 1-6. At this juncture, the northerners looked well in control, but a John Connellan point proved the spark for an ACC revival. 
However, when Martin Ferris gave Paul’s a 1-11 to 1-10 lead with a glorious point with two minutes remaining, ACC looked on the ropes again.
And it looked like ACC’s hopes of engineering an equalising point had gone when Gaughan struck in the 2nd minute of injury-time.
While Gaughan’s goalscoring exploits stole the show in an incredible finish, the ACC team was filled with heroes.
Goalkeeper Gerard Kelly may have had some shaky moments, but he made a vital save close to the end. The wealth of attacking talent in the ACC ranks means the defence doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. But, on this occasion, one couldn’t ignore the defensive unit, particular Joe Bonar, Keith Waldron and Donovan Hermbusche.
In the first half, Bonar had endured a tough time against lively Paul’s corner-forward Ronan McCoy. But the corner-back more than made up for it with a wonderfully committed second-half display. 
Keith Waldron’s dashing runs forward from the half-back line epitomised the never-say-die spirit of ACC in carrying the fight to their opponents. 
Hermbusche, who played a key role in the semi-final win over Belmullet, found the outstanding Paddy Hannaway a tough proposition last Sunday, but the wholehearted player never let his head drop and finished the game in tremendous style.
At midfield, team captain Mark Fitzpatrick, like many of his team-mates, came good when he was needed. His partner and club-mate Philip Dully was also full of running and endeavour.
But, arguably, John Connellan was once again the key man for ACC and each of his three points arrived at crucial moments. 
His first was a badly needed response to Bessbrook’s first-half goal and, even more importantly, he scored his team’s first point of the second half after Paul’s had forged into a three-point lead. That score gave ACC the belief that this could be their day. 
Then with the sides were level, 1-9 each, the Coosan youngster gave ACC the lead with a truly inspirational score. 
Donal Shine’s shooting prowess had played a major role in ACC’s campaign and his five points in the final were obviously priceless. Other members of the attack may not have scored, but each of them worked tirelessly for the cause. 

The 11.30am throw-in at St. Tiernach’s Park, Clones ensured an early start for the ACC contingent. As expected, the majority of the attendance at the northern venue was supporting St. Paul’s, whose partisan support certainly made their presence felt. But though smaller in number, the ACC supporters made themselves heard as well.
The Armagh side had the lion’s share of the possession early on and went ahead with a free from centre-back Paul McKeown, but Alan Gaughan gave ACC the ideal boost with a brilliantly taken 3rd minute goal.
Gaughan beat the Bessbrook ‘keeper to Shine’s well placed pass and delightfully lobbed the ball over retreating Paul’s defenders and into the far corner. Athlone built on this score with two points from Shine (1 free). 
Facing a physically bigger and stronger side, a more economical ACC side were passing the ball around with fluency and accuracy in the first half. This approach paid dividends in the wide expanses of the Clones pitch.
On 9 minutes, the ACC net had a narrow escape but Darren O’Hanlon’s flicked effort went over rather than under the bar.
Gaughan then took advantage of another good delivery from out the field with a neatly taken point. But while Shine hit another elegant point on 17 minutes, Hannaway and McCoy soon became influential for Bessbrook. And two points apiece from that duo saw Paul’s whittle Athlone’s lead down to one-point by the 24th minute.
Then came a potentially crippling blow for Athlone as Bessbrook midfielder Conor Gaskin flicked the ball to the net, but points from Connellan and Shine left the sides level at half-time. 
Displaying a marvellous ability to shoot off either foot, Paddy Hannaway kicked 0-6 in this contest. And the Paul’s centre-forward took this game by the scruff of the neck early in the second half, kicking three excellent points in a row in the space of 8 minutes.
But after Connellan’s 43rd minute point, ACC drew level with points from Shine (free) and Fitzpatrick. And in the 48th minute, Connellan won a kick-out, weaved his way through the Bessbrook defence and pointed.
The ACC goal then survived an amazing close shave. Darren O’Hanlon of Paul’s latched on to a flick-on and, after an outbreak of chaos around the Athlone goal, he poked a shot which went across the goal and off the far upright. 
How the ball stayed out was hard to fathom and this was perhaps the slice of luck ACC needed. 
But Paul McKeown did draw his side level with 10 minutes left. Then ACC ‘keeper Gerard Kelly was in the right place to stop O’Hanlon’s palmed effort. 

When Ferris then scored that lead point for Bessbrook, it looked like it could be the winner. With time running out for ACC, Connellan hit wide after another searing run. Then came a crucial call from the referee, who incensed the Bessbrook supporters by not awarding McCoy a free-in. Instead he penalised the corner-forward for ‘steps’. Running himself into a standstill in an effort to carve one last scoring chance, Connellan looked like he was fouled near the Paul’s goal but no free was awarded.

The all-important goal came about after Fitzpatrick won a ‘hop ball’ near the sideline. Dully knocked the ball inside and after ACC sub Colin Dunning appeared to make contact, the ball broke to Gaughan, who coolly slotted the ball home.
The Westmeath school weren’t out of the woods yet and a Hannaway free brought Bessbrook within a point, but they bravely hung on, sparking jubilation among players and supporters alike.

SCORERS - Athlone CC: A Gaughan 2-1, D Shine 0-5 (3f), J Connellan 0-3, M Fitzpatrick 0-1. St. Paul’s: P Hannaway 0-6 (1f), C Gaskin 1-0, R McCoy 0-2, P McKeown 0-2 (2f), D O’Hanlon and M Ferris 0-1 each. 
ATHLONE CC: Gerard Kelly (Garrycastle); Joe Bonar (St Brigid’s), Peter Domican (Brigid’s), David Corcoran (St. Dominic’s); Jason Turley (Garrycastle), Donovan Hermbusche (Garrycastle), Keith Waldron (St. Aidan’s); Mark Fitzpatrick (Caulry, capt.), Philip Dully (Caulry); John Connellan (Athlone), Ronan Killian (Clann na nGael), Conor Duignan (Clann na nGael); Cathal McHugh (Brigid’s), Donal Shine (Clann na nGael), Alan Gaughan (Athlone). 
Subs: Colin Dunning (Brigid’s) for McHugh (25 mins), Ian Coffey (Tubberclair) for Duignan (h-t), C Duignan for Coffey (57). 

ST. PAUL’S, BESSBROOK: Paudi Rodgers; Ciaran Finnegan, Paul Rocks, Conor Murtagh; James Hughes, Paul McKeown (capt.), James Tiernan; Conor Gaskin, Martin Ferris; Shane Carroll, Paddy Hannaway, Shane McGeough; Stephen Harold, Darren O’Hanlon, Ronan McCoy. Subs: Barry McGee for Harold (35 mins).

Referee: Brian Crowe (Cavan). 

Extracted from the Westmeath Independent Archives, 24th April 2004