2006 Junior Championship Final

Junior final ends in high drama as Milltown denied by Flanagan’s late, late strike.  
 
Caulry 1-9
Milltown 1-7
  
Although never short of excitement due to the closeness of the scores, the real high-wire heroics of this Westmeath Junior Football Final were packed into the four minutes of injury-time allowed by referee, Sean Sheridan at its conclusion. 
Picture the scene. As normal time drew to a close, Caulry were ahead 0-9 to 1-4 and looked destined to take their sixth title in this grade and their first since 2002. But Milltown - who had, up to this juncture, never got their noses in front - suddenly found the Midas touch and fired over three splendid successive points (61st, 62nd, and 3rd minutes) to sensationally edge ahead for the first time in the match and apparently pull off an act befitting of Harry Houdini to regain the Hugh Daniels Cup which they last claimed in 2003. But wait! The drama wasn't over yet. 

The Reds, though visibly stunned at what had seemed certain victory being snatched from their grasp, launched a late, late desperate attack. Substitute Alan Carroll got possession, transferred to centre-forward Mark Fitzpatrick, whose high centre was, amidst a forest of players, fisted to the net by midfielder Gary Flanagan in the 64th minute of play to, in one fell swoop, negative that Milltown points trio, regain that two-point lead, and bestow the crown on Caulry. 
Cusack Park instantly resembled an “agony and ecstasy" scene as the pitch was strewn with stretched, disbelieving Milltown bodies, countered by the rapturous Caulry clan in high euphoria. The term "glorious uncertainty" isn't the sole preserve of the racing industry!
Red and green colours were in abundance as a sizeable attendance gathered at Cusack Park for the first of the double-header programme on Sunday last. Congrats are deservedly due to the grounds management staff at Mullingar for the excellent condition of the Park on the second successive day of double-bills at Headquarters. 
Conditions, though slightly overcast, were ideal for football in a game where Caulry enjoyed by far the better of the exchanges in the opening quarter. Playing an attractive, open brand of football, they certainly had their mid-county opponents worried in this spell, and were not flattered to be ahead 0-5 to 0-1 by the 17th minute. 
Showing no change to their published line-out, it took Aidan Dunning’s men only seven seconds to get off the mark when midfielder Gary Flanagan drew first blood with a fine point. And while Milltown centrefield stalwart, Damien Gunning, had his side on level terms three minutes later, the Mount Temple standard-bearers amassed four unanswered points by the 17th minute, with corner-forwards Johnny Dolan and Cormac Fox and midfielder Peter Smyth (2, 1 free) on target. They would have been further in front but for the fact that usually prolific marksman Anselm Fitzgerald, though winning lots of possession, was strangely profligate from a number of eminently scorable opportunities. 
With corner-back Damien Dolan outstanding in the Caulry defence, these were fruitful times for the Reds, but the second quarter brought much better fortunes to Tom Flanagan’s Milltown. Although slow to settle, and now four points in arrears, they came more into the game, and a pointed free from Stephen Somers (20th min.) ended a barren 16-minute spell. 

This was promptly replicated by very much on-form Peter Smyth when placed by full-forward Nicky Killane two minutes later, but Milltown received a huge boost in the 23rd minute. From a lineball award, which received anything but unanimous backing from the assembled crowd, Somers offloaded to centre-forward Michael Connell, who put midfielder Declan Rooney through, and he beat goalie Eddie Egan from close range, to cut the margin to a single point. 
Now with their tails up, Milltown took the game to earlier dominant opposition, but they would be let down by erratic finishing which brought their half-time wides total to seven. Caulry were not helping their cause by some overdone short passing from defence when the long relieving clearance would have been a better option, and they nearly paid the piper a minute into injury-time when both midfielder Rooney and full-forward Reilly came mighty close to securing a second Milltown goal, but Michael Dillon's point, in the ensuing play, left the scores tied at the short whistle - 0-6 to 1-3. 
A feature of this keenly contested JFC decider was the scoring prowess of both sets of midfielders on view, who, between them, accounted for a total of 2-7. Caulry captain Peter Smyth again edged his side ahead within 25 seconds of the resumption with a pointed free. It was evident that Milltown were marking much tighter in defence, affording the Caulry attack precious little leeway to create chances. They equalised again when, after one of the best moves of the match (involving Damien Gunning, Stephen Somers and Michael Dillon), Willie Keegan split the uprights in the 39th minute. 
Play then tended to become fragmented and untidy. Caulry brought their points total to 9 per Peter Smyth (free) and sub Willie Buckley (16th and 25th minutes). But stoppages through injury and a number of substitutions, including the strange replacement of goalscorer and Milltown midfielder Rooney at the start of the third quarter, militated against any continuity. 

Milltown's Stephen Somers (55th minute) drew a top class save from a red-alert Eddie Egan in the Caulry goals, but there was little indication at this stage of the high drama about to ensue at the denouement. That injury-time trio of Milltown points - per Stephen Somers, Joe Kenny and team captain Willie Keegan - which put them ahead for the first time, seemed to have clinched it, but the Fat Lady had yet to sing.
Caulry were, until that fateful final moments, never led in this final and, despite the fact that they lived dangerously at various stages of the hour, as instanced by those Milltown goal misses, it didn’t appear as if they would need an injury-time goal strike to eventually see them home. The prefix “at least”, always spoken before the added-on time announcement, was never more important than in this case, as "at least 3 minutes " became four when the winner was secured, but that's one of the cruel ironies of championship competition. 

On balance, however, the Mount Temple team deserved their success, and make a quick return to intermediate ranks having been relegated in 2005. They were well served in defence by goalie Eddie Egan, who could not be faulted for the goal that beat him, while corner-back Damien Dolan was outstanding at the heart of a solid defence where Brian Mullarney, Jody Malynn and Anthony Malone were also seen to advantage. Midfielder Peter Smyth, on five points, was his side's top scorer, while his work ethic and leadership were of a high order throughout. His midfield colleague, Gary Flanagan was the hero of the occasion with that glorious late goal strike. He began well also with his team’s opening score and strove manfully in this crucial sector. It wasn’t a day for respective forward formations, and a return of 2 points from their starting 6 attackers was eminently disappointing for the winners. Johnny Dolan impressed at various stages, while subs. Alan Carroll and Willie Buckley caught the eye on occasions when introduced in the second half. 
To see almost certain victory snatched from their grasp was truly devastating for a gallant Milltown outfit who, nevertheless, could have made better use of their earlier chances. A total of 13 wides to the winners’ 8 also tells its own story.

Milltown have a very good record in this competition with 6 titles, the last in 2003, and will be back in contention for more honours before long. They, too, had their heroes on Sunday, none more so than Tom Dillon at full-back who turned in a superlative display, with Patrick Gavigan and Conor Reilly also strong in this sector. Both midfielders Damien Gunning and Declan Rooney, until the latter was replaced, had spells of ascendancy, and crucially got among the scorers. But, up front, and despite that late point surge, there was a lack of real penetration, with only Willie Keegan, Stephen Somers, and, in the first half, Fergal Reilly, posing a threat to the Caulry defence. 

Scorers - Caulry: P. Smyth 0-5, G. Flanagan 1-1, J. Dolan, Cormac Fox, Willie Buckley 0-1 each. Milltown: D. Rooney 1-0, S. Somers 0-2, W. Keegan 0-2, D. Gunning, M. Dillon, J Kenny 0-1 each. 

Caulry: Eddie Egan, Damien Dolan, Johnny Buckley, Brian Mullarney, Ernie Buckley, Jody Malynn, Anthony Malone, Gary Flanagan, Peter Smyth (capt.), Mark Malone, Mark Fitzpatrick, Anselm Fitzgerald, Cormac Fox, Nicky Killane, Johnny Dolan. 
Subs: Alan Carroll for Killane; Willie Buckley for Cormac Fox; Colm Fox for Mark Malone. 

Milltown: Damien Byrne, Ciaran Byrne, Tom Dillon, Patrick Gavigan, Paul Mahon, Francis McLoughlin, Conor Reilly, Damien Gunning, Declan Rooney, Willie Keegan (capt.), Michael Connell, Joe Kenny, Michael Dillon, Fergal Reilly, Stephen Somers. 
Subs: Conor Farrell for McLoughlin; Donal Kenny for Rooney; Paul Mulvaney for Gavigan. 

Referee: Mr. Sean Sheridan (Tyrrellspass). 
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