Half-backs Gearoid O’Grady and Richie Hughes drove Tullamore to a deserved win at Dubarry Park on Sunday as the Offaly side turned the tables on last year’s winners Navan to be crowned AIB Junior Cup champions for 2009.
2008/09 AIB JUNIOR CUP FINAL: Sunday, April 5
NAVAN 13 TULLAMORE 23, Dubarry Park
Scorers: Navan: Tries: Alan Hickey, Shane Dawson; Pen: Karl Manning
Tullamore: Tries: Mark Whelan, Philip Gardiner; Cons: Gearoid O’Grady 2; Pens: Gearoid O’Grady 3
All the pre-match talk from the Tullamore camp was about this not being a revenge mission. Twelve months ago Navan beat the Offaly men 20-6 to lift the AIB Junior Cup for the first time, a defeat that gnarled the Spollanstown residents.
But Sunday’s rematch at Dubarry Park produced an altogether different game and a complete turnaround as Tullamore claimed their first ever All-Ireland cup title with the sweetest of victories.
Both sides have had their share of injuries to deal with this season and Tullamore suffered a pre-match blow when lock Dave Hanlon lost his battle for fitness, prompting player-coach Andy Melville to name himself at number 8.
Donal Milne moved up into the second row and those adjustments may have played in part in Navan making the better start.
The champions opened the scoring with a seventh-minute try. Out-half Alan Hickey blasted his way through the Tullamore midfield on a superb individual run which ended with him making it over in the right corner. The conversion was missed.
But the big boot of Tullamore number 10 Gearoid O’Grady got the Provincial Towns Cup finalists up and running and he smacked over two penalties to make it 6-5.
With Melville, the former County Carlow player, directing operations up front, Tullamore grew in confidence and scrum half and AIB man-of-the-match Richie Hughes was a constant thorn in Navan’s side.
Navan’s hopes were dented when they had a player sin-binned and Melville’s charges turned the screw.
The try of the game came soon after when O’Grady hung up a cross-field kick for Ivor Scully to field on the right and he passes inside for winger Mark Whelan to gleefully touch down.
O’Grady, the Tullamore skipper, increased his influence by landing a glorious conversion from the touchline and he tagged on another penalty as Navan were left trailing by 16-5 at half-time.
Navan had the wind at their backs for the second period but disaster struck when their number 8 Bernard Smyth, arguably their best player, was sent off by referee Dudley Phillips for an off-the-ball incident.
Down to 14 men, Navan were really up against it. The Brad Harris-coached side put in a real backs-against-the-wall effort but in chasing the game, they were forcing plays and making mistakes.
Tullamore made the ball do the work and frustrating the Meath outfit into submission, they mustered the clinching try on 63 minutes when replacement Philip Gardiner dotted down after gathering another cross-field punt from O’Grady.
Capping off a fine performance, the out-half converted from close to the touchline.
Full-back Karl Manning (penalty) and replacement Shane Dawson (try) closed the gap back to 10 points but Tullamore determinedly held on for the biggest win in their 72-year history.
NAVAN: Karl Manning; Thomas Geraghty, Simon Donnelly (capt), Sylvanus Iro, Simon Hogan; Alan Hickey, Kieran Mattson; Eddie Dunne, Conor Brady, David King, Stephen Byrne, John Duffy, Paul Fenney, Thomas Clarke, Bernard Smyth.
Replacements used: Paul Regan for Byrne, John Baker for Brady (both 49 mins), Owen Hanratty for Geraghty (58), Ciaran Joyce for King, Shane Dawson for Clarke (both 66), Maurice McAuley for Manning, Alan O’Keefe for Mattson (both 78).
TULLAMORE: Niall Geraghty; Mark Whelan, Ivor Scully, Aaron Deverell, Colin Hughes; Gearoid O’Grady (capt), Richie Hughes; Ronan Glennon, Cian Glennon, Alvin Bracken, Donal Milne, Brian Geraghty, Cathal Feighery, Colin Finnerty, Andy Melville.
Replacements used: Philip Gardiner for B Geraghty (39 mins), Ronan Scally for Whelan (50), Mick Harte for Gardiner (63), Cian O’Sullivan for N Geraghty (77), Derek Farrell for Finnerty (78), Darragh Lowry for Bracken (80).
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)