On a wintery day in Portlaoise, Knockbeg College overcame the challenge of Marist Athlone to claim the Top Oil Leinster Junior Football Championship. The contest itself was a lively affair and despite the conditions both teams served up what a dramatic and high scoring encounter.
With the sides locked on a point a piece it was the Westmeath men who made the first big incursion. Playing against the elements in the first half the utilised a strong running game which culminated in corner forward Ben O’Carroll embarking on a mazy run before setting up full forward Senan Baker to score with a fine finish to the net. This seemed to spark the Knockbeg side into life and from here to the break they began to dominate the middle third. Oisin Byrne at full forward was a constant threat and popped over a lovely score after 10 minutes. He quickly followed this up by becoming provider, as he threaded a lovely through ball to Oisin Hooney who calmly slotted home. Just as they were starting to take full control of proceedings up stepped O’Carroll again, this time taking the responsibility on himself and engineering a fine induvial goal leaving them 2-01 to 1-02 up. Similar to O’Carroll for Marist Byrne of Knockbeg was the danger man, again following a great point he assisted his sides second goal with centre forward Colin Dunne this time the beneficiary. From here the Knockbeg side tagged on a few more lovely scores to leave them 2-06 to 2-02 up at the break.
Marist knew a big effort was needed in the second half if they were to prevail. However, Knockbeg had other ideas and two quick fire points from Fionn Bergin and Colin Dunne saw them extend their lead. Then main man then stepped up again as Byrne bagged Knockbegs third goal of them game and look to effectively have sealed them victory. Marist would not give in and the Athlone side set about engineering a comeback. Midfielder Eamon Martin slotted over and impressive point following a rampaging run before O’Carroll once again stepped up to bag another goal. This was quickly followed by a point from Ruaidhri Fallon meaning the comeback was well and truly on. Knockbeg looked to see out the win and set about it by bringing on Captain Ben Crotty who brought a calming influence to the half back line. However, just as victory seemed imminent a long range free from Marist Athlone landed in danger zone before Sean Claffey lashed it home to leave the bare minimum between the sides as the game entered stoppage time. For Marist unfortunately there was no fairy tale ending as Knockbeg clung on to a hard fought win. The score-line at the final whistle read Knockbeg 3-10 Marist 4-06.
There were strong performances all over the field from both sides, however special mention must go to forwards Oisin Byrne and Ben O’Carroll who accounted for 3 Goals and 3 assists between them out of the 7 goals scored. As Knockbeg move onto the All Ireland series they will be hoping their big full forward can carry his form with them.