The Astro pitch at Sancta Maria proved its worth again on a very wet & windy Sunday morning,  April 15th as Ballyboden’s Under 15 A Footballers faced highly rated and championship favourites, Skerries Harps in the 1st round of their maiden Championship… a game that would surely have fallen victim of the weather had it been scheduled for a grass pitch and added to an already cluttered fixture schedule.The atrocious conditions would neither benefit nor hinder either side over the other as both teams possess talent in abundance and employ free-flowing football styles but all present feared the worst in terms of the quality of the spectacle about to unfold in the unfortunate conditions. An even match-up on paper, however, Boden would take to the field  shorn of a number of key players missing either through injury or abroad on school trips.  Nonetheless, an eagerly awaited encounter lay in store for the hardy souls who braved the elements …and huge credit to all 30 + boys that took to the fray as no-one present was disappointed with the levels of entertainment produced as both teams conspired to serve up an epic tussle worthy of a championship decider, let alone first round !

The rain poured down and the wind swirled as the match got underway with Skerries taking the initiative and piling on the early pressure but three swift attacks ending fruitless due to some wayward shooting…no thanks to the gale!   Boden withstood the early pressure and settled 5 or 6 minutes into affairs, slotting two neat scores courtesy of the dynamic duo, David Keane,  swiftly followed by a beauty from Cian Durkan recently returned to action after a lengthy lay-off…today would be a big test of the latter’s match fitness with all hands required at the pump ! Skerries attacks were being repeatedly thwarted by some excellent defensive work by Boden but they eventually  founda way onto the score board in the 12th minute by virtue of a free which saw a harsh booking for the busy Rhys McDonnell. Two more points were exchanged as both sides were now going through their respective gears and the conditions were now becoming irrelevant as both teams seemed to have the bit between their respective teeth…and it was game on ! It was Boden however that struck the first body-blow after an efficient counter attack following a turn-over forced by the irrepressible Alex Gavin, deployed on the day to ‘quieten’ Skerries greatest threat in the shape of the talented Eoin Byrne…true that eclipses of the sun are rare enough but rarer still is an eclipse of master Byrne as he possess everything required of a top footballer and is justifiably, firmly in the ‘one to watch’ bracket of future Dublin stars…Luckily for Boden though…so too is our own Alex Gavin and this proverbial clash of the Titans could conceivably prove to be the deciding duel of this battle.  Following Alex’s dispossession of his adversary, he quickly fed Michael McDonald who in turn fed the supporting Rhys McDonnell…Cian Costelloe received after drifting into a good position on the left and an exchange with the nippy Cian Mahon saw the ball worked infield through the centre via Jason Dwyer and Cian Durkan until it eventually found its way to ‘D’ Keane who made a trademark surge past two defenders before slamming the ball to the net.

Rather then stir a reaction form Skerries, the goal seemed to rock them somewhat and Boden took full advantage before they recovered their composure…Another sweeping move started at the back with the rock steady David Gannon setting things in motion with a block tackle and the ensuing scramble for possession resulted in the cool head and hands of Josh Corcoran calmly taking the ball out of the danger zone and slipping a neat pass to the hungry Wolfe (Ben) who was covering ground with the stamina and panache of a thoroughbred racehorse… Ben joined the hunt and ghosted upfield linking up with two of the three Cians before laying off to powerhouse Jason Dwyer who was just not going to be denied and Jason hammered in a thunderous shot that flew past the helpless and faultless Skerries keeper to extend Boden’s lead to seven. It was sink or swim time (literally it seemed) for Skerries now and they showed their mettle by tacking on three unanswered points within two minutes, to stay in the game.  They would also have the last say of the  opening half with a free but only after David Keane snaffled another three pointer two minutes before the break after another impressive inter-passing move from back to front with Boden displaying excellent ball handling in trying conditions. The interval came not quick enough for Skerries who seemed bewildered at how they found themselves six points behind despite a fair share of possession.  The truth of it was that despite Boden’s impressive forwards making merry with nearly every opportunity that came their way in the first half, Skerries were nowhere near as efficient and at times wasteful when opportunity knocked…but that is almost to do Boden’s impresssive rearguard an injustice as all six backs played like warriors throughout the first 30.

The lack of action seen by Boden’s Hugh O’Sullivan between the sticks told its own story but his kick-outs were pin-point accurate for the most part depriving Skerries of any opportunity for quick attack options and providing a springboard for Boden’s offensive actions. The usual reliables, David Gannon and Ronan Long were to the fore as always, stifling their men and starving them of any decent ball…

His brother might be the one called Luke…but ‘Cool Hand Josh’ (Corcoran) seems to make it look like everything around him is in slow motion as he glides around sweeping up and clearing out, using a radar like sense of being in the right place at the right time! Add to this power pack the machine that is Ben Wolfe, who is quite simply a cut above anything he comes up against and irresistible when he adds punch to the attack on one of his deep forays into enemy territory, usually to devastating effect…for the opposition ! If one has an irresistible force then one needs an immoveable object and that role was duly played by big Alex Gavin who was succeeding in producing one of those very rare eclipses and it was proving to be a telling factor.  The backline was bolstered by arguably the stand-out performer for much of the half considering that corner-back Evan Nugent was brought up from the U-14s for this fixture and literally thrown in at the deep end against opposition, the likes of which he will not encounter during his travails with his own peers this season…He showed his considerable ability in an outstanding performance from start to finish, displaying an impressive level of physical and mental toughness and excellent temperament…not merely coping but excelling at this level.  Hats off Evan and thanks for the dig out…We’ll be seeing you again…we hope! Ah but the job was only half done…remember, it’s a game of two halves and if the second half was half as good as the first half then it wouldn’t be half bad ! It didn’t disappoint !

The game restarted in explosive fashion when the unlucky Rhys McDonnell was shown a second yellow and was duly sent to the line…to lose any man is tough for a team…to lose a good man is tougher…to lose one of your toughest isn’t good ! … Losing Rhys was a big blow for Boden to say the least !…It’s hard enough to beat a side of the calibre of Skerries with even numbers…Boden were now reduced to fourteen for the entire second half…This was potentially a game changer…and so it proved…Rhys’s absence left a big hole in Boden’s defensive system and after slotting the early free to immediately narrow the gap, Skerries got a second wind in their sails and went for it ! They dominated proceedings for the ensuing fifteen minutes chalking up a tally of 3-04 against 0-02 for Boden in this period to turn a six point deficit into a five point lead and it was looking ominousfor Boden at this stage of proceedings. However, if there is one common trait within each and every member of this group…it is guts…character and plenty of it. They would dig deep, individually and collectively to summon up, from somewhere within them, a determination …or maybe just stubbornness that they were not going to relinquish on their own patch…not today…they had trained hard for this day…they want to win this Championship…they intend to win this Championship…but first they had to somehow pull themselves out of this hole they now found themselves in !  The Boden defence closed up shop and all out attack after attack from Boden seemed to repeatedly break down at the last gasp through some unfortunate intervention by a Skerries hand or that of the ref who on occasion seemed reluctant to award frees when apparently warranted…

Ironically almost, it was a  pointed free from David Keane that stopped the rot and reduced the deficit to four before ‘D’ again pointed following some clever interplay with Jason Dwyer who was now beginning to re-assert himself on the game and becoming more menacing with every attack.
As Boden chased the game with increasing fervour, Skerries were appearing to wobble as the minutes ticked by and the end of the game was within sight. Paul Basquale had been introduced to proceedings at this point and the sight of the giant full-forward  entering the fray must have demoralized the Skerries full back line…his impact was immediate and soon after the reward for their endeavours arrived for Boden with just two points separating the sides, another forward forage with what seemed like the entire Boden team involved at some point during a patient build up saw many Boden hands on the ball as everyone stepped up to do their bit. The three busy Cians, Mahon, Costelloe and Durkan who had passed his fitness test with flying colours at this stage, were constantly probing the faltering Skerries defence and following two surges forward, linked with D. Keane and Jason Dwyer inside and together they penetrated the dogged Skerries defence before the ball was fed inside to Davy Keogh who having joined the attack early, had continued his momentum forward and slipped unnoticed behind the Skerries full back line  and took up a perfect position to receive a timely pass and held his nerve as the Skerries keeper bore down on him to calmly jink and side step the keeper before dispatching the ball into the net. Cometh the hour of need…cometh the man of the season to date, to save the day it seemed…They had done it…they had turned it around…clawed their way back from the brink…a point to the good with time almost up. The hero of the moment , lionhearted Davy Keogh would pay for his efforts having literally run himself into the ground he went down with severe cramp which would retsruct his further participation…Backs to the wall again after another unlucky break, , Skerries as in the first half would have the final say and were awarded a softish free at the death after a random sloppy clearance had gifted them possession when all seemed under control. The free was duly dispatched to tie the game at a scoreline of 4-06 to 3-09 and thus the drama would continue as 20 minutes extra-tie would ensue !

No time to draw breath as the battle weary troops from both sides were at it again within minutes…Boden restored to 15 again for the extra-time but Rhys McDonnell remained on the sideline for his earlier indiscretion…A patched up Davy Keogh wa sent back in to stand his ground…as much as could be expected of him at this stage after emptying the tank over the previous 60 arduous minutes.  Boden took the initiative immediately and raced into a two point advantage buoyed by what now felt like an extra man and the still fresh Paul Basquale was making a nuisance of himself and keeping Skerries rearguard honest. Skerries would muster again though as you might expect in such a topsy turvy affair and drew the scores level again before the turn-around. However that would be all they had left to give on the day and Boden’s superior fitness, desire…never say die attitude saw them dominate proceedings from there in rattling off four unanswered points…the pick of which was a classic solo effort from Man Of The Match Alex Gavin after stealing yet another turn-over and surging forward before booming over from distance with an element of defiance written all over it…This was the score that finally brolke a valiant Skerries side…Michael McDonald chipped in with an  impressive score which was richly deserved after his gargantuan efforts throughout but fittingly it befell David Keane to hammer home the final nail rounding off a hugely impressive shift with a personal tally of 2-07 out of a total 4-12 to Skerries 3-11.

Mission accomplished…by a very accomplished team…against a very accomplished team…Skerries vanquished…It wasn’t easy but Boden march on into the next round where arch rivals Kilmacud Crokes await…another classic beckons me thinks…if it’s half as good as this…don’t miss it !

Comhghairdeas players and mentors on an outstanding performance from all concerned…Boden Abú.

Photos by Cliona Mellett. For more photos, see here