AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championship
Sunday January 20
Naomh Éanna 3-9 An Spidéal 0-11
Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Tailteann, Navan
And so the fairy-tale continues. Naomh Éanna have booked a date at Croke Park in three weeks time after a resounding victory over Galway and Connaught champions An Spidéal at Páirc Tailteann. Seven points separated the sides at the end of the hour with the Hightown Road side’s ability to score goals the difference.
Three goals in the opening 30 minutes put Naomh Éanna in control. Kristian Healy’s effort settling them into the game before Ruirái Scott opened daylight in the 20th minute. The third goal however was the game changer. The An Spidéal ‘keeper Maghnus Breathnach had made the headlines for his exploits during the Connaught championship whether it was saving penalties or converting match winning frees. Breathnach looked to join in further up the field when he was turned over close to 60 yards from goal. The ball to Joe Maskey and the ‘Big Sleep’ did the rest. Outside of the boot, into the wind, no problem. Joe Maskey sent the big support from Naomh Éanna in attendance into hysteria and the Antrim and Ulster champions never looked behind them.
Despite An Spidéal threatening a comeback at the start of the second half, Naomh Éanna always remained in control. Their defence were immense throughout and the only occasion the Galway men broke carved open a goal scoring chance, Paddy Flood was equal to the task. Damien Gault returning at full back was immense while Conan Lyttle and Conor McAuley’s breaks from deep were tiring to watch. They never stopped and An Spidéal couldn’t deal with the variation in Naomh Éanna’s play.
Upfront, Odhran Eastwood top scored with 0-7 for his hours work but again the work rate and tenacity from which the whole attacking unit defended with from the front set the tone. Eoin Nagle and Ruirái Scott, a partnership made in heaven while the speed of Kristian and Peter Healy coming off the wings is a defenders nightmare.
An Spidéal had their moments and looked threatening when attacking in numbers through the middle, especially in the first half with Antaine Ó Laoi and Cormac Lee pulling the strings. Both men finished with 0-7 between them with all scores coming from frees but the Naomh Éanna defence were immense. An Spidéal finished with 14 men, their captain Ciarán Ó Laoi seeing red for a dangerous tackle on Kristian Healy in the 58th minute but An Spidéal’s race was run by then with Naomh Éanna cruised the closing stages.
If Naomh Éanna needed any inspiration beforehand, they got it the moment they took to the Páirc Tailteann surface. The roar from the travelling hoards bedecked in amber and black was something special and hair raising. A moment every club in the country aspires for. To see their team take to the field in their first All-Ireland semi final. In a nervy opening, both sides searched for form with Eoin Nagle and Antaine Ó Laoi swapping scores. An Spidéal were well organised in defence with Dara Mac an Rí sweeping while breaking at pace but a run of wides let Naomh Éanna off in the early exchanges.
Naomh Éanna’s first major came in the eighth minute thanks to Kristian Healy. Ethan Gibson breaking the line before passing to Nagle who in turn fed Healy to put the Hightown Road men in control. An Spidéal responded with Antaine Ó Laoi dancing his way through the heart of the defence to carve open a goal chance but Killian Jenning’s produced a superb block to deny a certain goal.
Eastwood pointed his first free of the match in the 10th minute as Naomh Éanna began to ease their way into the semi-final. Any nerves shown in the early exchanges were now gone and they were warming to the challenge An Spidéal were bringing their way.
The Galway men responded with a brace of points from Séan Ó Curraoin and an Ó Laoi free from distance but any An Spidéal attacks were sporadic. Naomh Éanna were well on top and deserved to be further ahead than the two point difference suggested midway through the half.
Naomh Éanna looked capable of creating goal chances at every opportunity and in the 18th minute they had a glorious opportunity more by accident than design. Kristian Healy’s pointed effort came back off the upright where Nagle collected the loose ball. Showing composure to get the yard required by jinking one way and another, his shot was somehow blocked by Conal Ó Caoimh with the goal at Nagle’s mercy.
They didn’t have to wait long before they found the back of Breathnach’s net though. Just two minutes later Joe Maskey made a surging run through the heart of the defence before laying the ball off to Kristian Healy. With a point the easy option, the Naomh Éanna man played a sublime pass into the path of Scott who made a run behind the An Spidéal defence. One on one with the keeper, Scott’s shot was partially blocked by the An Spidéal keeper but crossed the line.
Naomh Éanna were six clear after 20 minutes and loving life in Páirc Tailteann. Their excellent start was briefly halted by another Ó Laoi free before Scott re-established the Naomh Éanna six point lead to take his tally to 1-1. A good half was about to become a dream come true for the Hightown Road side however when Maskey landed their third goal of the match. Breathnach was caught in possession with Naomh Éanna forcing a turnover for the umpteenth time during the half. Maskey collected the ball and struck. It seemed to spend an eternity in the air as the crowd in the Navan stadium held their breath. He couldn’t. Could he? Yes he did. Joe Maskey. Take a bow. Páirc Tailteann went into hysteria and Naomh Éanna were playing their own version of sexy football.
An Spidéal responded by firing over the last three scores of the half with Ó Laoi (free), Eoin Ó Droighnéain and Cormac Lee finding the target but the six point deficit flattered the Galway side. Some soft, if not dubious decision went against Naomh Éanna during the half with Ó Laoi’s free taking capabilities keeping An Spidéal in the game.
The short whistle came at a bad time for the Galway men. Three points in as many minutes unanswered was their best scoring performance of the half and the break would have taken that momentum but two minutes after the restart Pádraig Eoin Ó Curraoin made it four white flags unanswered and the Naomh Éanna lead was reduced to five.
It was as close as they would get to Naomh Éanna though with the Antrim and Ulster champions maintaining control. An Eastwood point in the 36th minute got them off and running after the restart before the post and crossbar contrived to deny them a fourth goal in the space of 10 seconds. Eastwood cutting inside the An Spidéal defence beat the keeper but his shot came back off the post and while Kristian Healy was first to the rebound, his effort cannoned back off the crossbar with the An Spidéal defence all at sea. Eastwood fisted over to ensure Naomh Éanna got something for their attack but it was a bizarre sequence of events when the Antrim champions did everything but find the back of the net.
Eastwood’s third of the half and fifth overall left eight between the sides with a quarter of the game remaining. This was a scenario they would have been dreaming about in the seven long weeks building to the semi. Their destiny was in their own hands and they weren’t going to let it slip. They have become a well-oiled machine and are well versed in game management. They reined in their attacking instincts and protected what they had. Every time An Spidéal raised a white flag they ensured the responded. Eastwood and Cormac Lee swapping frees twice before Ciarán Ó Laoi saw red for a shocking challenge on Kristian Healy. Aodán Ó Curraoin split the posts in the fifth minute of injury time with what was the last poc of the game but by that stage the gates to enter the Páirc Tailteann pitch were already loaded with the Naomh Éanna faithful. The final whistle blew and the roar went up, louder than anything that had preceded it during the 60 minutes and rightly so. A simply awesome performance when it mattered most. The Naomh Éanna men now have an All-Ireland final to look forward to with Kilcummin from Kerry the next obstacle on their crusade. The history makers and ground breakers continue on their merry way though and it’s going to take something special to stop them.
Naomh Éanna: Paddy Flood; Killian Jennings, Damien Gault, Mick McNamee; Conan Lyttle, James McAuley, Conor McAuley; Ethan Gibson, Joe Maskey; Peter Healy, Ruiraí Scott, Kristian Healy; Michael Morgan, Odhran Eastwood, Eoin Nagle.
Subs: Ciarán O’Neill for M Morgan (HT); Philly Curran for E Gibson (60); Donal Walsh for O Eastwood (60)
Scorers: Odhran Eastwood 0-7 (6 f’s); Ruirái Scott 1-1; Joe Maskey 1-00; Kristian Healy 1-00; Eoin Nagle 0-1
An Spidéal: Maghnus Breathnach; Eoin Ó Droighneáin, Éamon Ó Conláin, Liam Kelly; Ciarán Ó Laoi, Michéal Ó Curraoin, Séamus Ó Droighneáin; Dara Mac an Rí, Pádraig Eoin Ó Curraoin; Séan Ó Curraoin, Antaine Ó Laoi, Liam Ó Conghaile; Brian Connolly, Cormac Lee, Conal Ó Caoimh.
Subs: Brian Mac Cathmhaoil for E Ó Droighneáin (black card 44); Aodán Ó Curraoin for L Ó Conghaile (54); Aodán Ó Croighneáin for C Ó Caoimh (black card 60)
Scorers: Antaine Ó Laoi 0-4 (4 f’s); Cormac Lee 0-3 (3 f’s); Eoin Ó Droighneáin 0-1; Pádraig Eoin Ó Curraoin 0-1; Séan Ó Curraoin 0-1; Aodán Ó Curraoin 0-1.
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)