AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship Final
Naomh Éanna 2-9 Kilcummin 5-13
Saturday February 9th @ Croke Park, Dublin
Brendan McTaggart reports from Croke Park, Dublin
Naomh Éanna’s incredible championship dream came to an end under the floodlights of Croke Park on Saturday evening. Kilcummin proved a step too far for the Hightown Road men with the Kerry side running out convincing 13 point winners in an entertaining game at headquarters.
The Antrim and Ulster champions got off to the worse start possible and after just seven minutes trailed by nine points. Kilcummin came out of the blocks on fire and in Kevin McCarthy they had a game changer. Playing on the inside forward line for the majority of the game, McCarthy finished the final with an incredible 3-7 from play in a performance fitting for the occasion.
Naomh Éanna found their form eventually in the first half and when Ruairi Scott slotted home their second major of the match in the 21st minute, they had reduced the Kilcummin lead to just two points and playing the brilliant football that had seen them reach Saturday’s final. But when the ball doesn’t roll for you, there isn’t much can be done. The cheers of the large Naomh Éanna support were still ringing through Croke Park when Kilcummin fired another knock-out blow. Noel Duggan was through on goal when he was fouled. Penalty. In the build up Conor McAuley was injured and had to be stretchered off while ‘keeper Paddy Flood was off with a black card.
Naomh Éanna would have been forgiven for thinking that it never rains but it pours. With no recognised ‘keeper on the bench, Ulster semi-final hero Michael Morgan took the gloves but his first act of the game was to pick the ball out of the net with Kieran Murphy’s spot kick giving Kilcummin control of the final once again.
The Kerry men were in truth, a superior side to Naomh Éanna throughout. McCarthy was the main man but Matt Keane and Noel Duggan played the supporting roll superbly. Midfielder Keiran Murphy was a major contender for man of the match and while Naomh Éanna played well in the second half, they found Kilcummin ‘keeper Brendan Kealy impossible to beat. The former Kerry shot stopper stopped the Glengormley side on three occasions after the break in an outstanding performance of shot stopping and a near flawless display from kick outs.
The Naomh Éanna defence couldn’t deal with the free-flowing attacking football from Kilcummin. Their run to the final was built on a tenacious defence but on Saturday night they were pulled asunder by the side from the Kingdom. Kristian and Peter Healy showed glimpses while Eoin Nagle’s performance was a highlight throughout the hour, adding to his growing reputation within the county. Conan Lyttle with another all action display from half back but Naomh Éanna were second best for too long throughout the 60 minutes.
The first goal of the final came with just 90 seconds played. Kilcummin had already a point on the scoreboard when Matt Keane found the back of the net. McCarthy cutting through the heart of the Naomh Éanna defence and while Flood did well to deny his initial shot, Keane reacted quickest to pounce on the rebound.
Naomh Éanna responded instantly when Kristian Healy showed the Kilcummin defence a clean pair of heels. Passing square he found Ethan Gibson in space but the Naomh Éanna man palmed his effort off the crossbar.
The second major came in the seventh minute, McCarthy this time the beneficiary and Shane McSweeney with the assist. McSweeney unselfishly passing to McCarthy when he was through on goal himself.
It was the nightmare scenario for Naomh Éanna but they began to play their way into the final with Odhran Eastwood influential. The Naomh Éanna man landed a brace of points before Nagle scored their first goal in the 15th minute. Lyttle playing the cross field ball into Nagle and while he rounded his man, Nagle was still 25 plus yards from goal. It didn’t deter the Naomh Éanna forward as he unleashed an unstoppable shot to the back of the net.
Eastwood reduced the lead to three points with a free in the 18th minute and while McCarthy and Murphy split the posts for Kilcummin, Naomh Éanna were celebrating their second goal moments later. Kristian Healy with another trademark run finding Ruairi Scott in space. Scott got his shot away and although partially blocked from Kealy, full back Donal Maher couldn’t scramble the ball away on time.
After the start from hell, Naomh Éanna were right back in the game with nine minutes of the first half to play only for disaster to strike almost immediately. Seán O’Leary cutting through the Naomh Éanna defence with searing pace, off loading to Duggan but Flood dragged the Kilcummin man down. Black card and a delay on the spot kick with Conor McAuley receiving medical attention. Eight minutes later and with Morgan between the sticks, Murphy sent the Naomh Éanna man the wrong way to re-establish the five point Kilcummin lead.
Eastwood (free) and McCarthy swapped scores in the time that remained but Kilcummin controlled the closing stages of the opening half, retaining possession and frustrating Naomh Éanna to run down the clock.
Naomh Éanna needed a fast start to the second half to try and eat into the five point deficit. What they got was more brilliance from McCarthy and Kilcummin and frsutartion at the hands of the Kerry sides keeper. Kilcummin knocked over four points in the opening ten minutes of the second half while Kealy denied Kristian Healy. Naomh Éanna weren’t firing in the opening exchanges after the break with three shots sailing off target, two dropping short and a missed goal opportunity in the same time the Kerry men raised four white flags. Small margins.
The Hightown Road side managed to reduce the lead to six points with eight minutes remaining, Scott with two sublime scores with the outside of his boot and Eastwood (free) finding the target while Kealy denied Kristian Healy with another superb save as Naomh Éanna threatened to spoil the Kerry sides day but any hopes of a dramatic comeback were put to bed with Kilcummin’s fourth goal. McCarthy with his second of the match to open a nine point lead with seven minutes remaining, McSweeney once again involved in the build up with Chris O’Leary.
Naomh Éanna continued to push and look for the goals that would bring them into the final once more and to their eternal credit they continued to play the attractive football that had got them so far but Kilcummin were relentless. They continued to press all over the pitch and never let Naomh Éanna settle. Substitute John McCarthy and Eastwood’s fourth free of the hour and seventh white flag of the match came either side of another Naomh Éanna goal chance. Nagle with the goal at his mercy before Daniel Moynihan produced a block similar to Conor Gormley’s of Tyrone in the 2005 All-Ireland final at the same end.
Eastwood’s 59th minute point proved to be Naomh Éanna’s last of the match though as Kilcummin and McCarthy finished in style. Collecting a superb cross field pass, McCarthy showed composure to round and evade the challenge of Morgan despite being pushed wide and blasting to the back of the net in the third minute of injury time.
Substitute Ian Devane added gloss to the score line becoming the seventh different scorer for the Kerry men as they recorded a 13 point victory.
Not the ending Naomh Éanna had hoped for but their journey to Croke Park has inspired. The reception given to them at the final whistle will live long in my memory as they stood beaten on the Croke Park surface, the travelling thousands from Glengormely saluted their heroes. Memories to cherish if not the result. Onwards to 2019.
Naomh Éanna: Paddy Flood; Killian Jennings, Damien Gault, Mick McNamee; Conan Lyttle, James McAuley, Conor McAuley; Philly Curran, Joe Maskey; Peter Healy, Ruairí Scott (1-2), Kristian Healy; Ethan Gibson, Odhran Eastwood (0-7, 4 f’s), Eoin Nagle (1-00).
Subs: Ciarán O’Neill for P Curran (20); Michael Morgan for P Flood (black card 23); Ciarán Thompson for C McAuley (23); Cormac Eastwood for D Gault (43); Niall McKeown for E Gibson (53); Ryan Kennedy for R Scott (57); Donal Walsh for K Healy (60)
Kilcummin: Brendan Kealy; Seán O’Leary, Donal Maher, Daniel Moynihan; Philip Casey, Chris O’Leary, William Maher; Kieran Murphy (1-1, 1-00 pen), Kevin Gorman; Shane McSweeney, Gary O’Leary (0-2), Pádraig Nagle; Noel Duggan (0-1, 1f), Kevin McCarthy (3-7), Matt Keane (1-00).
Subs: John McCarthy (0-1) for P Nagle (44); Daniel O’Leary for W Maher (44); Ian Devane (0-1) for N Duggan (54); Damien O’Leary for G O’Leary (55); Kelvin Teahan for K Murphy (57); Mikey O’Shea for M Keane (60).
Referee: James Molloy (Galway)