Curran the hero as Naomh Éanna win on penalties

AIB Ulster Club Intermediate Championship

Final

Naomh Éanna 2-20 Eoghan Ruadh 2-20 (aet)

Naomh Éanna win 1-0 on penalties

Sunday November 17

Brendan McTaggart reports from Celtic Park, Derry

They just don’t know what it means to quit.  Naomh Éanna.  First time Antrim Intermediate champions and now they’ve added the Ulster crown to their haul but to say they did it the hard way would be an insult to anything that has went before them.

Naomh Eanna players run to congratulate shoot-out hero Martin Curran at the end of the game

Seven down at half time before coming back to force extra time.  Four down nearing half time in extra time, yet they refused to give up.  It took penalties to find a winner and Naomh Éanna found a hero.  Martin Curran, goalkeeper and saver of penalties.  Five attempts, four saves with one of Eoghan Ruadh’s efforts going over the bar.  Team captain Cormac Ross the only player with a successful penalty but that won’t matter to the Hightown Road side who look forward now to a meeting with the winners of Kilkenny champions Tullyroan and Offaly winners Seir Kieran in the New Year.

It was a dramatic day when records were set. The first team to win Intermediate football and hurling titles back to back. The first Ulster hurling final to be decided on penalties and surely the first ever penalty shoot-out to be decided with just one goal. It was elation for Naomh Eanna but even the most hard hearted fan had to feel sorry for the gallant losers. The men from Dungannon were terrific throughout the game and must be wondering just how they ended up with nothing.

John McGoldrick umps for joy after scoring his team’s opening goal

Early goal

Despite an early goal from McGoldrick, Eoghan Ruadh were completely dominant in the first half.  Damian Casey was wreaking havoc while Lorcan Devlin and Tiernan Morgan were superb in the middle of the field.  A run of 2-2 in the just four minutes put them in control and they had all the answers to any question Naomh Éanna may have posed.  But for a heroic block from the outstanding Rian Gillen in the same time, it could have been worse for Naomh Éanna but their turnaround in the second half was immense.

Cormac Ross and Joe Maskey grew into the game and began to exert their dominance while John McGoldrick, substitutes Matthew O’Hare and Ed O’Connor all had a hand in turning the Naomh Éanna fortunes around.

From seven down to having three attempts at winning the game in injury time, the Naomh Éanna faithful had to endure another roller coaster ride in extra time before Martin Curran’s heroics.  A cruel way for any team to lose a game but a match that will live long in the memory of those associated with the Hightown Road club.

Eoghan Ruadh midfielder Tiernan Morgan makes a break

Dungannon Dominance…

The Dungannon men were brilliant throughout the first half and from the first whistle they had Naomh Éanna under immense pressure.  They were reading the breaking ball, hunting in packs and not letting Naomh Éanna settle. 

Damian Casey was their main threat but Branán Molloy and Terry McIntosh were prominent throughout the first half along with Matthew Mulgrew and Kierfer Morgan.  Eoghan Ruadh held a two point lead after the first five minutes before Naomh Éanna scored the opening goal of the final.  Philly Curran’s effort dropped short with ‘keeper John Devlin batting the sliotar clear.  McGoldrick picked and despite a crowd of players, he drilled the sliotar to the top corner.  A superb finish that seemed to settle his side but Eoghan Ruadh had other ideas.

Thanks to Casey and his metronomic ability from frees no matter the distance, they were back on terms before Lorcan Devlin scored their first goal of the game.  Molloy’s effort for point dropping short and while Martin Curran initially cleared the danger, Devlin pounced on the rebound to send the sliotar to the back of the net.

Kiefer Morgan’s goal came just two minutes later.  Collecting a sideline from Lorcan Devlin, Morgan side stepped the Naomh Éanna tackles before finishing in style.  It could and probably should have been worse between the goals though.  Rian Gillen threw his body on the line to deny Tiernan Morgan when he looked nailed on to score a major as well.  It was a brilliant purple match that put Eoghan Ruadh in the ascendency and Naomh Éanna well and truly on the back foot. 

Naomh Éanna were looking second best all over the pitch in the opening 30 minutes and but for some wayward shooting from the Tyrone men, Eoghan Ruadh could have been ahead by more by the short whistle.  Naomh Éanna had a mountain to climb in the second half with a seven point deficit and with no momentum, they were coming second best in the majority of the personal duels throughout the pitch.

Phill Curran makes a good catch under pressure from Eoghan Ruadh’s Josh Ferguson

Half time: Naomh Éanna 1-6 Eoghan Ruadh 2-10

The second half fightback began just with Ruairi Donaghy’s goal six minutes after the restart.  Martin Curran’s poc out evaded the waiting clutch of players and Donaghy took advantage.  Collecting the sliotar and racing through, the Naomh Éanna midfielder finished from 20 yards out and gave his side the belief they could scale their Everest.

Eoghan Ruadh scored the next point through Molloy but Naomh Éanna were a team rejuvenated.  They sensed the chance and a run of three points unanswered left them just two behind going into the final ten minutes.  A brace of McGoldrick frees after a Tiernan Morgan point tied the scores with four minutes of the hour remaining with both sides landing blows in an attempt to make that score which would make them a hero.  Tiernan Morgan’s second point edged Eoghan Ruadh ahead once more before McGoldrick took his tally to 1-9 for the match in the last minute of normal time.  Both sides had chances to win the game in the time that remained, McGoldrick and O’Hare while Casey had a half chance from placed ball deep in his own half but there was no winner inside the hour.

Damian Casey had a chance to snatch an injury time victory for Eoghan Ruadh but his shot from almost 90 meters dropped just short

Extra time: Naomh Éanna 2-14 Eoghan Ruadh 2-14

Naomh Éanna began extra time with a glorious goal chance.  Philly Curran sending the sliotar into the heart of the Eoghan Ruadh defence where Darrach Cooper caught the dropping sliotar.  His shot flashed wide though and the Dungannon men took advantage.  Four unanswered frees from Casey, taking his tally to 11 points for the match had Eoghan Ruadh in the ascendancy once again while Naomh Éanna’s only score of the first period of extra time came from Ed O’Connor in the last action of the half.

After one monumental comeback, Naomh Éanna had to dig deep once again.  Three points felt like a big lead but once again the Hightown Road men met the challenge.  Killian Jennings point in the last minute of additional time looked to have sealed the win for Naomh Éanna and give them the lead for the first time since the 13th minute and Lorcan Devlin’s goal.  Eoghan Ruadh turned the screw though and forced a debatable free in injury time.  The Naomh Éanna bench were incensed but Casey stood over the sliotar 30 yards from goal, close to the stand touchline in Celtic Park and split the posts.

Martin Curran makes the second of his four saves during the shoot out

Full time in Extra Time: Naomh Éanna 2-20 Eoghan Ruadh 2-20

It’s no way to decide a match of this magnitude but Naomh Éanna and Eoghan Ruadh were faced with penalties.  One on one with a ‘keeper 20 meters away.  A time for heroes, a time for men to hold their nerve.  A time for Martin Curran but first Cormac Ross.

Damian Casey stepped up first but Curran saved superbly.  Not the start Eoghan Ruadh would have wanted and when Cormac Ross fired to the bottom right of John Devlin’s net with his effort, it was advantage Naomh Éanna.

Incredibly though, Ross’ penalty was the only successful attempt.  Philly Curran, John McGoldrick and Matthew O’Hare all saw their efforts saved while Tiernan Morgan and Conor McNally couldn’t get the better of Martin Curran.  Conor McNally’s penalty went high over the bar while Branán Molloy needed to score to put the pressure back on Naomh Éanna.  Step forward Martin Curran once again.  A brilliant save that wrote his name into Naomh Éanna folklore as the fans flooded onto the Celtic Park pitch and his team mates sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate.  Somewhere at the bottom of a human mountain of men lay the hero Naomh Éanna needed for the day. 

Naomh Éanna, Ulster Champions.

Naomh Eanna celebrate their historic victory

TEAMS

Naomh Éanna: Martin Curran; Niall O’Connor, Rian Gillen, Ruairi Diamond; Cormac Ross, Mark Donaghy, Joe Maskey; Ryan Bogue, Ruairi Donaghy; Philip Curran, Manus Mullan, Cormac Jennings; John McGoldrick, Darrach Cooper, Killian Jennings

Subs: Matthew O’Hare for M Mullan (HT); Ruairi Crummey for K Jennings (44); Ed O’Connor for C Jennings (51)

Scorers: John McGoldrick 1-11 (7 f’s; 2 ‘65’s); Ruairi Donaghy 1-3; Matthew O’Hare 0-2; Cormac Ross 0-1; Joe Maskey 0-1; Killian Jennings 0-1; Ed O’Connor 0-1

Eoghan Ruadh: John Devlin; Conor McNally, Mark Winters, Sean Donaghy; Josh Ferguson, Stephen Donnelly, Duibhir Marshall; Lorcan Devlin, Tiernan Morgan; Martin Devlin, Terry McIntosh, Branán Molloy; Matthew Mulgrew, Damian Casey, Kiefer Morgan

Subs: Ruairi Devlin for M Winters (50); Padraig McHugh for M Devlin (inj)

Scorers: Damian Casey 0-13 (8 f’s 1 ’65); Kiefer Morgan 1-1; Lorcan Devlin 1-00; Terry McIntosh 0-2; Tiernan Morgan 0-2; Branán Molloy 0-1; Matthew Mulgrew 0-1

Referee: Tarlach Conway (Ballinascreen, Derry)


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