Hard work key for McAuley as Naomh Éanna prepare for an Spidéal test

All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship Semi-Final

Naomh Éanna vs An Spidéal (Galway)

Sunday January 20

Páirc Tailteann, Navan.  Throw In: 2pm

By Brendan McTaggart

This Sunday will mark exactly 50 days since Naomh Éanna achieved the unthinkable.  From the perennial bridesmaid of Antrim football to the Kings of Ulster, it’s been quite a year for the men from Glengormley.  Under the tutelage of Frank Fitzsimons and his backroom team, Naomh Éanna have squashed accusations of choking on the big occasion to break new ground for Antrim football by winning the Ulster Intermediate championship.  On Sunday, they will hope to follow in the footsteps of last years Ulster champions Moy by bringing home the Holy Grail. 

Considering it was their first time venturing into an Ulster campaign never mind an All-Ireland, the Naomh Éanna men would have been forgiven for thinking they were in bonus territory.  Captain James McAuley told us otherwise: “Frank came in at the start of the year and he kept our feet on the ground.  We just set out to take the season as it comes.  Settle into Division One and get ourselves safe then have a look at Antrim (the championship).  Frank always maintained that we were capable of winning an Ulster championship.  There was a bit of a fuss made about the club having not won an Antrim championship but with the age profile of the team, these lads are seriously ambitious and once we realised, we were capable of winning Ulster it was a matter of putting shoulders to the wheel and getting over the line.”

The conundrum for all teams preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final is the same.  How to fill the void that a seven week break brings?  There aren’t many teams or pitches available but friendlies against Gaoth Dobhair and QUB have helped but McAuley gives you the impression the Naomh Éanna lads have relished the prolonged season: “I think its about seven weeks altogether with the break.  We took a week off after the Ulster Final and back to training the week after.  Everything’s been the same as it has been all year, just working hard and training hard to get ready for an Spidéal.”

Memories of that night in Armagh remain vivid on the Hightown Road and the celebrations after were something McAuley says will live long in their memories: “It was unbelievable.  I was saying to the lads after the match that the size of what we had achieved wouldn’t set in until a few weeks after but even now it hasn’t really set in.  Those are nights you won’t forget for the rest of your life and its been a pleasure to be part of a team who has achieved that.”

The match itself was probably the most controlled performance of the year by Naomh Éanna.  Teams hope to peak on the big occasion and McAuley’s side put in close to the perfect performance on the night.  When Mullahoran looked like they would wrestle momentum, Naomh Éanna needed leaders.  Joe Maskey was that man on the night and McAuley added the cult figure within the club is rightly deserving of the praise coming his way: “Joe’s been a colossus for us throughout the whole championship.  He didn’t really play too much for us in the league with injuries but he came in and slotted right into midfield, he really is at home there.

“They had a couple of purple patches.  At the start of the second half they hit three unanswered points and Joe made a catch that broke their momentum.  They hit the cross bar and Joe scored the goal at the other end of the pitch.  I can only sing his praises and he’s loving it.”

When teams go on championship journeys, often there is a moment when a team knows it’s their day or even their year.  A let off, a moment of brilliance or outstanding team performance but the Naomh Éanna defender said their success has been through sheer hard work and commitment from everyone involved and they are reaping their reward: “I don’t think there was a defining moment throughout the season when we realised, we could do something special.  It’s something that’s engrained throughout the spine of the team.  We beat Cargin at the start of the year and we were in a few one point games.  To get over the line in those maybe helped us come championship time but I don’t think there was a defining moment, it’s just something that’s been there throughout.”

McAuley’s full attention is without question on Sunday’s last four encounter but he did admit he would have loved to have been preparing for the Sigerson’s Cup match with QUB on Sunday as well.  Now in his last year of a Master’s degree on Software Development , McAuley agreed the scheduling of the Sigerson’s Cup match has been bizarre and it effects more than him within the Naomh Éanna squad with Odhrán Eastwood missing for Queen’s while Peter Healy and Eoin Nagle missing UCD’s match: “It’s the same day (Sunday) and effects me and Odhran.  We weren’t available for the McKenna Cup and I think they tried to get the Sigerson game moved but even if it was midweek that wouldn’t have been ideal either.  This year there’s a ‘back-door’ route so maybe if we get over an Spideal then we might be available for that game but this is somewhere where we might not be again so obviously all the priorities lay with the club.

“This is my last year at Queen’s.  It might be different for Odhrán but I was injured for last year’s Sigerson’s and it would have been nice to have had a few appearances but maybe that’s still possible yet.”

To coin a phrase and cliché, there are no bad teams when it comes to an All-Ireland semi-final.  An Spidéal have earned the right to be there by winning Galway and Connaught and will pose another step up in calibre of opposition.  McAuley told us however, the players have been focussing on their own preparations for Sunday’s match: “We’ve sort of left everything on an Spidéal down to Frank (Fitzsimons) to be honest.  We’re just concentrating on ourselves and getting us right.  I think we’re going to need that eight or nine out of ten performance against an Spideal and if it doesn’t come and we manage to get across the line, it will be needed against whoever we get in the final.  It hasn’t come yet but it is coming.”

They’ve improved with every passing game on their way to the first All-Ireland campaign for their club.  On Sunday they undoubtedly will have to raise their performance levels once again but one thing’s for certain, Naomh Éanna are capable of more.  Just how much more remains to be seen but for every question that has been posed to them during 2018, they have answered it and asked more of the opposition.  There’s a no fear attitude and a swagger that hasn’t been there before.  A confidence and belief.  For the Naomh Éanna faithful, the 50 days of anticipation nears an end.  For the players, 50 days of preparation comes to a close.  They are 60 minutes away from a date in Croke Park, on Sunday in Páirc Tailteann Naomh Éanna are 60 minutes away from breaking more ground.  If the last person to leave the Hightown Road could put the light off, that would be great.  It’s time for more history to be made.

St. Enda’s one step away from All Ireland final place

All Ireland Intermediate Football club semi-final

St. Enda’s (Antrim) v An Spideal (Galway)

The hard work has been done, nothing left to chance and now it’s down to 60 plus minutes of hard work at Pairc Tailteann and a meeting with Galway and Connaught champions, An Spideal who stand between the Antrim champions and a place in the All Ireland Intermediate club final.

Following their Ulster success back at the beginning of December Frank Fitzsimmons and his backroom team of Pat Hughes and Thomas McNulty have kept their side busy as they have tried to manage the long period between Ulster success and Sunday’s game and they have had them down to the beach at Waterfoot for a number of training sessions just to freshen things up.

The Glengormley club spent a weekend in Donegal recently where they played a challenge game against Gaoth Dobhair and ‘Fitsy’ was pleased at the level of performance against the Ulster Senior club champions.

St. Enda’s also played a challenge against Queen’s last week and the side are in rude health by all accounts and looking forward to the challenge that An Spideal are likely to pose on Sunday.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

A first county Intermediate title followed by a historic victory on the Provincial trail and the show goes on as they turn their attentions to Sunday and an All Ireland semi-final appointment with An Spideal and a visit to Pairc Tailteann.

The Antrim champions will line out against their counterparts from Galway at Navan and who would bet against Frank Fitzsimmons’s charges continuing on their amazing journey.

The Hightown club having recruited Frank Fitzsimmons and Pat Hughes to take charge of their squad gained ultimate reward and after a fair league campaign and a far from impressive win over St Paul’s in the opening round of the Antrim championship the Hightown men set off on their unforgettable championship journey.

Fitzsimmons with a youthful panel at his disposal backboned by the minor champions of a couple of years earlier had little difficulty in dealing with Michael Davitt’s on a 5-17 to 0-07 scoreline next time out and their journey was gaining momentum.

Gort na Mona were catching the eye on the other side of the draw, and when they made the Intermediate decider with a 2-09 to 0-13 win over All Saint’s and St Enda’s defeated Moneyglass 2-10 to 1-04 in the other semi-final the scene was set for what many predicted would be the Hightown men’s toughest test to date.

The Intermediate final was, as anticipated a close affair but St Enda’s showed that little bit of extra class securing the tile on a 0-15 to 1-07 verdict to open the door to Ulster for the first time in their history.

Monaghan representatives Doohamalet were their opponents as they returned to Corrigan Park, scene of their first ever Antrim win so they were back on familiar ground but cast as outsiders.

The Hightown men were well prepared for their Ulster debut and an early Kristian Healy goal led to a 1-07 to 1-02 interval advantage but the experienced Farney men came back strongly in the second half.

St Enda’s finished strongly however and a 52nd minute Ruairi Scott fisted major saw them over the winning line and into the semi-final and a meeting with Tyrone champions Tattyreagh.

The Red Hand champions had proved too strong for St Peter’s of Armagh in their quarter-final and assumed the role of favourites but St. Enda’s were unfazed.

A late James Darcy goal looked to have handed the initiative to the Tyrone champions but in a dramatic last few minutes it was late replacement Michael Morgan’s contribution which clinched the verdict for the Antrim men.

Morgan was sent into the fray in place of Ethan Gibson who had received a black card and when sent away by Odhran Eastwood the former clipped the leather between to posts to see St Enda’s move ahead. Morgan followed with another shortly after and the Hightown men were on their way to an Ulster final.

Cavan representatives Mullahoran provided the opposition for the history seeking St Enda’s in the final as the Hightown men sought to be the first team from the Saffron County to claim an Ulster Intermediate football title and this was to prove another close affair with the result in doubt right to conclusion.

The pivotal moment arrived with around seven minutes on the clock and only a point between the sides when Cormac O’Reilly’s rasper evaded the hands of the St Enda’s net minder Paddy Flood only to find the crossbar and when the clearance reached Joe Maskey the mid-fielder raced away to plant the leather in the net at the other end.

The Antrim champs had done enough and when the long blast arrived they held a 2-11 to 1-10 advantage and a first Provincial Intermediate title was theirs.

                                                    WHO WILL PLAY

At the time of writing no team has been announced but is unlikely to show too many changes from the one that defeated Mullahoran in the Ulster decider. Paddy Flood has been a constant in the St. Enda’s goals and Michael McNamee and James McAuley are likely to be the anchor men in a St. Enda’s defence who have conceded little on their journey to date.

Joe Maskey was a colossus at mid-field against the Cavan men and has been outstanding all year while in attack the Hightown side have a rich array of talent.

Peter Healy and his brother Kristian, Odhran Eastwood, Ruairi Scott, Ethan Gibson and Eoin Nagle are all potential match winners on their day and if they click as a unit then they are capable of presenting the An Spideal defence with a headache.

The action gets under way at 2.00 in Navan and the Saffron Gael will be there to cover the game and I’m predicting another St. Enda’s victory and a place in the final for Frank Fitzsimmon’s side.

Naomh Éanna v Mullahoran: Paddy Flood; Killian Jennings, Mick McNamee, Diarmuid McNulty; Conan Lyttle, James McAuley, Conor McAuley; Ryan Kennedy, Joe Maskey; Peter Healy, Ruairi Scott, Kristian Healy; Ethan Gibson, Odhran Eastwood, Eoin Nagle.

Subs: Ciaran O’Neill for R Kennedy (26); Damien Gault for E Gibson (60)

Scorers for Naomh Éanna: Odhran Eastwood 0-4 (3 f’s); Kristian Healy 1-1; Eoin Nagle 0-3; Joe Maskey 1-00; Ruairi Scott 0-2; Conan Lyttle 0-1

Not so average Joe

Joe Maskey Interview

By Brendan McTaggart

“I’m not an overly skilful footballer but I do work hard.”  Joe Maskey.  A quiet, unassuming giant of the game.  There’s a lot to like about the big midfielder and on Saturday night the Naomh Éanna man’s stock in the game rose even further.  On a night when the Glengormley side needed leaders, Maskey stood tall for his side.  A man of the match performance with his all-round display that had it all.  Catching ball from kick outs that he simply had no right to even get a hand on, scoring the goal that effectively sealed the final for his side while dropping back to defence in the closing stages as Mullahoran launched an aerial assault on the Naomh Éanna full back line in injury time.  He even offered his services to go into nets after Paddy Flood was black carded.  That one fact tells you everything you need to know about Naomh Éanna’s not-so-average Joe.  He epitomises the spirit within the Naomh Éanna side and on Saturday evening in Armagh, that spirit shone bright.

Maskey has been making waves in recent times with Antrim hurlers, becoming a pivotal member of their team and there’s no doubt the new Saffron manager Neal Peden will be keeping an eye on his fortunes over the next number of weeks but for now, Maskey will be devoting his services to Frank Fitzsimmons’ side.

On Saturday night as the Naomh Éanna faithful spilled out onto the Athletic Grounds surface, Maskey was a man in demand.  The youth of the Hightown Road side already idolise the man and his performance in helping Naomh Éanna become Ulster champions had every child associated with the club looking a photograph with the big midfielder.

His 52nd minute goal proved to be the difference with Naomh Éanna taking full advantage of Mullahoran hitting the crossbar.  Less than 20 seconds later, Maskey had the ball in the back of Mullahoran’s net, Maskey added: “I missed something similar the last day when it was on my left but this time it was on my right so thankfully I scored it.”

Having led by three at half time, Naomh Éanna had to withstand a second half fightback from the Cavan side and Maskey told us they just had to trust their abilities: “They came out and scored three on the bounce but we had it in our head that we weren’t going to go behind and thankfully we came back again.

“We always knew they would come at us.  Every team has that but they kinda run out of steam a wee bit.  They got the penalty, Paddy had to take him down as it was a certain goal.  They got the goal but thankfully we didn’t squander our lead.  We just had a bit more experience from losing those U21 semi-finals and choking in our own championship for years, we’ve learned from it and here we are now.

“It’s the first time any of us have experienced this.  Frank said in the changing rooms that it could be the last time any of us get to experience this.  Hopefully it’s not, this is class.”

Having finally won the Antrim championship, the Hightown Road men have won Ulster by accounting for the Monaghan, Tyrone and now the Cavan champions.  All counties with rich histories in the Intermediate championship in Ulster.  Maskey told us they want to keep the dream going: “We went seven up and we just kept running at them.  I think that’s where our fitness came in.  We had a plan, we stuck to it and thankfully we won.  I think it’s Spiddal we play now and that’s something to look forward to.

“We’re a very, very fit and fast team and it will take a very good team on their day to get past us.  They tried to come at us today but thankfully we showed a wee bit more character and got over the line.

“We’ll give it a go.  We’re confident and now were Ulster champions and not just Antrim champions.  Ulster’s a very good standard and other teams will be thinking the same but we’ll look forward to it.”

 

 

 

 

Fitzsimmons: “I’m the happiest man in Antrim tonight.”

Managers View

By Brendan McTaggart

The outpour of emotion and euphoria on the Athletic Grounds at the full time whistle was something special on Saturday evening.  But then again, Naomh Éanna are a special club.  Much has been written and said in the recent weeks of their past but the Glengormley side have been shaping their own future and on a cold night in Armagh, they reached the summit of Ulster.

A late concession of a penalty from ‘keeper Paddy Flood when the Naomh Éanna shot stopper took ‘one for the team’ by dragging down Shane Shiels when the Mullahoran man looked set to find the net added to the drama but did little to effect the outcome of the final.  An outstanding display from the Hightown Road men.

“Credit to them, they were outstanding tonight to the last man.  Fantastic.”  The initial words from the self-proclaimed ‘proudest man in Antrim tonight’, Naomh Éanna manager Frank Fitzsimmons.

The pivotal moment of the final came in the 52nd minute when Cormac O’Reilly’s rasping drive battered Paddy Flood’s crossbar and 20 seconds later Joe Maskey buried Naomh Éanna’s second major of the night.  A hammer blow for the Cavan side and while they will look at that moment, Fitzsimmons felt they were worthy winners with the other goal chances they created on the night and while Mullahoran staged a comeback at the start of the second half, the Naomh Éanna manager knew his side would weather the storm: “We had two or three chances too with their ‘keeper saving from Ethan (Gibson) but when that one came back off the crossbar you do start to think that maybe this is going to be our night.

“I was saying to Pat (Hughes) when they kicked the three points after half time that we need a response here and to be fair we got it, we got it back to three again soon after.”

The trickery and ability to unlock the defence from Odhran Eastwood was invaluable on the night but the pace at which Naomh Éanna were able to break the line against the Mullahoran defence caused the Cavan men problems all night.  Kristian and Peter Healy were major threats with Conor McAuley and Conan Lyttle adding a further dimension when required.

Mullahoran’s tactic of going long suited Naomh Éanna with the full back line more than a match for the majority of the game while they always had a man spare to help with the aerial threat of Enda O’Reilly and Philip Brady.  Fitzsimmons added: “We watched the video and they are route one in attack.  Once they got to the ’45 they launch everything in but I thought Mick (McNamee) and Killian Jennings and young Dairmuid McNulty in the full back line were super for us.

“Breaking at pace from the back, our boys play some serious stuff.  You saw right at the end, Peter Healy running, that would knock the heart out of most teams with a minute of two left in a match.

“You see those boys there, hopefully Lenny will bring a few of them into the panel but not until we’re done but the ground work was done before myself and Pat came in.  There was a good squad of young lads there and we just happen to be lucky to be here to be honest.  It’s great for this club and for this community.”

The bridesmaid of Antrim football became kings of Ulster on Saturday night and with it have cast aside any notion of underachievers.  The Naomh Éanna squad have developed a steely resolve and a knowhow on the big occasion and it was apparent on Saturday night.  They had lads prepared to do whatever it took to get over the line, none more than Ruairi Scott who ended up in goals for injury time.  The Naomh Éanna manager added: “See to be honest, our second ‘keeper is Conor Devlin who’s playing for Larne and Saturday’s don’t suit him so we had to bite the bullet tonight.  Scotty was out on his feet and between him and Paddy, they sorted it out amongst themselves.  Paddy came off and said Scotty can kick a ball anything from 40 to 60 yards and at that stage that’s all we were looking.”

A maiden journey into the All-Ireland lays ahead for Naomh Éanna in the new-year with Galway champions Spiddal and Fitzsimmons told us on a promise made to him by his captain, James McAuley: “I’m going to enjoy preparing and getting us ready over the next few weeks.  I’ll enjoy this tonight and let them enjoy it for a week or two but we’ll get their feet back on the ground because at the end of the day they’re going to be representing their club, their county and now Ulster.

“It’s about getting prepared for it.  Obviously them boys could settle for this but I don’t think they will.  The first night we went back to training at O’Donnell’s after the county final, James McAuley made me a promise that he wasn’t going to get me an Ulster title, he was getting me an All-Ireland title.  That was on the first night back and it gave us a lift and now we’re two steps away.”

Gerry smiled as St. Enda’s claimed Ulster glory

Gerry Devlin smiled down on the Athletics Ground in Armagh from that great grandstand in the sky as his beloved St. Enda’s celebrated the greatest fete in the club’s history by beating Mullahoran of Cavan in the Ulster Intermediate football club final on Saturday night.

Seated alongside the former player and manager of the Glengormley club were Liam Canning, Colin Lundy and his mother Kathleen, Sean Fox and Gerard Lawlor all savouring the moment as the Armagh pitch was draped in a cloak of amber and black as their strong support joined their heroes to celebrate this remarkable victory.

In an era where commitment and sacrifice are the words most often used to illustrate just what is required to achieve success Gerry Devlin and his heavenly colleagues made the ultimate sacrifice.

Gerry was shot dead when leaving the old St. Enda’s clubrooms on the 5th December 1997. He was 36 years of age and had served his beloved St. Enda’s for most of his life. After injury had cut his playing career short he took over the management of the senior football team who gained promotion to division 1 in 1993.

Gerry was regarded as a manager ahead of his time and we can only imagine what he might have achieved had it not been for that tragic night. Liam Canning was 19 when he was shot dead by an off duty UDR member in 1981 while Colin Lundy was only 16 when he and his mother Kathleen were burned to death in their Glengormley home after loyalist’s poured petrol through their letter box in 1991.

Another club stalwart, Sean Fox was 72 when he was murdered in his home, only 200 yards from the St. Enda’s ground in 1993 while Gerard Lawlor was the last to die, cut down as he walked home to his new house on the Whitwell Road on the 22nd July 2002, a promising player just 18 years of age.

Their collective crime, being members of a GAA club in an area where sectarianism and intolerance was rife and in the years that followed St. Enda’s suffered but the spirit of those who had gone before kept the dream alive and today they are a club who are the envy of many.

Their complex beside the old ground boasts three full size playing pitches and they have excellent changing facilities including a new clubhouse. A very successful coaching programme produced a Feile winning side in 2011 and they went on to win the Paul McGirr tournament in 2012. That same group of players won the Antrim minor championship in 2015 and many of them featured on Saturday night’s winning side.

Under the guidance of former Antrim supremo, Frank Fitzsimmons and his backroom team of Pat Hughes and Thomas McNulty they have established themselves in division 1 this season. That first Intermediate championship was finally won this year and Saturday night was the icing on the cake.

No doubt the names of Gerry Devlin, Liam Canning, Colin and Kathleen Lundy, Sean Fox and Gerard Lawlor were mentioned when the subject of Commitment and sacrifice popped up and they must have smiled broadly as they looked down from their heavenly  grandstand as their side celebrated on Saturday evening.

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