Let’s be Frank……

Naomh Éanna manager Frank Fitzsimons speaks to Brendan McTaggart

By Brendan McTaggart

The man behind the team.  Naomh Éanna’s very own ‘chosen one’.  He won’t thank me for writing that, that’s just how he is.  Frank Fitzsimons, a Lámh Dhearg man taken to the hearts of the Hightown Road club has led his troops through a history making, ground breaking year.

And they’re not done yet.

On Saturday evening, Fitzsimons will lead Naomh Éanna out on Croke Park with his eye on the prize promised to him by captain James McAuley after defeating Gort na Mona on that autumnal Saturday afternoon in Corrigan Park. The 20th October forever etched into the hearts and minds of the Naomh Éanna club and the Hightown Road men are looking to bring their fairytale run to the ‘dream-come-true’ ending their season has been building to. The ending their season deserves.

All-Ireland medals aren’t given away though.  On Saturday they face another monumental challenge.  If they are to bring the All-Ireland crown to the Hightown Road, they have to overcome the best Kerry and Munster have to offer, Kilcummin. However if you’re going to win an All-Ireland, what better way to do so than by potentially beating a side from The Kingdom?

After their hugely entertaining, inspirational performance in the semi-final win over An Spidéal, Fitzsimons said he wanted his squad to enjoy the build-up to what is the biggest 60 minutes of their footballing careers: “When I say enjoy it, I don’t mean go out partying!

“They are athletes. The boys had a drink after the Spideal game but it was back to work on the Tuesday night.

“They have to enjoy it because it may never come around again.”

On the squad’s qualities, Fitzsimons added: “To be honest, they are very grounded. They are confident, but they are not cocky.

“There’s none of that. That’s good too because sometimes Antrim teams would be a bit apprehensive about playing teams from certain parts of the country. They are very good that way.”  He continued: “They do what you ask them to do and they work hard and they train hard. I said to them if they win the All-Ireland they can party hard!

“I am trying to keep them enjoying it. You don’t want to be regimental. If they enjoying the game, it usually means you are playing well and that’s good for everybody.”

After the An Spidéal semi-final, Ruairi Scott said he felt they had played better earlier in the championship while other players felt they haven’t hit their peak.  Fitzsimons agrees: “Without a doubt I don’t think they’ve reached their full potential yet.

“There’s been games when they’ve touched on an eight or a nine out of 10, but there’s plenty left in them.

“Hopefully, Croke Park on Saturday night is when it will show itself.”

Croke Park is the GAA’s theatre of dreams.  From the moment you learn to hand-to-toe the ball, you dream of playing on the Jones’ Road. Some thrive on the grandest stage of them all, some get lost in the occasion, the Naomh Éanna manager told us: “As management, that’s up to us. We’re trying to tell them it is just another pitch. Alright, the venue is massive and people can get lost in the size of the stadium, the changing rooms, the cameras and stuff like that.

“Up to now, it hasn’t fazed these lads. Coming through the Ulster semi-final and final at the Athletic Grounds was a big thing. They do things great down there. It is a bigger stadium. If they play the game and not the occasion, we’ll be alright.

“We will try and tell them what they will face when they get down there and it can have an effect on players and then some players just love it and take to it like a duck to water.

“Hopefully that’s what will happen to these boys.”

Saturday will be an opportunity for Fitzsimons to become an All-Ireland winning manager.  Despite the undoubted prestige that would undoubtedly come with a win, Fitzsimons gave quite possible the most Frank Fitzsimons answer when asked on his thoughts: “I haven’t really thought about it much to be honest. I am just enjoying it and whatever happens, happens. There are a lot of downs in this game. If we win it, it will be a nice honour to have. No matter what happens, you’ll still be coaching next year.”  Never one to accept the limelight no matter how deserving.

Style of football draws praise

The style of football Naomh Éanna have produced during their run to Saturday’s final has drawn praise from all corners. When Joe Brolly purrs and heaps praise, you know you’re doing something right.  Even in Cushendall and to use the words of Buff Egan, ‘a hurling stronghold’ they have caught the eye.  During the recent press night for their match on Saturday one of the Ruairi’s panel commented: “It’s not the usual football you see. You could actually sit and watch it.”

Praise indeed.

But for Frank Fitzsimons, it’s about putting things into perspective when it comes to developing a style of play: “It is about making the most of what you have in front of you.

“I can understand it. I was with the county and you are going out against a Donegal or a Monaghan and you can’t play them man-on-man.

“The leagues show that. A Division Four side wouldn’t be going out to play Cargin or St Gall’s in the Senior Championship.

“In my eyes, why should a Division Four team be playing a Division One team in the Championship? I have had this discussion many a time and I think you need to be playing at your level.

“Mullahoran dropped down and that was a massive scalp. It was a very tight game.

“There has been more learning this year at Intermediate. These lads have learned with every game.

“I keep going back to the St Paul’s game. St Paul’s had 10 or 12 years of Senior experience.

“We had words with our boys at half-time because St Paul’s were slowing up the game to suit themselves.

“We needed to express ourselves more and you could see them learning more in the second half.

In every game, there has been something we’ve improved on and hopefully that will continue on to next Saturday night in Croke Park.”

The Naomh Éanna attacking play has drawn all the plaudits but their foundations have been laid with a tenacious defence.  Their work rate and numbers of turnovers achieved last day out was incredible and Fitzsimons was pleased to see the work put in on the training ground bearing fruit: “We work on that a lot in training and it is good to see that happening, turning teams over. I think that’s when teams are the most vulnerable – when you turn them over and hit them at pace.

“Our boys bought into it. I am not saying we are a defensive team, but we try and play football as best we can.

“It is all about winning. This game is so fickle at times.

“We weren’t really at danger of being relegated, but if we had have dropped back into Division Two and went out against St Paul’s in the first round, all of a sudden you are up the road!”

The pace of the Naomh Éanna attack has proved too much for the teams in Antrim, Ulster and An Spidéal to handle.  In theory, Croke Park’s open spaces and pristine, carpet like surface will be conducive for the Hightown Road side: “Hopefully it will, but I’d say the Kilcummin boys have been sitting looking at our last two or three games and they know we are going to bring pace. They’ll be trying in some way to nullify that.

“Hopefully these boys will keep going for the 60 minutes, If they play to their potential, it is going to take an unbelievable team to beat them.

“If we can get a good performance on Saturday night, hopefully we’ll get a good result as well.”

Their opponents on Saturday scraped through to the final with the minimum to spare over Kildare and Leinster champions, Two Mile House.  Philip Casey’s second free of the hour sending the Kilcummin to the decider.  Fitzsimons said of Saturday’s opponents: “They are a typical Kerry team – they like kicking the ball.

“They are very strong. They have a couple of good inside forwards and they have Kevin McCarthy who is on the Kerry panel. It is a Kerry team we are playing and there’ll be no passengers on that team.

“It will come down to a lot of man-on-man battles and hopefully we can come out on the right side.”

Fitzsimons has guided Naomh Éanna through unchartered territory for an Antrim team already.  They won Ulster the hard way and if they’re going to win an All-Ireland, they will have to beat a team from Kerry.  The dream scenario?  Fitzsimons added: “It was the same in Ulster. You usually have to beat a Monaghan or a Tyrone team and we did both then beat a Cavan team in the final.

“What a team to play in the final? A team from Kerry.”

A long season will finally draw to a close on Saturday night.  The Naomh Éanna squad has been tested to it’s fullest and Fitzsimons but the Lámh Dhearg native has no fears of who will represent the club in the starting 15.  He has faith in his squad and that was shown by throwing Damien Gault into full back and the starting 15 for the semi-final: “Damien is very experienced and he is a very good player. You could see it in training, the way he was moving. He is some player.

The last full game he played for us was against Creggan in the league and we were beat by a point. He got an Achilles injury that night and it has been bothering him since. 

“He was very good against An Spidéal.”

Fitzsimons gave a clean bill of health for his squad with Ethan Gibson showing no ill effects of an injury suffered in the semi-final win: “He is going to be OK. We have a couple of wee knocks, the like of Conor McAuley and that but they’ll be alright.

“We should have a full hand. I know you want your full hand, but there are 32 players there chomping at the bit. It isn’t easy to say who is and isn’t going to start. You obviously have a few players who would be difficult to replace, but the boys know that the rest of the boys have put the hard work in too. It is all about the 32 lads on the panel and some of them have worked very hard and have gotten no game time at all, maybe just a few minutes in the league. Without those players, training isn’t great so it is massive to have that kind of squad about.”

All-Ireland finals are what dreams are made off and Croke Park is the theatre of dreams in every sense of the word.  Where legends are made and history written. 

Naomh Éanna are 60 minutes away from creating the perfect ending to their fairytale, their dream.  If there is a more deserving club to have the success thrust upon them that they desire and crave, I’ve yet to see them.  A club who have come through the worst the Troubles had to offer and still dream.  On Saturday, the dream can become reality.  Be Big Naomh Éanna, Be Big.

One step from glory as St. Enda’s face Kilcummin at Croke Park

All-Ireland Intermediate Club Football Final:

St. Enda’s (Antrim) v Kilcummin (Kerry)

St. Enda’s travel to Croke Park on Saturday to face Kilcummin of Kerry in the All Ireland Intermediate club football final as they aim to put the icing on what has been the most remarkable season in the club’s history.

The Glengormley side collected the first senior football title in their history when they defeated Gort na Mona in this year’s Antrim Intermediate football final at Corrigan Park but few could have envisaged just where this victory would lead them to in the months that followed.

Long regarded as under achievers in Antrim, St. Enda’s appointed former Antrim supremo Frank Fitzsimmons as manager in 2017 and after gaining promotion from division 2 the Lamh Dhearg man and his assistants, Pat Hughes and Thomas McNulty led them to an impressive first season back in division 1.

Division 2 sides who have made the step up to division 1 in previous years have struggled to maintain division 1 status but St. Enda’s looked at home in the higher grade recording some excellent results which included a win over this year’s Senior Football championship winners, Erin’s Own Cargin.

St. Enda’s ended their league campaign with a very healthy mid-table finish and this young side have all the attributes to push on and challenge for Senior honours in the not too distant future but for now the focus is very much on Croke Park on Sunday.

Despite that Antrim success there wouldn’t have been too many outside the county who would have fancied St. Enda’s to go on and claim the Ulster title. No Antrim club had won an Ulster Intermediate football title before though Dunloy and Moneyglass have contested finals but fell at the final hurdle.

There was a sense within the county and most certainly within the club that St. Enda’s had the players and the team to put that unwanted record to bed and the Saffron Gael have had the pleasure of following them on every step of the journey to Sunday’s final.

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 staged a second half come-back.

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 the 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 at the final whistle they held a 2-11 to 1-10 advantage and a first Provincial Intermediate title was theirs.

All Ireland semi-final

St. Enda’s v An Spidal (Galway)

It was on to Pairc Tailteann in Navan and a meeting with Connaught champions, An Spidal of Galway and what a day in the sun it proved to be. 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 broke to Joe Maskey and the big mid-fielder 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.

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. 

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 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 never gave the An Spidal defence a breather while the speed of Kristian and Peter Healy coming off the wings opened up the opposition time and again.

 The Naomh Éanna men are now one step from All Ireland glory. Standing in their way are Kilcummin from Kerry and the Munster champions look a formidable side and will probably start Sunday’s final as favourites but that’s unlikely to trouble Frank Fitzsimmons and his side. 

At the time of writing no team has been announced but I wouldn’t expect there to be too many changes from the last day. Frank Fitzsimmons has a strong and talented panel at his disposal and has shown that he is not afraid to make changes where he deems them necessary.

The former Antrim manger and his backroom team will have watched Kilcummin, as he has with all the sides on this year’s unforgettable journey and left nothing to chance and their background work on An Spidal and their ‘Roving Goalkeeper’ certainly paid dividends.

Our reporter, Brendan McTaggart and photographer, Dylan McIlwaine attended Friday night’s press conference at Hightown and later in the week we will bring you interviews from that press conference. We will also bring you reports on Kilcummin’s journey to Saturday’s final and analyse where their greatest threat might come from.

The Saffron Gael will be at Croke Park on Saturday as we continue to record St. Enda’s inspirational journey and hope to capture the celebrations. We wish Frank Fitzsimmons, Pat Hughes, Thomas McNulty and the St. Enda’s team every success.

 Naomh Éanna v (An Spidal): 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

Fitzsimons delighted as Naomh Éanna book final spot

By Brendan McTaggart

Seconds after the final whistle at Páirc Tailteann, the pitch invasion came.  Men, women and children of all ages made their way onto the Navan pitch to be with their heroes who had just made yet more history.  Naomh Éanna were now All-Ireland finalists and they aren’t finished yet.

Somewhere among the swarm of well-wishers, stood the proudest man in Ireland.  Frank Fitzsimons is getting used to days like these and the former Antrim manager told us he wanted the guys to believe in themselves ahead of the match with An Spidéal: “The last thing we wanted was to come down here, don’t perform and get beat.  That’s all we asked and they did it.

“It’s absolutely fantastic for the club and the travelling support.  Travelling down to see these boys you know.  It’s super for the club.”

Since taking on the role last year, Fitzsimons has guided Naomh Éanna through success the likes of which the club has never seen before.  With the dark history the club has had to endure, the Naomh Éanna manager said it makes days like Sunday even more special: “I probably have a better understanding of that than most of the young lads.  I played in those days when things were tough.  Listen, the first night I left from training was one of the very few nights I left Naomh Éanna without a bruise on me.  They were always a tough team and a smashing club but these young lads are brilliant.

“It’s (this year) been brilliant but when you’re winning everything’s good.  When you see boys going out and expressing themselves like they did for the most of the game, a lot of that comes from the coaching we’ve done all year and it’s very good to see that on the day.”

Naomh Éanna produced a controlled performance on Sunday.  On a day where it would have been easy to get carried away with the occasion and lost in the hysteria, the Glengormley side played with the same no fear attitude they have shown all year.  Fitzsimons told us: “When you have boys like Peter Healy, Kristian Healy, Odhran Eastwood and James McAuley.  Calm heads, fantastic.  Eoin Nagle was brilliant up front, I don’t think he lost a ball all day.  I think it’s going to take a good team to beat us.

“I’m so proud of them boys out there today.

“You never think like that (comfortable) along the line.  You have to keep on the game all the time.”

Joe Maskey’s outrageous goal towards the end of the first half gave Naomh Éanna a deserving nine point lead, such was their dominance during the first half.  Fitzsimons admitted they were aware of Maghnus Breathnach joining the An Spidéal attack, having watched the Galway sides previous games.  They had a plan in place for when the ‘keeper left his lines but told us: “Ah Jesus.  We worked on it but we didn’t work on Joe to score a goal from over 55 yards.  It was a great strike.”

The Hightown Road side now turn their attentions to Croke Park on February 9 and a date with Kerry champions Kilcummin.  Fitzsimons said that he wants his side to enjoy the build up to the final in just under three weeks time: “They’ll get a couple of days and everything will be brought back down to earth again.  It’s a massive, massive prize in front of them now.  An All-Ireland Final but I think the build up has to be enjoyed as well.  You can’t just lock them indoors, they need to enjoy it and they have been so far.  We’ll be alright.”

Scott: “We couldn’t fault anyone. Everyone did their job.”

By Brendan McTaggart

Among the mayhem of the final whistle on Páirc Tailteann stood one of the Naomh Éanna heroes with his family.  Ruairi Scott.  Naomh Éanna’s Mr Dependable.  On Sunday he weighed in with his sides second goal, a smart finish to yet another blistering move from the Glengormley side but his overall contribution was immense. 

The 22 year old put in the type of performance that we may have become accustomed to this year and others, but he’s become an invaluable member of Frank Fitzsimons side.  A pivot at the heart of the attack for Naomh Éanna and a calm head when the occasion requires.  On Sunday, he realised a dream: “I was speaking with my family there and they were saying the next stops Croke Park.  As a young boy, you dream of but being from Antrim you may not be able to achieve and to be able to do so with your own clubmen.  It’s special.”

The thought of playing in Croke Park will keep the Glengormley men’s adrenaline pumping for the next few weeks but the Naomh Éanna forward said its been a long but worthwhile season so far: “This is our 14th month training.  We started back in November and it’s been a long pull but to be in an All-Ireland final, it makes it all worth it.  I just want to play it tomorrow.  I’m itching to get going again.  I can’t wait to play in it.”

It was a controlled and composed performance yet at times, devastating.  Again, typical of Naomh Éanna’s championship run.  Scott admitted he always felt they had control throughout the match: “I did always feel that.  They had a wee patch at the start of the second half which any team does but the trait of our team is we come back.  They had a few scores and we just know what to do in those situations.  We started to run the ball a bit more and use our pace.  It seemed to kill them.

“We went in at half time six points up but I think we were kind of annoyed.  I wouldn’t say that’s our best performance at all, it wouldn’t be our best performance this season but it’s all about winning.

“We knew we were a better team and we said that if a few of us had a bad game, they were going to need 15 men on top of us for them to win and on the day, we couldn’t fault anyone.  Everyone did their job.”

The three Naomh Éanna majors came within seven minutes of each other and while Scott’s major came in the middle, even he admitted it would be forgotten about with Maskey’s major the talking point afterwards: “I was looking the ball off him.  He got the ball and I seen him look but what a finish.  Unbelievable.  I want him to do it again at training on Tuesday.  It sums up his year, spectacular.

“He’s known as ‘Big Sleep’ but he has a brain on the pitch.”

It was another mightily impressive team performance and while there are players who will grab the headlines, Scott said those headlines wouldn’t be possible without the work ethic of the Naomh Éanna squad: “I don’t know if we’ve had the same starting 15 all year.  That’s a testament to everyone within the squad.  There’s obviously individual lads who get the limelight but if we didn’t perform as a team then they just couldn’t do it.  It is a team effort.

“Growing up, we’ve always been a team.  We’ve had those four or five really good players who get to the county team but honest to God, 15 players could be county players, we honestly believe that.”

The Naomh Éanna dream and fairytale run continues and in three week’s time they have the chance to write yet more history for both themselves and Antrim.    Croke Park and Kerry side Kilcummin lay in wait and Scott told us they aren’t finished yet: “We’re in an All-Ireland final now but you don’t want to be remembered as a loser.  We’re all a very ambitious bunch but we know Kilcummin are a very good side.  They will be favourites but to be honest, I’m confident in our boys.”

The Naomh Éanna dream continues

AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championship

Semi-Final

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)