Big Joe leads the way as Naomh Eanna make history

AIB Ulster Intermediate Football Championship Final

Naomh Éanna 2-11 Mullahoran (Cavan) 1-10

Saturday December 1

Brendan McTaggart reports from the Athletic Grounds, Armagh

It will go down in history as one of those ‘I was there’ moments.  The day Naomh Éanna became the first club from Antrim to become Ulster intermediate football champions and what a performance to achieve the accolade.  Four points to spare over Cavan champions, Mullahoran and heroes to a man.

To get over the line in Ulster, it takes a special performance.  What Naomh Éanna produced was that in spades.  A controlled first half where they led by three points at the short whistle was the minimum they deserved.  Kristian Healy’s 11th minute goal the difference at the short whistle but the Hightown Road side saw goal chances come and go.  They could have been further ahead and after barely five minutes of the second half, Mullahoran were back on level terms.  The Cavan men were clinical and ruthless after the restart, penning Naomh Éanna in their own half and the Antrim champions were under serious pressure for the first time in the final.

16Man of the match Joe Maskey powers his way towards the Mullahoran goal. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

On the big occasion, you need your big men to stand up and be counted.  They don’t come much bigger than Joe Maskey, both physically and metaphorically speaking.  Naomh Éanna had reeled off their third wide in the space of five minutes and needed something to kickstart their challenge.  In terms of the match, it was one catch, but Maskey rose highest with three Mullahoran men around him in the middle of the park to claim a kick out he had no right to earn.  It was more than just a catch though, it was a symbolic moment in the final.  The moment Naomh Éanna wrestled back momentum and they never looked back.  A stirring second half performance to withstand the Mullahoran fightback and push to victory but if we need to have the exact moment Naomh Éanna knew it was their day, it came with just nine minutes to go and three points separating the sides.  The Cavan men sent another high ball into the heart of the Naomh Éanna defence, for once it wasn’t dealt with and the ball broke loose to Cormac O’Reilly and his thunderous effort cannoned back of the cross bar.  20 seconds later the ball was in the back of the Mullahoran net at the opposite end of the pitch.  A clinical counter attack culminated in Eoin Nagle finding Maskey in space and the Naomh Éanna midfielder did the rest with a high catch and clinical finish low to the ‘keeper’s right.  The closing stages were frenetic with Mullahoran pushing for the scores to get their Ulster championship hopes revived but even the concession of a late penalty and the subsequent black and red card for ‘keeper Paddy Flood, wasn’t going to stop Naomh Éanna from achieving a dream.

19Kristian Healy was a constant thorn in the side of the Mullahoran defence. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

The Glengormley side started brightly and the direct running and pace of Kristian Healy was causing the Cavan men serious problems from the first whistle.  He opened the scoring with a fisted effort after two minutes only for Enda O’Reilly to land his first point of his personal tally of 1-6 over the hour in the fifth minute.

The first goal chance came in the 10th minute with Nagle showing the Mullahoran defence a clean pair of heals before hand-passing across the six yard box to the waiting Gibson.  The Naomh Éanna man leaped to palm the ball goalward but his effort landed somewhat fortuitously into the waiting arms of Sean Briody in the Mullahoran goals.

A set back at the time but they made amends with the next attack.  Peter Healy forced a turnover from a short kickout and passed forward to brother Kristian.  The flying half forward made no mistake with his right footed effort to place the ball into the bottom corner and give Naomh Éanna the momentum.

A Conan Lyttle point underlined the supremacy of the Hightown Road side in the 13th minute and while Callum Mussi responded for Mullahoran, the Cavan men had no real attacking impetus in the early exchanges.  They were electing to drive the ball long and early at every opportunity and while they had fleeting moments, Naomh Éanna were able to deal with the threat while creating and building momentum at the other end of the pitch with methodical precision.

Nagle landed his first point of the final in the 19th minute only for Enda O’Reilly to land his first free of the match two minutes later to leave Healy’s goal separating the sides.  A gargantuan point from midfielder Peter Paul Galligan reduced the deficit to two points and while a brace of frees from Odhran Eastwood extended the Naomh Éanna lead to four points, Mullahoran were finding more joy in the Naomh  Éanna’s half of the pitch.  They began to adopt a low delivery into Philip Brady and Cormac O’Reilly in the inside forward line and while the Naomh Éanna defence were still on top, Mullahoran were more efficient with their use of the ball in the closing stages of the opening half.

Enda O’Reilly’s second free and third point of the half left three between the sides but Naomh Éanna should have had another goal and it was Gibson who had the chance once again in an almost carbon copy of his earlier miss.  Ciaran O’Neill supplying the pass and the Naomh Éanna midfielders palmed effort found the grateful arms of Mullahoran ‘keeper Briody on the stroke of half time.

10Odhran Eastwood is closed down by the Mullahoran defence. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

Half time Naomh Éanna 1-5 Mullahoran 0-5

It was almost the perfect half for Naomh Éanna.  They would have wanted a quick start to settle them into the final and they held Mullahoran largely at bay for long periods of the second half.  The Cavan men started the second half on fire though and through points from Sean McKeogh, Enda O’Reilly (free) and Colm O’Reilly, Mullahoran were back on terms by the 34th minute and looking like taking the game away from Naomh Éanna.

The Hightown Road side began to edge their way back into the game and although they were errant in front the target, they were giving their defence some respite.  They scored their first point of the second half in the 42nd minute with Nagle finishing an incisive flowing move through the heart of the Mullahoran defence with the Healy brothers and Ruairi Scott all involved before creating another glorious goal chance.  Kristian Healy once again proving too hot to handle and passed square only for Conor McAuley to fluff his line along with Gibson and Nagle being denied by some last gasp defending by the Cavan side.

Joe Maskey fires the ball to the Mullahoran net to give his team a six point cushion. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

Ruairi Scott landed a huge point mid-way through the half before Eastwood landed his third free of the match to open a three point deficit once again, Naomh Éanna restoring their half time advantage as they began to whether the Mullahoran storm.  Then came the moment when Naomh Éanna took complete control.  From the width of the crossbar at one end to the clinical finish of Maskey at the other, the six point swing proved to be the winning and losing of the game.  Further scores from Scott, Nagle and Eastwood were answered by a brace of Enda O’Reilly frees for Mullahoran as Naomh Éanna took a seven point lead into the last minute of normal time.

Mullahoran went in search for goals and with the brilliant side step of substitute Shane Shiels, they had a penalty.  Shiels gathered the ball before remaining composed and created the yard he needed.  The Mullahoran man was dragged to the ground and referee Dan Mullan awarded a penalty and a black card to ‘keeper Flood.  Having received a yellow card earlier in the half, Flood saw red and Naomh Éanna were left with a conundrum.  Ruairi Scott answered the call but he could do nothing with Enda O’Reilly’s spot kick.  The Mullahoran ace marksman found the bottom corner to rekindle the Cavan sides fading hopes but Naomh Éanna were not to be denied.  A whisper of glory in early January in preseason and a dream began.  On a cold winter’s night in the Cathedral City, the Naomh Éanna dream came true.  Ulster Champions….. Naomh Éanna Ábu!

TEAMS

Naomh Éanna: 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

Black Cards: P Flood (60)

Yellow Cards: O Eastwood (32); P Flood (36); K Healy (58)

Red Cards: P Flood (60); E Gibson (60)

Mullahoran: Sean Briody; Callum Mussi, Tadhg McGahern, Cian O’Reilly; Paul Brady, Matthew Hynes, Colm O’Reilly; Killian Brady, Peter-Paul Galligan; Raymond Lynch, Endo O’Reilly, Sean McKeogh; Gavin Brady, Philip Brady, Cormac O’Reilly.

Subs: Shane Shiels for Galligan (52); Daniel Smith for C O’Reilly (55); Barry McArdle for S McKeogh (56)

Scorers for Mullahoran: Enda O’Reilly 1-6 (1-00 pen, 5 f’s); Callum Mussi 0-1; Colm O’Reilly 0-1; Sean McKeogh 0-1; Peter Paul Galligan 0-1

Black Cards: N/A

Yellow Cards: S McKeogh (8); M Hynes (15);

Red Cards: N/A

Referee: Dan Mullan (Derry)

Attendance: 2328

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Pics by Dylan and Paddy McIlwaine

Sixty minutes from history

AIB Ulster Intermediate Football Championship Final

Naomh Éanna vs Mullahoran (Cavan) at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh

Throw in: 5pm

By Brendan McTaggart

All roads lead to the Athletic Grounds on Saturday evening for Naomh Éanna and another chance to etch their names in history.  The Antrim Intermediate football champions have navigated their way to an Ulster Final and a chance to become the first winners of the provincial crown from the Saffron County.

Cavan side Mullahoran stand in Naomh Éanna’s way and while the Hightown Road side will go in as underdogs, it would take a brave punter to lay against them.  Having accounted for the Monaghan and Tyrone champions to get this far, Naomh Éanna will come into Saturday’s final confident of bringing more glory to the Hightown Road.

Former Antrim senior football manager and Lámh Dhearg clubman Frank Fitzsimons has masterminded Naomh Éanna’s success.  With Pat Hughes and Thomas McNulty in his management team, Fitzy and co have guided Naomh Éanna to the brink.  “I was apprehensive at the start.  Outside of my own club, I had only managed Antrim at all levels but after a couple of weeks that changed.”  The words of Fitzsimons when asked on the beginning of his tenure.  After a successful 2017, gaining promotion to Division One for the first time in 13 years, Naomh Éanna maintained their position in Division One for the 2019 season and Fitzsimons told me it was their only objective at the start of the year: “You see progress on the pitch during matches but we saw the progress in the training field early days.  It’s been a very, very good year and hopefully we can make it a great year.

“Retaining our Division One status was paramount for us at the beginning of the year and when that was achieved, we reassessed, gave the championship a run and this is where it’s got us.”

Playing in Division One and holding their own at the top table of Antrim football has stood by the Hightown Road side in 2018 and has been a learning curve that has helped them through the treacherous waters that the Ulster championship can bring but the man known as ‘Russ’ told us felt they had a strong chance in Ulster before their opening match against Doohamlet: “Doohamlet and Tattyreagh were big, strong sides but we came up against a lot of strong teams in the Antrim championship as well.  St Paul’s was a big match then Davitt’s where the scoreline probably didn’t reflect the match.  Moneyglass was huge and then the final against a Gort na Mona side who were flying at the time.

“After that match we told the lads to enjoy that night and the Sunday but it was back to the training pitch on the Tuesday night and it was then I thought we could have a run in Ulster.  The attitude of the players that night was fantastic and I just sensed something was brewing.”

It took a late surge and two points from substitute Michael Morgan to seal Naomh Éanna’s place in the final with the Glengormley side showing huge character to recover from a late Tattyreagh goal.  Fitzsimons added: “The semi-final was tough but once they got that goal, I knew we’d get a reaction.  It’s something that this team has shown throughout the year.  They almost need to go behind to get the best out of them and that night was no different.

“We’ve all spoken about it.  The players and management.  It’s not the ideal situation waiting on going behind before getting a reaction.  We know we need to be more proactive than reactive but with every set back, the lads have answered it.

“These situations brings different characters forward.  You either roll your sleeves up and get stuck in or you roll over and its good night.  Thankfully we’ve got enough lads in the squad who are prepared to roll their sleeves up.”

With the chance to become the first Antrim team to win the provincial crown at this level, the rewards are huge for Naomh Éanna.  They are coming up against an experienced Mullahoran side who came through a titanic battle against a much fancied Banagher side in their semi-final.  Extra time, extra-extra time and eventually free kicks was required to separate the Cavan and Derry champions before Naomh Éanna’s semi against Tattyreagh, Fitzsimons told me: “It was unusual alright but we’ve been faced with that type of thing a few times this year where we maybe haven’t had enough time to get warmed up.  Maybe that’s why we took a bit longer to get started.”

Pressure and nerves come hand in hand with big occasions and Saturday will be no different but with a young age profile, the Naomh Éanna squad have the youthful exuberance and no fear attitude that has seen them make breaking ground in 2018.  Fitzsimons added: “I’ve been trying to get it through to players for years.  There should be no pressure on them going into matches, all the pressure should fall on the management.  If you feel nerves, you don’t enjoy the game and if you’re not enjoying it then what’s the point?  Off course there will be lads who will be feeling nerves, that’s only natural but they’re up for this and looking forward to Saturday evening.”

Not many could have predicted Naomh Éanna would still be playing championship football on the first weekend of December.  It’s been a season to never forget for Frank Fitz and his side but the Naomh Éanna manager is hopeful it’s only the beginning: “Plenty of people have been calling this bonus territory for us but I don’t but into that at all to be honest.  This team has huge potential, they’ve performed well so far and hopefully they’ll continue to push on regardless of the result on Saturday night.”

60 minutes from a maiden Ulster crown and 60 minutes from etching their names in Antrim and Ulster history, Naomh Éanna stand on the verge of greatness.  Let’s get behind the Hightown Road men on Saturday. #NÉA

Moneyglass and Dunloy appeared in Ulster finals

Ulster Club Intermediate Football Championship final preview

St Enda’s are the third Antrim club to contest an Ulster Intermediate football final and they are bidding to become the first side from the Saffron County to win the title. Moneyglass were the first team to qualify for a decider when they played Tyrone champions Pomeroy in the final in 2004, while Dunloy made it to the final three years later where they were beaten by Ballinagh of Cavan.

Here we carry the reports from those games as they appeared in the Ballymena Guardian. I have to say both reports were a little hard on the home teams and must have been written by a reporter from the opposition teams, the ‘hitting a brick wall’ phrase appears in both.

 

December 2004

Moneyglass run into a brick wall

Moneyglass 0-7 Pomeroy 1-13

2004 intermediate champsThe Moneyglass team who won the 2004 Intermediate championship

After a magnificent season, which saw them go unbeaten through their league and Intermediate Championship campaign, Moneyglass, in this Ulster final, ran into a brick wall.

The Tyrone champions, with a similar track record to the Antrim men, once they found their bearings in Casement Park, dominated this tie almost from start to finish. Moneyglass with early points from Kevin Brady and Ciaran Duffin looked to have the edge and certainly they settled much quicker that their opponents. However once Pomeroy got into top gear they proved unstoppable.

Aidan McCreesh began the charge with a 10th minute point and along with Ciaran McKenna, Jarlath Quinn and Michael McCourt had eight on the board at the half-way stage. As the slick looking Tyrone men chalked up the points the St Ergnat’s side were in obvious difficulty and with a defence working flat out, and midfield struggling, the forwards had few chances and failed to score again during the first half.

If the Moneyglass men were not dead in the water by this stage it took just six more minutes to put an end to their chances. They were unfortunate when an early effort from Ciaran Duffin came off a post, only to be followed by a Michael McCourt point. The same player delivered the killer blow in the sixth minute when he was on hand to fist home a Benny Devlin fisted clearance. Another point from McCourt five minutes later made it 1-10 to 0-4 and it was curtains for the South West side. In fairness the refused to throw in the towel and they had a good spell between the 12th and 19th minutes when Aidrian McKeefry, Paul McErlean, James Marron and Ciaran Duffin all had points.

The Pomeroy lads however were still not finished and points from Ollie McCreesh, Aiden McCreesh and Steven McKenna gave them the title. Moneyglass did score once more before the end, when substitute Liam Brady had a point but on this occasion they met a stronger more direct side certainly intent on doing the business. Disappointment for Moneyglass but they have nothing to feel ashamed about. They have gone further than any other team in the county and deserve great credit for that.

The Pomeroy scorers were Michael McCourt 1-3; Aiden McCreesh 0-4; Ciaran McKenna 0-2; Jarlath Quinn 0-2; Olly McKenna 0-1; Steven McKenna 0-1.

Moneyglass replied through Aidrain McKeefry 0-2; Kevin Brady 0-1; Paul McErlean 0-1; James Marron 0-1; Ciaran Duffin 0-1; Liam Brady 0-1.

November 2007

Dunloy’s dream ends

2018-11-28-0001 copy

Ballinagh (Cavan) 2-11  Dunloy (Antrim) 2-3

Dunloy can have no complaints after being well beaten by a stronger and much more imaginative Cavan side in the Ulster Club Intermediate Football final at Healey Park, Omagh.

For the Dunloy men it has been a wonderful journey as expectations since winning the Antrim title were never too high. They managed to beat Kinawley in the Ulster quarter final and raised expectations somewhat when they performed exceptionally well against Newbridge in the semi-final. On this occasion however they ran into a brick wall and apart from the opening couple of minutes were always gasping for breath. When hit by a couple of late first half goals they were finished and an injury to David Birt, after just 17 minutes didn’t help things either.

During the second half they were likewise always playing second fiddle as Ballinagh dominated in every position and a 41st minute Benny McGarry goal only helped their opponents to move into another gear.

Dunloy made a few changes from their semi-final side. Gareth McAllister came off the bench to partner Johnny McAleese at midfield with David Birt moving to the half forward line. Ballinagh too drafted in Pat Carroll for Anthony Duffy to the full back line to combat the threat of the Dunloy full forward line but it was something of a surprise when three point half forward Kevin Smith was replaced by David Finnegan. In the end the changes made by both sides had little bearing on the game. For their part Dunloy failed to come up to scratch. Certainly their tried hard but they were outplayed and outfoxed by a much stronger side. Ballinagh on the other hand threw in players right, left and centre and each and every one of them stepped up to the mark.

What a start Dunloy got when Kevin McAllister picked up a ball from Adrian McAllister and in the second minute they were a goal to the good. Their lead lasted just nine minute as Ballinagh followed with points from Colin Gumley, Anthony Gaynor and Declan Beard to level matters by the 11th minute. They continued to dominate as Dunloy found the going much tougher and points from Niall McDermott and Gumley saw them lead by two after 19 minutes. The first of their goals came two minutes later when Niall McDermott cut through the Dunloy defence and beat Gary McIlfatrick all ends up. Dunloy’s second score of the game came from a Benny Carry free in the 22nd minute but they were to be hit with another goal before the break. This time corner-forward Paul Galligan and at this stage even the most optimistic knew that Dunloy were finished.

Perhaps no-one told the players as Paudie Shivers, just a minute after the restart, knocked over a point which could have sparked a revival. It wasn’t to be however as the Cavan champions hit back with three unanswered points, Galligan doing the damage with points in the 34th, 35th and 37th minutes, the last one a fine fisted effort. The only thing Dunloy had to cheer about in the final 30 minutes was a 41st minute goal. Jerome McAllister set up Benny McGarry who gave his side some hope as at 2-2 to 2-6 they had perhaps an outside chance.

Ballinagh however came back again with three more points to kill off any chance the North Antrim side had. Anthony Gaynor pointed a 45, substitute Kevin Smith made his mark and Colin Gumley made their total 2-11. A well beaten Dunloy side had the final say when substitute Declan McGarry knocked over a late point.

Dunloy scorers – Benny McGarry 1-1; Kevin McAllister 1-0; Paudie Shivers 0-1; Declan McGarry 0-1.

Ballinagh – Paul Galligan 1-3; Niall McDermott 1-1; Colin Gumley 0-3; Anthony Gaynor 0-2; Kevin Smith 0-1; Declan Beard 0-1.

The Dunloy team that day was

Gary McIlfatrick, Chris Brogan, Conor McKinley, Darren Webb, Barry Murphy, Paudie Shivers, Cahir Cunning, Johnny McAleese, Gareth McAlliser, David Birt, Kevin McAllister, Kevin McQuillan, JJ McFerran. Subs – Colin Cunning for David Birt, Jerome McAllister for Murphy, Benny Merron for Paudie Shivers, Declan McGarry for Johnny McAleese.

St. Enda’s one step from Ulster glory

Ulster Intermediate Club football championship final

St. Enda’s Antrim v Mullahoran Cavan

5-00 Athletic Grounds Armagh

St. Enda’s Antrim are one step away from Ulster glory as they attempt to put the icing on a truly remarkable 2018 season. Standing in their way is the considerable obstacle of Mullahoran, Cavan but it is an obstacle the Glengormley side are quite capable of overcoming.

The journey began for the men from the Hightown Road way back in April when they made their debut in division 1 of the ACFL having gained promotion the season before from division 2. Under the management of former Antrim supremo Frank Fitzsimmons and his assistants, Pat Hughes and Thomas McNulty they travelled to Ahoghill and recorded a convincing win over the home side.

Undoubtedly playing division 1 football was a big plus in the development of what was largely a young and inexperienced side but it was clear from early in the season that St. Enda’s were more than capable of holding their own in the top division.

They lost their next two games by a single point, away to Rossa and then to eventual league winners, Kickham’s Creggan and then in early May they recorded a fine victory over Erin’s own, Cargin which must have been a major boost to their confidence.

Results continued on the positive and even in defeat St. Enda’s were turning in strong performances and the went on to finish in mid table at the end of their first division 1 campaign for quite a number of years.

Come championship time and it was time for the Glengormley side to put an unenviable record to bed. St. Enda’s had never won a football championship at Senior level and as the Antrim Intermediate championship kicked off they were determined to put matters right.

They began their campaign with a win over St. Paul’s and went on to defeat Davitt’s, Moneyglass and a strong Gort na Mona side in the final to collect their first championship title. Determined not to rest on their laurels however they now set their targets even higher as they entered the Ulster Intermediate championship for the first time.

They were drawn against Doohamlet O’Neill’s the Monaghan champions in the quarter-final at Corrigan Park and in front of a big ‘Home’ support they turned in another strong performance to overcome the challenge of the Monaghan men.

Despite eventually winning 2-15 to 3-4 and dominating for long periods of the game there would have been some concerns by the fact that they had conceded three goals in the process, never the less it was a fine attacking performance with Kristian Healey and Ruairi Scott getting the all-important goals.

Tattyreagh of Tyrone were St. Enda’s opponents in the semi-final at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh and the Tyrone men came to Armagh with a considerable reputation having beaten St. Peter’s of Lurgan at the same venue in the quarter-final.

In a tight contest the Hightown side  seized the initiative after a frantic opening few minutes, Naomh Éanna led at half time, but a second-half goal from James Darcy saw the Tyrone champions wrestle back the lead and as the game entered the closing stages it was all square and still anybody’s.

A black card for an in-form Ethan Gibson saw Frank Fitzsimons scramble for a replacement, and Michael Morgan was summoned from the bench.

Inspired substitution or a lucky stroke?, make your own minds up but Morgan became the St. Enda’s hero as he fired over the last two points of an enthralling contest to send his side through to a final meeting with Mullahoran.

Cavan champions Mullahoran had made a little bit of history at the same venue and on the same day when they defeated Derry champions Banagher in the other semi-final. The sides couldn’t be separated after two periods of extra time before Mullahoran won the first ever free kick shoot-out in Ulster football to emerge victorious.

We have already looked at Mullahoran in an earlier article and they are likely to provide St. Enda’s with a stiff challenge on Saturday evening but it is challenge that the Antrim champions will relish and embrace.

The Healey brothers Kristian and Peter are likely to line out in the St. Enda’s attack.

The Hightown Road outfit are a fine side laced with players who are fast, skilful and extremely fit and they have displayed an insatiable appetite and work rate that has seen them produce the goods when the chips were down and they might well have to call on those reserves of character again on Saturday.

The team is likely to line out along similar lines as in the last two games and Fitzsimmons has been on record on emphasising the importance of the panel as well as the starting 15. Paddy Flood will line out in goals and the former Antrim keeper’s experience will be vital and in front of him Michael McNamee at full-back and captain Joe McAuley at centre-half have been ever present in an attack minded defence.

County hurler, Joe Maskey has emerged as a serious mid-fielder as the season has progressed where is likely to be partnered by the experienced Phillip Curran. It’s in attack where St. Enda’s can do the damage that should see them take the Ulster title with Odhran Eastwood, Eoin Nagle, Ruairi Scott and the Healey brothers, Peter and Kristian all capable of producing the fire power to get them over the line while Michael Morgan will be ready to add that little bit extra if called upon.

Mullahoran are formidable opponents

Ulster Club Intermediate Football final preview

St Enda’s v Mullahoran

As Mullahoran make the journey to face St. Enda’s in the Ulster Intermediate football championship final at the Athletics Ground on Saturday evening there is a strong feeling within the Cavan camp that they can go all the way to Ulster success.

Indeed the history of both clubs would suggest that the ‘Dreadnoughts’ are better equipped than their Antrim counterparts to fulfil their Ulster dream and they will be heading to Armagh in confident mode.

Mullahoran have a rich history in Cavan football and sit third only behind Cornafean and Cavan Gales as Cavan senior championship winners with their last title coming back in 2012. Prior to that Mullahoran last won the Oliver Plunkett Cup in 2006 but since 2012 the clubs fortunes have faltered.

Team manager Seanie Smith played on the 1998 and 2006 Senior championship winning sides before taking on the management duties in 2017 following a period of decline in the club which saw them drop down to Intermediate for the first time in 40 years.

Their star man, Killian Brady admits some home truths had to be told before the club could bounce back from losing its senior status last year – and, with an Ulster intermediate final on the horizon, they are reaping the benefits now.

The Dreadnoughts finally dropped down to intermediate after failing to win a game in the top flight.

Brady admits that, as painful as it was, it was probably a good thing in the short term and it has paid dividends.

The rebuilding process started immediately, with some frank discussions taking place before the slate was wiped clean.

“It was probably coming for a couple of years – we had been struggling. Down the road you could see it coming,” said Brady, one of Cavan’s top performers in a disappointing summer.

“When I was minor there was five or six of us came in at the one time, there was a gap of four or five years there where there was no underage coming through.

“Early on we would’ve identified there was a gap between young and old – we weren’t gelling right, we weren’t pulling together and there was probably two distinct groups within one group.

“We just had to hit the reset button, and we came over that a lot quicker than we thought ourselves in the last 12 months; it’s nearly been instant. Winning games helped, younger lads stepping up in some of the games and showing they do have that will to win that people would’ve questioned.

“I was certain myself last year after relegation that there was enough within the group to come back, but people maybe from the outside mightn’t have seen it.

“Lads have answered all their critics this year, and then some.”

He’s not wrong there. After conquering Cavan, a thrilling Ulster campaign has seen them edge past Down champions Bredagh and Derry outfit Banagher – both after extra-time – to book a final clash with Antrim’s St Enda’s on December 1.

With their swift return to senior in Cavan already secured, Mullahoran’s exciting mix of youth and experience now look forward confidently to the meeting with St. Enda’s of Antrim whose championship history couldn’t be much different to Mullahoran’s.

Indeed the Glengormley side won their first senior football championship at any level in the county this year and certainly would not have been on many of the punter’s radar as possible Ulster champions at the start of this year’s campaign.

The drop to Intermediate following 40 years of senior football seems to have had the necessary effect for Mullahoran and saw them gain promotion and lift the Intermediate championship this year so they are certainly a side who will have to be taken seriously.

Their semi-final win over Banagher made a wee bit of history at the Athletic Grounds when Mullahoran won on free kicks after the sides were tied at 1-16 to 0-19 after extra time, the first time the free kick competition has been used in the province.

The game itself was a titanic struggle with the sides level 1-9 to 0-12 at the end of normal time and again at 1-14 to 0-17 after the first half of extra time. At the end of extra time they still couldn’t be separated and so to the free kick shootout.

The Cavan champions won the free kick competition 0-5 to 0-3 and in doing so showed that they can deal with the pressure of the big occasion. In Enda O’Reilly who scored 0-6 on the night and Philip Bady (1-4) they have potential match winners while Killian Brady and Gavin Brady give them a strong platform at mid-field.

“We were senior for 40 years and it was difficult to drop back but, looking at it now, in the long run it was probably the route we had to go for that transition. To be fair to the lads, they all knuckled down, got stuck in and we focused on getting back to senior,” said the Dreadnoughts boss.

“We have seen now how those younger lads have developed. Probably a lot of us think about tradition and history, but for those lads it was just about getting into a competition, going and playing.

“Whether it was a lower division or intermediate championship, they just wanted to go and start winning, and then you get the winning habit going. We played 13 league games in Division Two, won 12 of them.

“Now we’re in a situation where these guys want to keep winning. Ulster brings a different challenge, which is great.

“It’s been a huge turnaround in 12 months.”

Saturday’s final in Armagh will provide Mullahoran with the platform to put the icing on a great season and the Dreadnoughts will travel to the Athletic Grounds full of confidence but they are unlikely to get anything easy from a St. Enda’s side who have gone from strength to strength this season under the guidance of former Antrim manger, Frank Fitzsimmons.