Martin Curran – the hero Naomh Éanna deserved and needed

By Brendan McTaggart

Not all heroes wear capes.  Some have a big bass hurl.  At a time when Naomh Éanna needed a leader, Martin Curran answered the call.  Five penalties faced, four saved and the other was blazed over the bar.  The imagine of him standing on the 21 yard line, arms stretched and his teammates sprinting towards him to celebrate will be my lasting memory of the final.  Lauded as their match winner, the Naomh Éanna ‘keeper wrote his name in their history books and indeed Ulster GAA’s history books.

The celebrations were still going strong but the Naomh Éanna shot stopper stepped away from the carnage and gave us his views on the match.  Curran was hoping to avoid penalties but had enough belief in his own abilities: “I was hoping we would get over the line without facing penalties.  I said to the lads the other week if it goes to penalties, I’d be pretty confident. 

“After the first couple, I don’t think they were ever going to score a penalty to be honest.”

While most ‘keepers are stationary on their line, on their toes and eyeing that one movement or tale, Curran was bouncing across the goal line, up and down.  It was something akin to Jerzy Dudek for Liverpool in 2005 or Bruce Grobbelaar in 1984.  It worked for them then and it worked for Curran. “I seen some of the county keepers doing that back and forth across the line trying to make the goals look as small as possible.  I think it was Stephen O’Keefe who I saw doing it first.

“Damian Casey is some striker of a ball.  He seemed to be slightly fazed by it, hitting the ball straight down the middle.  I thought I would keep it up and it worked.

“Some of the lads were asking me after about Dudek and Grobbelaar but I’m just absolutely delighted and it’s good for a goalkeeper to get some of the limelight for once.”

Seven down at half time of normal time, Naomh Éanna were faced with a huge task.  Curran told us the half time team talk wasn’t quite what he was expecting: “Sambo message was we’re coming back to win this game.  He’s unbelievably positive all the time.  Sometimes I think he’s going to come in and eat the head off everyone but he was calm and said we were going to turn it around.  I think the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half we didn’t give them a sniff. 

Martin Curran gets buried under a crowd of admirers after his heroic saves

“First half we were completely overrun.  They’re a big, strong and physical team.  People were saying about a Tyrone team being all footballers, well they can’t just be called that after this.  They completely ran over the top of us.  Top defenders, boys out in front. I’ve never seen Ruairi Diamond beat for a ball and the man he was marking completely terrorised him all day.  They’re a quality team and I think we were very lucky to overcome them in the end.”

Back to back Ulster titles in football and hurling, Naomh Éanna now embark on the All-Ireland trail.  They will face the winners of Sier Kieraan of Offaly and Tullaroan from Kilkenny on the first week in January.  Curran continued by telling us they will be bending the ear of those involved in the run to Croke Park at the start of the year: “There’s only four players involved who were part of the footballers last year.  Those guys are very important, especially now we’re out of Ulster and this being new territory for a lot of lads.  To be honest there was a lot of jealousy around the hurling panel last year watching the football lads.  Obviously we were up supporting them in the club every night so we just want to emulate, go as far as we can and maybe go one step further.”

Ross pays tribute to club volunteers

By Brendan McTaggart

After leading the fightback in the second half of normal time and in extra time, Naomh Éanna captain Cormac Ross hit the winning penalty in the shoot out.  A crazy ending to what was a rollercoaster 80 minutes of hurling where the Hightown Road men were pushed to the pin of their collar.  Twice.

Ross briefly halted his celebrations to have a chat with us and his immediate thoughts were on Naomh Éanna’s opponents: “It’s a bizarre way to end it.  At underage, we’ve never had a penalty shoot out in hurling in our lives.  That was completely new for both teams there.

“Maybe it wasn’t a completely fair way to settle it after 80 minutes of tough hurling.  It’s very tough on Dungannon.

“Fair play to both ‘keepers.  There was a lot of good penalties hit and they made six or seven saves.” 

His side were second best virtually all over the field in the opening 30 minutes which added to the dramatic nature of their comeback.  Ross continued by telling us they tried to remain calm: “Dungannon are a serious side and they came out on fire.  We struggled against that wind big time but we had that wind in the second half and we did to them what they did to us.  We played the game as it progressed and thankfully, we didn’t panic.

“That’s one way to look at it.  The other way is we were seven down at half time and came back to draw at the end.  We could have pushed on and won it but so could they, I think a draw was the fair result and the draw after extra time was the fair result.” 

Naomh Éanna had three glorious chances in injury time at the end of the hour to snatch victory.  Despite those chances not being converted, the Naomh Éanna captain was happy to still be in the match at that stage: “We were in a better position at the end of full time than we were at half time having come back from seven down.  We were happy to take it to extra time and then it could go either way.”

With reaching the All-Ireland series for the second successive year but in a different code, Naomh Éanna’s stock in the GAA has risen considerably.  Ross said he was obviously delighted to be part of something special: Definitely is.  The committee, the chairman and the underage coaches who have put the structures in place have to take credit for that.  We have the facilities but it’s the people behind the scenes who put the time and effort in to coaching the kids. 

“We have some serious talent coming through now and that’s down to all those people involved.”

Cormac Ross lifts the cup after his team’s historic win

Managers views of Sunday’s Ulster final

Managers View – Naomh Éanna, Sambo McNaughton

Naomh Eanna manager Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton

By Brendan McTaggart

Naomh Éanna manager Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton’s first thoughts after the final whistle went to his opponents.  After 80 minutes of a roller coaster ride, his side edged Dungannon on penalties and he told us: “I’ve never witnessed anything like it, I’ve never experienced anything like that,” stated McNaughton.  

“I wasn’t even sure what was going to happen after extra-time – it wasn’t something we’d spoken about. We had to pick five boys to take penalties – it was car crash stuff. Everybody says it is no way to lose, I dunno. I don’t make the rules.  

“It was a good game of hurling and a good advertisement for hurling.  

“I feel for Dungannon, I do. I’d hate to lose a game like that.” 

Having struggle in the first half for any fluency or momentum, Naomh Éanna faced a gargantuan task in the second half.  Trailing by seven points and showing fierce little in the first half that may have hinted at a comeback but Sambo said his side were calm at the interval: “Honestly, the changing room was alright at half-time. We’d been behind before and, as you stand here now, there’s a fair breeze. That’s a four or five-point breeze.

“I was happy enough and I knew we’d come good. We missed a wild lot of scores, but that’s just inexperience.

“They showed great character and this team doesn’t know when they are beat. Even going back to the Creggan game.

“As a GAA man and as a hurler, I have to feel sorry for Dungannon.

“I know it is great for St Enda’s, but I’d hate to lose a game like that.

“The effort they put in – I know what the Dungannon club do. They drive up to the Glens of Antrim for games and they bring juvenile teams with them. They are trying to promote hurling in Tyrone which isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.

Naomh Éanna had chances at the end of normal time to seal the victory.  They weren’t taken and Sambo said that it’s part and parcel of the game when he added: “In games like that, you are going to get mistakes. They made mistakes and we were making mistakes. We had to keep the heads- we aren’t Ballyhale! It’s Intermediate hurling, the reason it is Intermediate hurling is because people make mistakes.

“These fellas train hard and the one thing I’m proud of is that they’ve changed – they know how to win dirty now.

“They are committed and it is great for St Enda’s and it is great for Antrim.

“I asked them before the match to ruin Christmas for me! I said I want to be training over Christmas. I said I want you to ruin all your family Christmases, go out and ruin Christmas and they did!”

Managers View – Colm McGuinness, Eoghan Ruadh

Eoghan Ruadh manager Colm McGuinness

By Brendan McTaggart

Eoghan Ruadh manager Colm McGuinness was a frustrated figure at the end of the epic battle in Derry.  His side looked like they had their hands on the trophy twice but came up against a Naomh Éanna side who refused to give up.

It took penalties to find a winner and the Sarsfields native spoke of his bewilderment at the contest ending in the fashion it did: “From a mental health point of view, if you had been the boy that missed that penalty, how are you going to feel?

“I think it’s a shame on the Ulster Council that they’re forcing boys to take penalties to get the match out of the way, to be honest.

“Fortunately it wasn’t just one penalty that made the difference, but if it had been just one, how would that fellow feel?

“They’re pumping on about mental health – they should have a look at this, to be honest.

“But the boys gave their all, I’m proud of them. They couldn’t have given much more.

“They gave everything today, they have given everything all year.

“St Enda’s are a Division One Antrim team now, and there was nothing in it all along.

“Somebody has to win, and it’s just unfortunate how it happened.”

The Dungannon side were a class above Naomh Éanna in the first half.  They scored 2-2 in the space of four minutes to take control and but for a heroic piece of defending from Rian Gillen, it could have been three goals.  McGuinness told us it was the start they were after: “We said at the start, if you’re playing with that wind, there’s about five or six points in it, and we weren’t far wrong.

“The wind was very strong and you could drop a ball nearly in to the edge of the square. They got a couple of good breaking balls, which made the difference, and we didn’t push on in the second half, just didn’t get enough scores to keep the distance.”

Coming into the final, many pundits and experts had Naomh Éanna as favourites.  McGuinness continued by adding they felt they were the better team, despite the result: “All around Ulster, people think that counties are inferior in hurling, but we knew we weren’t inferior, if anything we thought we were the better team, and it showed out there.

“The boys were confident to take it on, but we just didn’t get enough done in the end.”

It’s hard even to think of next season, after something like that. Everybody will just have to take a seat and have a look at where they go from here.

It’s not a time to even be talking about next year, to be honest.

Curran the hero as Naomh Éanna win on penalties

AIB Ulster Club Intermediate Championship

Final

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

Naomh Éanna win 1-0 on penalties

Sunday November 17

Brendan McTaggart reports from Celtic Park, Derry

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

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

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

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

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

Early goal

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

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

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

Eoghan Ruadh midfielder Tiernan Morgan makes a break

Dungannon Dominance…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naomh Éanna, Ulster Champions.

Naomh Eanna celebrate their historic victory

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referee: Tarlach Conway (Ballinascreen, Derry)

St Enda’s to edge it-weather permitting

Ulster Intermediate Club Hurling Final

St. Enda’s Antrim v Eoghan Ruadh Dungannon

1-00 pm Celtic Park

Those who made the long journey to Dungiven last Sunday will be hoping for better luck when they travel even further tomorrow for the rearranged Ulster Intermediate club final. Players and supporters of tomorrow’s finalists, St. Enda’s Glengormley and Eoghan Ruadh, Dungannon travelled to Eoin Beg six days ago only to be told at the 11th hour that the pitch was unplayable.

Many were unhappy that a decision wasn’t taken earlier last week but with the weather descent over the last couple of days fingers are crossed that tomorrow’s game goes ahead.

Little will have changed since last week to affect the eventual result though both sides will probably argue that a better playing surface will suit their respective sides. Like last week the Hightown side will start as favourites and under new manager, Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton they have had a great season, winning division 2 of the Antrim league before going on to complete the league-championship double.

Eoghan Ruadh however have benefited greatly from playing in the same Antrim division 2 league and while they were a fair bit behind tomorrow’s rival at league’s end they are a side who have improved steadily as the league progressed.

Antrim man, Colum McGuinness is at the helm in Dungannon for the second time and is regarded as a top coach by the Tyrone club and indeed further afield and his knowledge of St. Enda’s will be important if they are to collect the Intermediate title tomorrow.

Last week we tipped St. Enda’s to add the Ulster Intermediate hurling title to the Intermediate football title they collected last year and nothing has happened in the week that has elapsed since to change our mind but if Damian Casey and Co can produce their best form then it could be mighty close.