All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championship Final
Date: February 9th
Venue: Croke Park
Opposition: Naomh Eanna Antrim
Result: Kilcummin 5-13 Naomh Eanna 2-8
Its 4.25 pm and the tension and excitement is building as the players wait to enter the theatre of sporting life that is the Croke Park pitch and when the nod finally comes they run out to a rapturous welcome that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Family, friends, club members, ex players and loyal supporters are here in huge numbers and when the scoreboard flashes Kilcummin it brings a tear to many an eye that understands the enormity of the occasion. We had dared to dream of this day for years and now it had arrived. All we needed to do now was to win but how good would the opposition be, would we perform on the big day?
The referee blows the whistle and immediately Kieran Murphy fields and passes to Noel Duggan who is fouled. As he had done all the year Noel steadies himself and calmly slots the free from about 35 yards and we are up and running. Kieran is again instrumental in the next move when he releases Kevin McCarthy on a scything run which sees him brought down in the penalty area. Before the ref can put the whistle to his lips Kevin releases to Matt Keane who blasts an unstoppable shot to the Naomh Eanna net. Minutes later after a ball is punched against our crossbar, Dan Moynihan collects and sets in motion a move that goes full length of the pitch for Kevin Mac to punch over. This is followed by another Kevin Mac point which could just as easily have been a goal after being set up by some fine play from Noel Duggan. Five minutes gone and we lead 1-3 to 0-0.
It gets better two minutes later when a move involving Chris O Leary, Noel Duggan and Shane McSweeney results in Kevin Mac calmly finding the bottom corner of the net. Kilcummin 2-3 Naomh Eanna 0-0. We wondered was this going to be a cake walk like the preceding game with Beaufort, but we also knew this was a good team and we got our answer before long. After they convert two points, their fast tricky and direct forwards interplay well to score a peach of a goal that gives Brendan Kealy no chance in the Kilcummin goal. When they convert another free two minutes later the score reads 2-3 to 1-3 with 17 minutes gone. Kevin McCarthy settles our nerves with an immediate response blazing over from 20 metres and when Kieran Murphy kicks a fine point from 30 metres out with his left leg, we lead by five points again.
But on the 20th minute we are rocked again when an incisive move leads to the ball trickling over the line despite the best efforts of Brendan Kealy and Donal Maher. Now there are just two points in it and memories of our game against Glenflesk come flooding back and doubts start to creep into our supporter’s minds. However, the management team of Willie, Daniel, Kieran and Shane are fully aware of the danger and make some shrewd positional changes in defence which are to prove vital as the game progresses. Then with about eight minutes remaining in the half, Sean O’Leary picks up a ball in his own half and after a driving 60-metre solo run he releases to Noel Duggan who is just about to rattle the net when he is upended in the square.
The referee blows for a penalty and gives a black card to the goalie. One couldn’t help feeling a little sympathy for him as he leaves the field with his head covered but it was a clear-cut decision and after an eight-minute wait Kieran Murphy takes on the responsibility and calmly slots the ball to the net. Five points up again and supporters now breathing a little easier but following two rather soft frees lead to another Naomh Eanna point it is back to a four-point game. When Kevin Mac kicks over arguably the best score of the game in injury time from underneath the Hogan Stand, there follows a period of keep ball and mature control, to see us go in at half-time leading on a score-line of Kilcummin 3-6 Naomh Eanna 2-4.
The crowd have been treated to a fast moving, sporting first half adorned by some fine scores and no little drama and eagerly await the next 30 minutes that would be a defining chapter in either club’s history. The second-half starts with us taking up where we left off and with our restructured defensive system in place. Gary OLeary punches over a point to get us on our way and when a pinpoint kick-out from Brendan finds Kevin Gorman, a quick release by the latter sets Kevin Mac free for another point. Another fine save from Brendan at his near post reminds us of the threat the opposition still pose. However further points from Kevin Mac and a stylish Gary O Leary effort restore our nine-point advantage that we had enjoyed after 10 minutes of the first half. John McCarthy and Daniel O’Leary are introduced with 20 minutes left to play. The next five minutes see Naomh Eanna‘s no 11 kick two lovely points and this added to a 21 metre free leaves six points between the teams with 15 minutes gone.
Kieran Murphy fields again to release Kevin McCarthy for another score but Naomh Eanna respond with a further point from a free. However, with Donal Maher and Philip Casey in control of their danger men, this was to be their final score, but supporters are not to know that and are still a little nervy and muted in their celebrations with 10 minutes left. But hold on, from a Naomh Eanna sideline kick Kevin Gorman gathers and passes to that sublime footballer Sean O’Leary who in a flash sets Shane MacSweeney on his way. Timmy Moynihan on Radio Kerry wonders if he has the legs but after a run of sixty metres, he finds Chris O’Leary up in support who in turn off loads to Kevin Mac on the edge of the square. Kevin swivels on his left leg and finds the top corner of the net with his right. An explosion of unashamed celebration and euphoria reverberates through the lower deck of the Hogan stand as the fans decked in red and green give vent to their sheer joy. Ian Devane enters the fray with six minutes left and the giant scoreboard reading Kilcummin 4-11 Naomh Eanna 2-8.
This was immediately followed with Damien O’Leary gracing the Croke Park pitch to be accompanied shortly afterwards by Mikey O’Shea as we enter injury time. John McCarthy had added to the family tally for the day a minute earlier, but Kevin is not yet finished. After Ian Devane finds him with a pin point pass, he slips a delightful touch under the goalie’s body to complete his hat-trick of goals and a total of 3-7 from play. Kevin returns the compliment to Ian Devane in the final seconds and he brings the scoring to an end as he slots over. At the death Brendan Kealy refuses to yield another score with a superb save and when the final whistle blows the dreams of a club are realised. Except this isn’t a dream it is for real and we are All-Ireland Champions. In contrast to previous games supporters are not allowed onto the field but the players, management and backroom team are left in no doubt how much this victory means to them as they climb the steps of Croke Park to lift the cup in the footsteps of Brendan Kealy.
This is our day, our time and our place in sporting history. Man-of-the-Match went to Kevin McCarthy understandably after his marvellous display, but this was not a one man show and out of a total of 5-13, 4-12 came from open play. This is surely a barometer of the skill level and style of play exhibited on the greatest day in the club’s lifetime. Brendan Kealy not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk as well. His displays during this campaign have been pivotal and again with his saves, he reminded his well-marshalled defence that if the opposition do get through, they still must beat him. In assessing our victory on the day, we need to acknowledge the contributions of Donal Maher, Philip Casey and Sean O’Leary firstly. Naomh Eanna were a fine footballing team with three particularly high-quality forwards and the lads were given the responsibility of curtailing their effectiveness.
That they managed to master them over the hour with great marking, telling interceptions and turnovers and yet contribute to the teams attacking options by some fine forward runs speaks volumes for the pure quality, concentration and discipline of the trio. Donal was given the task of shadowing the very dangerous Eoin Nagle and this he managed with great effect. Sean O’Leary was detailed to pick up the No 14 Odhran Eastwood and not only did he restrict him to scoring from frees, he managed to get forward himself to making telling contributions to the teams cause. Philip Casey, this time out did not get forward to score as he had done on previous outings as his remit was to snuff out the significant threat posed by Kristian Healy which he achieved with considerable success.
Dan Moynihan has been a revelation throughout the year and again he came to his teams rescue with several fine catches and block-downs allied to tight marking. William Maher left the field after 45 minutes having put in another great shift which included excellent reading of situations, making vital interceptions and being involved in initiating many attacking moves. Chris O’Leary was immense at centre-back throughout following on from his great display in the semi- final. He was crucially involved in two of the moves that yielded goals, handled an amount of ball as well as some solid defending when needed.
This game showed the true value of the likes of Kevin Gorman and Shane McSweeney to a winning team as if we didn’t know it already. Playing in the wide-open spaces of Croke Park anyone who wondered if they would have the legs for it got their answer. Kevin had one of his finest games in a Kilcummin shirt and that’s saying something with some marvellous fielding, support running and passing and of course his trademark catches in his own square. Shane had a crucial role in two of the goals with powerful direct running, made several turnovers and some tremendous catches from kick-outs. Just reward for these two warriors who have been the heartbeat of the team for many years. Kieran Murphy oozed class throughout with his breathtaking fielding but particularly early in the game when he laid down a marker to his much-vaunted opponent. Involved constantly in the action he showed style and composure in tucking away the penalty and was hugely instrumental in this victory.
Gary O’Leary may have chipped in with two invaluable points early in the second-half to put a breathing space between the teams but it was his involvement in many of his team’s scores that caught the eye. He led the forward line with style and maturity and tracked back to help his defence when the need arose. Padraig Nagle may be one of the unsung heroes of this team but his work-rate in defence, winning breaking ball and his ability to get forward to counter attack is well known to his team mates and he displayed all this in Croke Park, illustrated by his gathering of and clearing a dangerous ball in his own square in the first half. Matt Keane was his usual reliable self throughout the entire game. He showed no signs of tiring as he showed for ball time and time again, orchestrating many movements with his measured passes, his reliable ball control and retention and of course he took his goal with precision.
Noel Duggan was first to every ball that came his way and was a constant thorn in the opposition’s side with his direct running culminating in him being brought down for the penalty. He showed a calmness and maturity throughout which was evident with the assuredness that he pointed that first free. Kevin McCarthy was described as the head of the spear that was the Kilcummin team by one reporter and when you score 3-7 from play you would have to agree with that analogy. However, it doesn’t portray the workman-like performance he also gave in supporting his teammates in defence and attack. His performance was a pleasure to witness and reward for his efforts to be fit for this big occasion. Daniel O’Leary was introduced as a guiding on-field influence and for his defensive qualities, which had been seen to great effect in the highly charged Semi-Final, surely a man deserving of this day, after years of commitment and loyalty to the cause.
John McCarthy played for the last 20 minutes, got on the ball regularly and capped it with a fine point. Ian Devane got involved immediately with great effect, picking out Kevin Mac with a lovely pass for a goal and kicking a point of his own. Damien O’Leary came on late in the game, just reward for his unselfish contribution throughout the year. Kelvin Teahan and Mikey O’Shea also got the chance to thread Croke Park’s perfect sod. One should also remember the panel of players who did not get the opportunity to play in the final but were an integral part of the effort. Attendance in training and commitment to being available, are important attributes in any successful team and these players played their part in this success. Daniel O’Leary and Kieran Fleming deserve great credit for their roles as players come selectors. The planning, overseeing training and researching, as well as training to be available if called upon was an onerous undertaking, and one which the team and supporters should be very grateful for. Shane O’Sullivan was strength and conditioning coach and the level of fitness and ability of the players to recover from injury is testament to his ability.
Willie Maher took over as manager in February when the club were unable to secure one for the year. A true lover of the GAA, with immense knowledge. He was already a winner on the field having won an All-Ireland with Kerry in 1986 but managing 32 players to All-Ireland glory as opposed to managing yourself is a different proposition altogether. Willie faced numerous obstacles during the year, with players being injured, unavailable at times and crisis situations in games with sending offs and black cards but he always steered his team through it all with a strong conviction that things had to be done right. He would be the first to acknowledge the part played by the players themselves, his management and backroom team, a point illustrated in Croke Park when he invited them all to walk up the steps to lift the cup.
A true gentleman Willie has aligned this with his very competitive nature and determination to win. It was this blending of being one of the lads on the one hand yet being the boss and making tough decisions on the other hand when the need arose that has gained him respect and endeared him to everyone.
Brendan Kealy, Sean O’Leary, Donal Maher, Daniel Moynihan, Philip Casey, Chris O’Leary, William Maher, Kieran Murphy, Kevin Gorman, Shane McSweeney, Gary O’Leary, Padraig Nagle, Noel Duggan, Kevin McCarthy, Matt Keane, Kieran Fleming (sub goalie), Daniel O’Leary, John McCarthy, Ian Devane, Mikey O’Shea, Kelvin Teahan, Damien O’Leary, Sean Brosnan, James Nagle, Jamie O’Donoghue, Paul O’Riordan, Oscar O’Connor, Sean Moynihan, Tommy Brosnan, Jer Sheehan, Richie O’Connor, Tomas O’Connor, Keith O’Leary .
Manager: Willie Maher
Selectors: Daniel O’Leary & Kieran Fleming.
Strength and Conditioning Coach: Shane O’Sullivan
Maor Uisce: Donal Dwyer & Tommy Brosnan
Physio: John Kerley
First Aid: Mike Riordan
Gear & Kit: David Hickey
Chairman: Eugene McSweeney
Secretary & Logistics: Ciara O’Leary
Team Liaison Officer: Tim Casey
Naomh Eanna team: Paddy Flood, Killian Jennings, Damien Gault, Mick McNamee, Conan Lyttle, James McAuley, Conor McAuley, Philly Curran, Joe Maskey, Peter Healy, Ruari Scott, Kristian Healy, Ethan Gibson, Odhran Eastwood, Eoin Nagle
It was a delight to share this amazing game and after match meal with the Naomh Eanna team and officials. Not only was it a most sporting, open game of positive attacking football but to a man they were very gracious in defeat. Great credit is due to the club and their huge volume of supporters who made the day even more enjoyable with their colourful and sporting manner. We wish them all the success in the future.
Compiled by Mike Riordan PRO Kilcummin GAA