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.
Man 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.
Kristian 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.
Odhran 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!
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)
Pics by Dylan and Paddy McIlwaine