Intermediate Football Championship Final
By Kieran Murphy
HAS there ever been a better intermediate football championship final than this one? Perhaps older GAA people can answer that question, but for those who were present in Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday there was a little bit of everything here.
Joy, heartbreak, huge performances, great scores, lucky breaks and sportsmanship. Here were two rural clubs at odds with one another for almost 70 minutes but when it was all over they shook hands and embraced. It was a final to savour.
Grange started well but they conceded 3-1 in a seven-minute spell from the 15th to the 22nd minute. That was their undoing.
The scoring burst came against the run of play after points from Gavin Lawlor, John Murphy, Ned Pender and Alan Fleming put Grange into a healthy position. A solitary Darragh Foley free was Kilbride’s only response. In addition, the eventual winners looked to be nervous with Paraic Nolan shooting wide when he would normally slot over 10 times out of 10.
The nightmare moments arrived for Grange when a high ball into the small square caught Seamus Hegarty in two minds. It was one of those deliveries which could have landed either on top of the crossbar or fallen short. It hung for what must have seemed like an age to the keeper. When the ball eventually arrived the net-minder looked to have secured possession. To his horror the ball rolled out of his grasp and fell nicely for Paraic Nolan who found the net from two metres out.
Kilbride were clever after that. Spotting a possible weakness in the Grange defence, they went route one. Another quick delivery towards the Grange posts saw Nolan take possession. This time Hegarty made a brilliant save but when the ball ran loose Colin O’Toole shot home. The third Kilbride goal was more stylish than the first two as Davy Moran did all the hard work to create space for Michael Brown to find the net.
Grange were reeling. Another high delivery saw them concede a free which Darragh Foley converted.
John Murphy converted a free for Grange but there was to be no respite this time as Foley replied with two scores from play.
Just before the interval Murphy took control where his strong run and ferocious shot was only partially saved by Thomas Gray. The keeper was unable to spot the ball spinning over the line and at 3-4 to 1-5 behind at the interval, the mountain to climb became more manageable for Grange. They could have been closer but two shots which would have gone over on another day drifted wide.
“We knew Grange were going to come back at us. They are the same as ourselves with the same kind of community spirit,” said Darragh Foley afterwards.
Yet it was a Seamus Gray point which stretched the Kilbride lead on 32 minutes. In a five-minute spell where Kieran Pender, Murphy and Cathal Bailey all pointed, the stage was set for an enthralling and nervous conclusion.
Even though Gray recorded his second point and Paraic Nolan also raised a white flag, no-one doubted Grange were not going to respond.
They had a great goal chance when Paddy Byrne spotted Niall Byrne free. The pass was good but anticipating what was about to happen, Mark Curry nipped in and took possession. Seconds later Foley landed a point at the other end. A four-point turnaround.
Grange scored six points while conceding only one in the final quarter to set up a nerve-jangling finale. Emotions were raw in the stand. On the pitch it was all hands to the pump. If it was the three goals which made the difference in the first quarter it was a dogged, brave and determined defence which saw Kilbride prevail.
Under his own posts, Foley pulled a ball out of the skies. Over on the sideline, he won possession. His intercounty colleague, but a rival on the night, John Murphy was heroic in the final five minutes but he was not given the freedom to create a platform which could have snatched a late goal.
Two teams in pursuit of victory, willing to let their football do the talking, battled for all they were worth. Even at the death, and with more than the five minutes of the allotted injury time played, the ball was delivered into the edge of the Kilbride square. A defender seized possession. With that came the final whistle. Kilbride had prevailed by the narrowest of margins.
Kilbride: Thomas Gray; John O’Neill, Mark Curry, James Foley; Alan Curry, Eoin Nolan, Sean Foley; Darragh Foley (0-5, 0-1 free), Seamus Gray (0-2); Davy Moran, Stephen Curry, Brendan Butler; Michael Brown (1-0), Paraic Nolan (1-2), Colin O’Toole. Subs: Joe Waters for O’Toole (38 mins), Jason Carroll for A Curry (58 mins), Michael O’Brien for S Curry (62 mins), Jim Fitzpatrick for Brown (65 mins).
Grange: Seamus Hegarty; John Doyle, Cillian Murphy, Michael Murphy; Stephen Doyle, Henry Hegarty, Ned Pender (0-2); Cathal Bailey (0-1), Cormac Lawlor; Alan Fleming (0-1), John Murphy (1-6), Kieran Pender (0-1); Paddy Byrne, Gavin Lawlor (0-1), Niall Byrne (0-1). Subs: Paul O’Halloran for C. Murphy (28 mins), John Byrne for Doyle (h/t), David Cleere for K. Pender (44 mins), Martin Kelly for J Byrne (47 mins).
Referee: John Hickey (Fenagh).