GAA Football

History makers St Enda's see off Mullahoran to claim first Ulster Championship title

St Enda's celebrate their four-point win in Saturday night's Ulster Intermediate Football Championship final.Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

Ulster Intermediate Football Championship final: St Enda’s (Antrim) 2-11 Mullahoran (Cavan) 1-10

HISTORY was made and there’s more to make. St Enda’s, the first-time Antrim champions, became their county’s first ever Ulster intermediate kings with a deserved win in Saturday’s engrossing provincial decider.

A first half goal from Kristian Healy and a second half stunner from inspirational midfielder Joe Maskey – just seconds after Mullahoran had smashed a shot off the St Enda’s crossbar – saw the Glengormley men to a famous victory.

Frank Fitzsimons’ side played with art and bags of heart. They led by three points at the break, were reined in early in the second half but broke away again and, despite finishing the game with forward Ruairi Scott (with Conor Devlin playing for Larne in the NIFL Championship yesterday they didn’t have a reserve goalkeeper) between the sticks they held on in a frenetic finale.

St Enda’s now face Galway and Connacht champions Spiddal in the All-Ireland semi-finals in six weeks’ time. That promises to be a memorable occasion and it will have to be to trump the memory of the Hightown men’s win on Saturday.

By throw-in time (5pm) Armagh was pitch black and it took every watt of the Athletic Grounds lights to pierce through the thick blanket of fog that cocooned the stadium.

The conditions set the scene for a thrilling encounter between teams of contrasting styles. St Enda’s played with pace and skill while their Cavan opponents were strong and direct.

St Enda's captain James McAuley raises the McCully Cup in triumph.Pic Philip Walsh.

In a game of fine margins, Antrim’s finest deservedly came out on top and afterwards Fitzsimons said he was “the proudest Antrim man in the country”. He had every right to be.

“I think we settled well into it,” he said.

“Going in with the lead at half-time our boys knew they were capable of beating Mullahoran and credit to them tonight, they were outstanding to the last man.

“I’m going to enjoy getting us ready for Spiddal now over the next few weeks. They’ll enjoy this and then they’ll be representing their club, their county and Ulster.”

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St Enda’s led 1-8 to 0-8 midway through the second half when Mullahoran’s Cormac O’Reilly broke through and smacked in a shot that cannoned off the St Enda’s crossbar. It was a pivotal moment in the game.

“When that one came off the crossbar you’re thinking: ‘Maybe this is for us?’” said Fitzsimons.

“When they kicked the three points after half-time (to level the game) I was saying: ‘We need a response here’ and, to be fair, we got it.”

Mullahoran manager Seanie Smith must have said something similar to his players at the interval because they came roaring out of the traps to level the game four minutes into the second half.

Ultimately, the Cavan men kicked away too much ball in the final third to win it but Smith put his disappointment to one side and paid a generous tribute to the new Ulster champions.

“It was a six-point turnaround,” he said, referring to the 30 seconds which saw his side hit the crossbar at one end and Maskey score a goal at the other.

“There were different times that the game could have gone either way but St Enda’s were very good. We tried everything we could to stop them but their direct running was very good so, look, well done to them they were brilliant.

“There’s always going to be the rub of the green here and there and I thought our lads were brilliant, they did everything we asked them to and some things came off for us, some didn’t.

“I always thought it (winning) was going to be down to the team that made less mistakes and they made less so well done to them.”

Eoin Nagle scored three points from play in Saturday's Ulster Intermedaite final.Pic Philip Walsh.

As his players trooped out of their dressingroom silently, just across the corridor the St Enda’s players and management roared in delight as champagne flew.

Smith hopes they go on to win the All-Ireland title.

“In this competition, why not?” he asked.

“They’re a young team and they’re full of confidence and they have some great footballers.

“So I would be saying to them to have that belief that they can go on and win it. They are the best team in Ulster now and if you come out of Ulster you’re not bad.”

The pace of the St Enda’s forwards would worry any defence and it was a feature of Saturday night’s final. Kirstian Healy gave the Mullahoran defence an early taste of it when he burned off his marker down the right and fisted the ball over the bar in the second minute.

Mullahoran’s tactics were less cerebral. At every opportunity the Cavan men lumped the ball in long and high towards physical full-forward Phillip ‘the Gunner’ Brady who was well marked by St Enda’s full-back Mick McNamee.

One Enda O’Reilly punt did hit an upright though and, although St Enda’s scrambled the ball away, O’Reilly gathered possession again and equalized.

St Enda’s, favouring a short-passing, running game swept up the field and Kristian Healy sent Eoin Nagle scurrying up the touchline.

He fisted the ball to the far post were Ethan Gibson was waiting to palm it goalwards but Mullahoran goalkeeper Sean Brady denied him. However, Brady was powerless to prevent Kristian Healy from beating him moments later.

A short kick-out was turned over by Peter Healy who sent his brother clear and he had time and space to pick his spot and send his side into a 1-1 to 0-1 lead after 11 minutes.

St Enda’s played a composed keep-ball game as Mullahoran packed their defence leaving two players in opposition territory where St Enda’s skipper James McAuley stood sentry between his own 45 and the halfway line.

Conan Lyttle joined the attack to push St Enda’s further ahead before Callum Mussi did likewise to cancel out his score.

Then McAuley (who must surely force his way into Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson’s plans soon) fed Maskey who broke the Mullahoran line and switched the ball to Eoin Nagle who applied an emphatic finish over left shoulder with right boot.

Enda O’Reilly and Peter Paul Galligan pulled points back for the Cavan men but Mullahoran lacked composure and quality in attack. Passes went astray and their handling was poor at times, albeit in difficult conditions.

At the back they struggled to live with the pace of the St Enda’s forwards and Odhran Eastwood capitalized with two frees before Enda O’Reilly’s point left it 1-5 to 0-5 at the break.

St Enda’s had started the first half well but they looked jittery early in second. Scott shot the first of three consecutive wides and then Flood fumbled a shot and the ball struck his crossbar.

The Antrim men managed to scramble it away but rat-a-tat-tat points from Sean McKeogh point, Enda O’Reilly and Colm O’Reilly left it all square.

Mullahoran had the momentum but Maskey leapt to win the next kick-out and set St Enda’s back on the attack.

Kristian Healy, Scott and Peter Healy were all involved in a quality hand-passing movement that created the space for Nagle to send St Enda’s back in front and the nippy young forward almost prodded the ball across the Mullahoran line after Gibson had again been denied a goal following another Kristian Healy break.

Maskey found Scott who didn’t miss to leave it 1-7 to 0-8 after 47 minutes but Enda O’Reilly did after he was given a sight of the St Enda’s goal by Paul Brady’s pass.

Again Maskey stood tall for his side. After winning another kick-out, he rode two thunderous tackles and surged forward, passed to Kristian Healy who was floored. Eastwood converted the free to give his side a three-point cushion.

The next 60 seconds decided the game. Flood was beaten as Cormac O’Reilly’s shot thumped off his bar and St Enda’s went tearing up the field. Nagle pumped the ball in to Maskey (who later admitted he had no idea why he was in the full-forward position) and the massive midfielder’s handling was superb and his finish unerring.

The ball nestled in the corner of the Mullahoran net and St Enda’s fans roared with delight as Scott added another point to leave the Ulster rookies seven points up with just seven minutes left.

Enda O’Reilly managed two frees but points from Nagle and Eastwood, after corner-back Killian Jennings had raced forward on a supporting run, maintained the gap.

The ‘Dreadnoughts’ refused to throw in the towel and Shane Shields was about to pull the trigger when goalkeeper Flood (who had already been booked) pulled him down. Flood was sent off and Scott went in goal but couldn’t stop O’Reilly’s penalty which left four in it as the game went into three crazy minutes of extra-time.

Gibson was black-carded too before the finish which finally came when Maskey rose highest under his own posts to grab the ball as Mullahoran searched for another goal.

The referee’s whistle was the queue for a black and amber horde to surge on to the field in delight and they roared captain McAuley up the steps to receive the McCully Cup. The celebrations of their children could be St Enda’s biggest victory of all.

MATCH STATS

Mullahoran: S Briody; C Mussi (0-1), T McGahern, Cian O’Reilly; P Brady, M Hynes, Colm O’Reilly (0-1); K Brady, PP Galligan (0-1); R Lynch, E O’Reilly (1-6, 0-4 frees, 1-0 pen), S McKeogh (0-1); G Brady, P Brady, Cormac O’Reilly

Subs: S Shields for Galligan (51), Smith for Colm O’Reilly (55), B McArdle for McKeogh (56)

Yellow cards: McKeogh (8), Hynes (15)

St Enda’s: P Flood; K Jennings, M McNamee, D McNutly; C Lyttle (0-1), J McAuley, C McAuley; R Kennedy, J Maskey (1-0); P Healy, R Scott (0-2), K Healy (1-1); E Gibson, O Eastwood (0-4, 0-3 frees), E Nagle (0-3)

Subs: C O’Neill for Kennedy (27)

Yellow cards: Eastwood (32), Flood (37), K Healy (58)

Black cards: Flood (60), Gibson replaced by D Gault (63)

Referee: Dan Mullan (Derry)

Attendance: 2,328

 

STAR MEN

Joe Maskey (St Enda’s)

THE big midfielder is committed to hurling but he could certainly become a force as an inter-county footballer. His superb display included three crucial second half contributions. First he rose highest to win a crucial kick-out with the game level that relieved the pressure on his defence. Then he showed the desire to race to full-forward and the composure to score a crucial goal. At the death, Maskey caught a ball under the St Enda’s posts as Mullahoran pushed for a way back into the game. Man of the match without a doubt.

Enda O’Reilly (Mullahoran)

ALWAYS a threat with the ball in his hands. O’Reilly was the top scorer in the game with 1-5 on the night including two points from play. Converted a late penalty to give the Dreadnoughts a sniff to a comeback but St Enda’s held out for their famous win.

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