Dublin giants Kilmacud stunned by Longford champions Mullinalaghta in Leinster decider
AIB Leinster Club Senior Football Championship final: St Columba's, Mullinalaghta (Longford) 1-8 Kilmacud Croke’s (Dublin) 1-6
THERE was something entirely fitting about Mullinalaghta, the tiny club from the half-parish in north-east Longford, making AIB Leinster club history with a measly 1-8 scoring haul.
Two of their points came from frees and Gary Rogers's goal at the death, which amounted to the final nail in Kilmacud Crokes's coffin, arrived from a penalty. So six points from open play and they still won with a little to spare.
That's simply how Mullinalaghta roll, the little club that continuously maxes out its meagre resources and shops in the big brand stores on a shoestring budget.
According to the 2016 census there are less than 450 people in the entire parish. Captain Shane Mulligan, who concluded yesterday's victory speech by imploring supporters to 'Light the bonfires, we're coming home', reckons they're actually the smallest club in Longford.
Before this, no Longford club had even played in a final, let alone won one. Yet here they are now, standing at the summit of Leinster looking down on the rest having taken down a club that boasts a membership of just shy of 5,000.
And next up for Mullinalaghta? Dr Croke’s and Colm Cooper in the All-Ireland semi-finals on February 16 of course. Another pinch yourself moment for a club that has fought so hard to forge a winning identity.
"This is the greatest day ever," said victorious manager Mickey Graham, who will have to double job for a while now as Cavan's new boss.
"To manage a team to win a championship in a county is the pinnacle in many managers' careers but to go into a province with the amount of quality teams that there are in Leinster, which is landmine stuff because you have to come through so many tough games, and to do it with the same bunch of players from the last three years, boys who just keep finding and finding and finding, it's brilliant."
Yet for a long while in Tullamore's O'Connor Park, it looked as if Kilmacud Croke’s would live up to their billing as strong favourites and claim a fifth title.
The 2009 All-Ireland winners netted after just five minutes, through Pat Burke, and while Mullinalaghta fought back to level terms by half-time, a second coming from the south-Dubliners in the third quarter left them three ahead.
Crucially, Crokes had the strong wind at their backs in the second-half and it looked as if Mullinalaghta's decision to play with the wind in the first-half might have backfired.
Burke was shaping up as the Man of the Match when he added a point in the 51st minute to put Croke’s 1-6 to 0-6 ahead.
But they didn't score again as Mullinalaghta dug deep and mined out a match-winning 1-2 haul in the closing minutes.
David McGivney reduced it to a two-point game before Mullinalaghta won a penalty after Cian O'Sullivan's foul on Aidan McElligott. O'Sullivan got a yellow card for the offence and was later sent off for a second caution.
Rogers stepped up to the penalty and did what Craig Rogers of Portlaoise couldn't do in the semi-final - beat David Nestor in the Croke’s goals.
From the resulting kick-out Mullinalaghta won possession and worked the ball through Brendan Fox to McElligott who clipped over the insurance point. Suddenly, they led by two and retained their advantage throughout five or so minutes of stoppage time.
"My heart is still racing," beamed Graham afterwards. "When we got the goal, the dream became a reality at that stage. I think the boys realised that and they just seemed to find the energy from somewhere in the last five or six minutes. That goal, I felt, was the catapult we needed if we were going to win the game. And when you're up against the big teams like this, it's a great time to get a goal, let me tell you.”
The implications from the win are considerable. Reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals means that around eight Mullinalaghta players will be absent from the Longford team in the early stages of the National League.
Conversely, the likes of O'Sullivan and All-Star Paul Mannion will now have a much needed break before facing up to Dublin's biggest season ever as they chase down a fifth consecutive All-Ireland win.
Both O'Sullivan and Mannion have been troubled by hamstring strains and could do with the time out. Mannion scored 1-6 in the county final and 2-6 against Dunboyne in the Leinster quarter-finals but was quieter against Portlaoise and didn't score from play here.
He was expertly marked by Patrick Fox who won the Man of the Match award while Rian Brady hit four important points for the side ranked 5/1 outsiders.
There was confusion late on when county man James McGivney received a second yellow card but didn't appear to get a red from referee David Gough.
"Look, he'll be fine for the next day anyway," said Graham. "It's about gathering ourselves now, picking ourselves up off the ground and just letting the whole thing sink in."
Mullinalaghta: P Rogers; S Cadam, P Fox, C Brady; D McElligott (0-1), S Mulligan, F Mulligan; A McElligott (0-1), J Keegan; G Rogers (1-0, pen), J McGivney, B Fox; D McGivney (0-2, frees), R Brady (0-4, 0-1 free), J Matthews. Subs: M Cunningham for F Mulligan (48).
Kilmacud Croke’s: D Nestor; L Flatman, R McGowan, A McGowan; C O'Connor, C O'Shea, C O'Sullivan; C Dias (0-1), C Casey; S Horan, S Williams, S Cunningham; P Burke (1-1), P Mannion (0-2, frees), C Pearson (0-2). Subs: A Jones for Flatman (black card, 18), K Dyas for Williams (48), M Vaughan for Pearson (56), N Nolan for R McGowan (66).
Ref: D Gough (Meath).