GAA Football

Strength of spirit and a touch of class drives Magheracloone to Ulster glory after epic Galbally clash

The Magheracloone players celebrate after their Ulster Championship success in Armagh on Saturday night. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at the Athletic Grounds

AIB Ulster Club Intermediate Football Championship final: Padraig Pearse’s, Galbally (Tyrone) 0-13 John Mitchel’s, Magheracloone (Monaghan) 1-15

FOR the past 14 months Magheracloone have had to accept help wherever they could get it, but on Saturday night the men in black were masters of their own destiny as they claimed the Ulster intermediate crown in impressive fashion against Galbally.

Playing intermediate football wasn’t what either of these clubs wanted to be at this year, yet neither wanted to leave the Athletic Grounds empty-handed as they served up a pulsating 60-plus minutes of end-to-end action.

There’s no substitute for class, however, and it was men like Padraig McMahon, Gavin Doogan and the seemingly ageless Tommy Freeman who made the difference as Magheracloone edged ahead after a shaky start and never looked back.

McMahon was a constant thorn in Galbally’s side and bagged the crucial goal 10 minutes from time, with Doogan a huge presence around the middle third, that familiar hunched running style careering into tackles and driving the Monaghan men forward time and again.

And then there was Freeman. He is more economical with his movement now, but that appeared the only discernible difference from the man whose wizardry spearheaded the Monaghan revival from the mid-Noughties onwards.

Alongside James Ward and Michael Jones, Freeman is one of three starting survivors from Magheracloone’s sole senior county success 15 years ago. Yet, now 38, he looks lean and mean; the swagger, the snake hips and the celebration, clenched fists thrust into the night air, all still present and correct.

He warmed the Athletic Grounds with four sumptuous points, and produced a breathtaking moment of second half skill when selling two outrageous dummies to set up a goalscoring opportunity for Michael Metzger.

“Tommy’s a wily old character and he knows how to create space, but the pace of that game was serious,” said ’Cloone boss James Kieran.

“Space was always going to open up because it was end to end stuff, with that intensity if you move the ball quickly, that was our emphasis, that there will be space there for the likes of Tommy to exploit, and he did thankfully.

“Galbally are a good attacking force but we have serious pace in our half-forward line and we felt, if we could get ball to them quickly, we’d cause them problems.”

It was upon solid foundations that this Magheracloone victory was built too, a number of turnovers leading to lightning-quick transitions, allowing the likes of McMahon and brothers Barry and Allan Kieran to expose the space Galbally left behind.

Yet in the early stages it looked as though they might just kick themselves out of it, racking up six wides by the 17 minute mark.

The more clinical Tyrone champions edged into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead that could have been greater had Seamus Og Mulgrew gone for goal instead of a point three minutes in, and James Kieran admits there was concern at his side’s profligacy before the posts.

“I think we had eight conversions out of 21 attempts,” said the ’Cloone boss, “that was the worry at half-time - that that was going to come back and bite us.”

Finally Magheracloone found their flow though, smothering the Galbally kick-outs and preventing the Tyrone men from bothering the scoreboard for 15 minutes, three Freeman points nudging them into a 0-6 to 0-3 lead.

A Ronan Nugent score from range stopped the rut but Magheracloone finished the half strongly.

They could have had a goal when the pacy McMahon struck the post after cutting back onto his left foot, Barry Kieran popping over in the aftermath, before Doogan slotted over the score of the night, curling between the posts from the most acute of angles without breaking stride.

Ryan Farrelly, who played as a goalkeeper for the Monaghan minors last year, came in at corner-forward and immediately made his presence felt with a lovely early second half score as the Monaghan men picked up where they left off.

When they moved into a 0-13 to 0-8 lead, it looked a huge ask for Galbally to haul themselves back into the game. Still they kept fighting though, and while it was Magheracloone who needed their sights adjusted in the first half, the same fate befell the Tyrone side in the second.

Scorable frees from Conor Donaghy (wide) and then Daniel Kerr (short) were passed as they tried to cling on to ’Cloone coat-tails, before Liam Rafferty had the chance to change the face of the game completely 11 minutes from time.

It arrived when Mulgrew and impressive sub Michael Murphy exchanged passes before Murphy found Rafferty bursting into the square. The Tyrone star tried to steady himself as he slowed his stride but, with bodies closing in, he was slightly off balance as he struck his shot over the bar.

Injury was then added to insult as Magheracloone went straight up the field and landed the only goal of the game. Again it was the electric McMahon who did the damage, finding space on the right bursting beyond Mulgrew before cutting back on to his left foot and slotting inside Liam Og McAuley’s near post.

From a possible one-point deficit to a six-point gap heading towards the last, it was a 90-second spell that would turn the game on its head, one way or the other. Fortune favoured Magheracloone on this occasion.

“If Liam’s shot had been six inches lower, the game was right back in the melting pot,” admitted Kieran, while his counterpart John Moylan believes a goal at that time could have driven his men onto glory.

“It was a turning point,” he said. “If it had gone in, the wave of energy you get from something like that would’ve come behind us; it could possibly have been a different result had that gone in, I really believe that.

“But then Magheracloone went up the field and ended up getting a score after that so it was a double blow.”

Fighting for their lives, Galbally went on the front foot and scored the next three to make it 1-13 to 0-13 as three minutes of added time loomed. Magheracloone weren’t home and hosed yet but another McMahon score gave them the breathing room they craved.

Freeman received a rapturous reception when he was withdrawn in the dying moments, but a bigger shout was to come when Allan Kieran put the seal on a famous win with the last score of the game to send the fans into a frenzy.

Magheracloone have a month now to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final showdown with the winners of next week’s Leinster decider between Mattock Rangers (Louth) and Mullinavat (Kilkenny).

Given all they have gone through in a short space of time, between the sinkholes that devastated their club to the relegation that confounded their misery, days like this are to be celebrated.

“It’s hard to put words on it, to be honest,” said manager Kieran.

“It’s a serious morale boost to the whole community. The committee has worked very hard, we’re in a position now where we have temporary training facilities, but we don’t have anywhere we can play our home games; we have an agreement with a club in Louth. Even there in the last week we had to travel to Cloghan for training, to Simonstown in Meath last Tuesday night for facilities that are suitable at this time of year.

“In fairness to these lads, they’ve clocked up some miles on the roads this year and I’m delighted for them that they’ve got their reward here.”

For Galbally and Moynagh, meanwhile, it will take more than a couple of days for the hurt to subside. But, when it does, they will reflect on a season the club can be proud of, with the groundwork laid for serious work in the years ahead.

“We came here to win this, I’m disappointed for the people of Galbally. We’ve been on a fantastic journey,” said the Dundalk man.

“I don’t think we performed as well as we could have, we weren’t clinical enough in front of goal. Having said that I have to take my hat off to Magheracloone, they’re a very good team, a seasoned team, an experienced team.

“They were good in front of goals, very good defensively, they’re a fit team, very strong team and they worked very hard. We found it very hard to break them down; probably the toughest team to break down all year.

“But 12 months ago we were on our hands and knees, we were after being relegated out of Division One, things weren’t going well and I would never have dreamed we would have been here. Then, when we got here, I wanted more.

“But this team is fantastic, a credit to their community and to their club. We’re not going up to make up the numbers in Division One, we’re going up to compete - that will be the plan.

“The future’s bright, and this campaign will stand to them.”

Galbally: L OgMcAuley; A Carberry, K McCrory, S Hurson; L Rafferty (0-2), R Nugent (0-1), S Og Mulgrew (0-2); C Quinn, E McGarrity (0-1); M Donnelly, D Kerr (0-4, 0-3 frees), C Donnelly; S Murphy (0-1), C Donaghy, D Murphy (0-1). Subs: M Lennon for S Hurson (38), M Murphy (0-1) for C Donaghy (45), C Donnelly for A Carberry (54), P Rafferty for S Murphy (60+1)

Yellow card: K McCrory (60+2)

Magheracloone: D Kirk; M Jones, P Ward, P McArdle; C McKeown, J Ward (0-1), K Rudden; J Kieran, G Doogan (0-1); B Kieran (0-1), A Kieran (0-3), P McMahon (1-4); A McCahey, M Metzger, T Freeman (0-4). Subs: J Doogan for C McKeown (30), R Farrelly (0-1) for A McCahey (HT), L Og Murray for M Metzger (46), N Marron for T Freeman (60+2)

Yellow cards: P Ward (9), M Jones (48), G Doogan (50)

Referee: K Faloon (Armagh)

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