Cullyhanna captain Pearse Casey kicks Intermediate final winner against brave Ballyhaise

Cullyhanna players and supporters celebrate their Ulster Club IFC Final triumph.
Cullyhanna players and supporters celebrate their Ulster Club IFC Final triumph. Cullyhanna players and supporters celebrate their Ulster Club IFC Final triumph.

Ulster Intermediate Club Football Final: St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna (Armagh) 1-10 Ballyhaise (Cavan) 0-12

“WE knew that if we kept composed that we would eventually get on top.”

It took until the third minute of added time to see off brave Ballyhaise but Cullyhanna duly delivered on their publicly declared ambition to win the Ulster Club Intermediate Football Championship after a thrilling encounter.

Fittingly it was captain Pearse Casey who kicked the winning score and who said those words, echoing the self-belief that the St Patrick’s had expressed for more than a year about their ability to triumph at this level.

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It was desperately tough on the Cavan champs, who looked on top until a blunder from the otherwise excellent David Brady led to the only goal of the game, from young half-forward Caolan Reavey, midway through the second period.

The 21-year-old also fisted a 59th minute levelling point in his top scorer tally of 1-2 to play a major part in the Packie McCully Cup taking up residence in Armagh for the first time.

Two of Cullyhanna’s near neighbours, Culloville and St Michael’s (Newtownhamilton), have lost previous Intermediate Finals, as have fellow Armagh sides Maghery and Ballymacnab but the men in red, black, and yellow refused to be denied.

Casey may have joked that he “Closed my eyes and hoped for the best!” when he kicked the decisive score, but his club’s sights had long been set on this, as he recalled:

“We didn’t back down. We said 12 months ago that this was our aim and we’ve fulfilled that.

“It puts a target on your back but sometimes you have to roll with that. You have to have confidence in yourself, you have to have confidence in the team around you.”

Cullyhanna captain Pearse Casey lifts the Packie McCully Cup as Ulster Club IFC winners.
Cullyhanna captain Pearse Casey lifts the Packie McCully Cup as Ulster Club IFC winners. Cullyhanna captain Pearse Casey lifts the Packie McCully Cup as Ulster Club IFC winners.

Cullyhanna had the Orchard County quality of Jason Duffy, Ross McQuillan, and Aidan Nugent, and all three got on the scoresheet, but, as so often in club matches, others stepped up to the occasion too, notably Casey himself and Reavey.

This was a game of contrasts, with Ballyhaise bigger and more direct, Cullyhanna smaller in stature trying to build patiently from the back and run the ball. It produced a very entertaining game of football in drizzly conditions, although the Clones pitch held up very well after this final had been switched from Castleblayney.

The Cavan men’s overall physical superiority and kicking game was exhibited from the very first minute, with centre-forward Michael Brady catching a forward mark and confidently converting it.

His imposing brother David was operating out around midfield, winning and then quickly delivering ball – but then another difference emerged. Ballyhaise were wasteful with their possession, kicking seven first half wides.

In contrast, Cullyhanna began to run at them and Shea Hoey and Jason Duffy scores put them ahead. Indeed around the middle of the half it seemed that the St Patrick’s were getting on top.

Their fierce tackling and intense interceptions lifted them and two scores in quick succession from the lively Ross McQuillan put them back in front.

However, Ballyhaise dominated the last 10 minutes before the break, and really should have been further ahead by half-time.

First the advanced Eoin Clarke caught a long kick-pass in from his captain Padraig Moore but dragged his left-foot shot right across the ‘square’ rather than on target.

Minutes later Clarke laid off a David Brady delivery to Kevin Tierney, who struck his shot well and accurately – but Cullyhanna keeper James Carragher produced a flying save. Still, a second point from half-forward Martin Conaty gave Ballyhaise a 0-7 to 0-4 interval advantage.

The St Patrick’s started the second half strongly, and soon reduced the gap to the minimum margin through Reavey and an Aidan Nugent free, but the tide turned again, thanks to the Brady brothers.

Martin scored a free, then David produced two scores with powerful bursts foerward, either side of another goal chance, for Clarke, his dipping shot just about parried out by Carragher.

Then came the crucial moment of this final.

David Brady had been fouled for a free near the sideline halfway up the pitch – but his square pass was to no one, and Shea Hoey dived in to turn possession to McQuillan.

In a flash the ball was with Reavey on the left and he coolly shot past the exposed goalkeeper Gary O’Rourke.

“It was massive – but we could see it building. We were pushing them up, we had them on the back foot slightly. You have to capitalise and once the goal went in we pushed on a bit.”

Cullyhanna’s composure was evident as they kept ball for an extended period, despite still trailing, 0-10 to 1-6.

A Nugent free levelled matters, and he looked like adding a goal, after a clever exchange of passes with Hoey, only for Conaty to kick his shot off the line.

After all the ebb and flow earlier, it was nip and tuck after that, score for score - to some extent that was due to continued poor shooting from Ballyhaise, although Clarke finally set his sights right to score twice for Ballyhaise.

His second had them ahead but Reavey equalised then Casey collected a kick-pass from Nugent to have the final say.

Even after that Ballyhaise had an opportunity to force extra time but instead they registered their 13th wide, many of them seeming scoreable, to just six from the St Patrick’s.

The delirious Cullyhanna support surged onto the pitch to hail their heroes, with the skipper summing up what this win signifies to them:

“It’s absolutely brilliant – you can see here what it means to the supporters and to the club. It’s absolutely momentous for the club.”

Cullyhanna: J Carragher; S Og Irwin, S Connell, G Duffy; N McCreesh, M Murray, B McConville; P Casey (capt.) (0-1), J Duffy (0-1); C Reavey (1-2), S Hoey (0-1), R McQuillan (0-3); K McCooey, T Donnelly, A Nugent (0-2 frees).

Substitutes: G Mackin for McConville (37); K Hoey for G Duffy (61).

Ballyhaise: G O’Rourke; A Heaslip, E Clarke (0-2), F McGoldrick; A Watson, A Watters, D Reilly; E Crowe, B O’Rourke (0-1); M Conaty (0-2), M Brady (0-4, 0-2 marks, 0-2 frees), C McKiernan; K Tierney, D Brady (0-2), P Moore (capt.) (0-1).

Substitute: C Callaghan for Moore (52).

Referee: Diarmuid Boylan (Monaghan).