O’Loughlin Gaels stage late rally against Na Fianna to claim Leinster title

Mark Bergin shows ice in his veins to nail match-winning free from tricky position

Leinster SHC final: O’Loughlin Gaels 0-22 Na Fianna 1-18

Joy for O’Loughlin Gaels. Disappointment for Na Fianna. Redemption for Mark Bergin.

This was the third Leinster club senior hurling triumph for O’Loughlin Gaels, but their first at Croke Park having won the previous two in Portlaoise (2003) and Carlow (2011).

For Bergin, who scored 0-11 as he captained the team to victory on Saturday night, his match-winning free just as the clock reached the end of normal time had no shortage of baggage attached as it sailed between the posts.


Walking over to take the free, memories of the 2007 All-Ireland Colleges final flickered through his mind. On that afternoon Bergin struck a free for Kilkenny CBS in the dying seconds, only to watch the ball clink off the upright in Croke Park and for it to be followed immediately by the shrill of the final whistle. De La Salle were champions, winning by a single point.

Saturday’s late chance was located within the same postcode, a tricky position hugging the Hogan Stand sideline out beyond the 45-metre line.

“I got a free in exactly the same position and I hit the post that day,” recalled Bergin. “I left Croke Park about half the man I was (beforehand) to be honest. It took me a long time to get over it.

“It crossed my mind as I was walking over and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to nail this,’ and thankfully I did. Relieved, I didn’t think I would get a chance to rectify it, to be honest, I really didn’t. It’s funny the way life goes and the things it throws up.”

If that wasn’t enough, when the O’Loughlin Gaels players went on a pre-match pitch walkabout during half-time of the Leinster club football final on Saturday, Paddy Deegan scratched Bergin’s old wound.

“Paddy asked me, ‘Where about was it you got the free?’ And I showed him. He said, ‘You’ll nail one today,’ and that actually flashed through my mind,” says Bergin. “Look, I missed a terrible one just after half-time, just lost a bit of concentration and it came off the hurl, so I’m delighted (the one at the end went over), thrilled.”

But if Bergin scored the winning point in this Leinster club decider, Deegan was the difference maker.

His leadership kept the Kilkenny champions in contention during stages of the second half when Na Fianna were in the ascendency. He scored 0-5 from centre back, three during the second half, and he was also inspirational winning possession in defence, cutting out Na Fianna attacks and bursting out with the ball.

Time and time again, from a forest of bodies, it was Deegan who emerged with the sliotar in hand – including a crucial break from a ruck in the 64th minute at a stage when Na Fianna needed possession. Deegan took the ball out from defence and ultimately won a sideline. Na Fianna never managed another sight at goal.

“I didn’t know I had scored five points until after the match and somebody said it to me,” said Deegan. “I suppose my main job at the end of the day is to defend and I don’t really be going out thinking of scoring points. The ball fell to me in the right positions and thankfully they went over.”

This was a sparkling year for Na Fianna – winning a first ever Dublin SHC and advancing all the way to a provincial final – but they will also have plenty of regrets over the winter. Looking at the race for the All-Ireland, this was a missed opportunity for the Mobhi Road side.

O’Loughlin Gaels led 0-11 to 0-9 at half-time but Na Fianna were superb after the restart and Seán Currie’s 39th minute goal gave them a 1-12 to 0-13 lead. Na Fianna did not trail again at any stage until Bergin’s late free.

The Currie brothers – Seán and Colin – were central to their attacking play, former Limerick player Brian Ryan bossed the midfield battle and Liam Rushe showed all his experience in defence.

However, Na Fianna lacked composure at some crucial moments. They had 10 wides to O’Loughlin’s eight and while never headed, the Dublin champions were at no stage able to push the gap out beyond two points at any stage after the goal.

“I thought we did enough to win the game, I’d need to look over it again, it was a very tight game,” said Na Fianna manager Niall O Ceallacháin.

“It’s probably one that could have gone either way in the last couple of minutes. Fair play to them, ultimately we got the goal to go two ahead but they weren’t going to go away. So fair play to them for kicking on in the last five or 10 minutes.”

It continues to be quite the season for O’Loughlin Gaels boss Brian Hogan, who is in his first year managing his home club.

“In one respect I’d be lying if I said that we sat down and said this (was going to happen),” he said. “But we always felt that if we could get out of Kilkenny you don’t know what could happen after that.”

O’Loughlin Gaels: Stephen Murphy; Tony Forristal, Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler; David Fogarty (0-2), Paddy Deegan (0-5), Jordan Molloy; Jack Nolan (0-1), Cian Loy (0-1); Conor Heary (0-1), Mark Bergin (0-11, nine frees), Eoin O’Shea; Owen Wall, Paddy Butler, Seán Bolger. Subs: Luke Hogan (0-1) for P Butler (26 mins); Conor Kelly for Loy (49 mins); Jamie Ryan for Nolan (54 mins)

Na Fianna: Jonathan Tracey; Seán Burke, Conor McHugh, Diarmuid Clerkin; Paul O’Dea, Liam Rushe, Kevin Burke; Brian Ryan (0-3), Peter Feeney; John Tierney (0-1), Ciarán Stacey, Mícheal Murphy; Colin Currie (0-11, eight frees, on 65), AJ Murphy (0-2), Seán Currie (1-1). Subs: Donal Ryan for O’Dea (13 mins); Shane Barrett for Feeney (47 mins); Seán Baxter for Stacey (53 mins); Gavin King for Tierney (60 mins)

Referee: Caymon Flynn (Westmeath)

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times