Mullinalaghta stun Kilmacud Crokes to take Leinster crown
Late penalty scored by Gary Rodgers was enough for underdogs to slay the favourites
Mullinalaghta’s Patrick Fox celebrates after the Leinster club SFC final win over Kilmacud Crokes. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Kilmacud Crokes 1-6 Mullinalaghta 1-8
The AIB Leinster club SFC final has developed a reputation for drama in recent times but even so, Sunday’s finale in Tullamore brought the house down. A first win for a Longford club in the championship’s history – and in the county’s first final – was achieved in a blizzard of late activity as Mullinalaghta came from three down with five minutes to go to outscore the hot favourites, Kilmacud by 1-2 to nil in the time remaining.
Even the manner of the achievement was gripping, as the critical score came from a penalty, awarded after a flowing move was abruptly halted after a foul on Aidan McElliggott by Cian O’Sullivan in the 58th minute at which point the Dublin champions led by two, as David McGivney had trimmed the lead.
Kilmacud goalkeeper David Nestor had saved an injury-time penalty in the semi-final against Portlaoise to prevent the match going to extra-time but this time – coincidentally also against a player called Rogers (Craig) – Gary Rogers’s kick to the same right-hand side sent Nestor the wrong way and pushed the outsiders into the lead, 1-7 to 1-6 with a minute of normal time left on the clock.
Within 60 seconds the ball was turned over and worked to the left where McElligott shot his team two clear.
There was no mistaking the gravity of the situation now. This was a match that hadn’t been expected to be played on Mullinalaghta’s terms, tight and low-scoring but that’s how it evolved and with their 1-6 in an hour’s play, the task for Kilmacud in retrieving a two-point deficit looked immense and their lethargic response suggested that they realised as much.
In the dying minutes before the penalty they had tried to play down the clock, despite the danger of being just two ahead.
“For whatever reason we reverted back to type, which we had been doing probably for the last three years, more of a defensive game,” said manager Robbie Brennan afterwards, “keep ball, go backwards with it. We reverted back to that for some strange reason and it caught us.”
Mullinallaghta started well. They had plenty of possession and in Rian Brady the outstanding forward, buzzing around the attack and shooting with commendable accuracy on a cold windy afternoon for three points from play but also dropping deep to cover the typically counter attacking opposing backs.
They also shut down their opponents’ attack effectively with Paddy Fox quickly finding All Star Paul Mannion for company on the edge of the square where the Longford county defender played a stormer, giving his decorated prey hardly any room and expertly anticipating – albeit the not always laser-guided – through balls.
At one point Mannion was frustrated into invention and tried to play the ball to himself in the corner of the attack but possession was gobbled up.
Since the tortoise and the hare it hasn’t always been to the benefit of favourites to strike early and after a fifth-minute goal by Pat Burke, finished after a good move between Shane Horan and the lively Callum Pearson, the pick of the Kilmacud forwards. Instead of being a launchpad, the score appeared to anaesthetise the favourites and ended up bank rolling their somewhat aimless play for the remainder of the half during which they managed just two more points.
It wasn’t as if Mullinalaghta were making them pay top dollar for the lassitude and at times they looked nervous, as mistakes abounded on both sides. Liam Flatman, the Kilmacud corner back, got a black card in the 17th minute for hauling down Jayson Matthews.
James McGivney’s presence caused trouble for the favourites but he was too often bottled up on the sideline where his frustrations got him an early yellow card – a cause of controversy when a second was added at the end of the match but referee David Gough omitted to show the follow-up red although the player left the field shortly afterwards.
Cian O’Sullivan also saw red for a second yellow of his own in the 64th minute, an unhappy end to a difficult provincial campaign for the six-time All-Ireland winner.
Winning manager Mickey Graham said that being level at half-time re-emphasised to his team that they were in contention but the third quarter saw the favourites inch ahead with points from Craig Dias – who worked hard on the ball from centrefield although there was no clear winner in the zonal battle – and Pearson.
The outcome was still up for decision but the sense was that if Kilmacud could add a few scores, there would be no way back. Burke’s cancelling out of Rian Brady’ 50th-minute free within seconds appeared to nudge the match in that direction before the late charge shifted the Leinster club championship on its axis and breathed some seasonal romance into the football year.
ST COLUMBA’S MULLINALAGHTA: 1. Patrick Rogers; 2. Simon Cadam, 3. Patrick Fox, 4. Conan Brady; 6. Shane Mulligan, 7. Dónal McElligott (0-1), 5. Francis Mulligan; 9. John Keegan, 15. Aidan McElligott (0-1); 10. Gary Rogers (1-0), 11. James McGivney, 12. Brendan Fox; 13. Jayson Matthews, 14. Rian Brady (0-4, one free), 8. David McGivney (0-2, one free).
Subs: 18. Michael Cunningham for F Mulligan (48 mins).
KILMACUD CROKES: 1. David Nestor; 2. Liam Flatman, 7. Ross McGowan, 3. Andrew McGowan; 5. Cian O’Connor, 6. Cillian O’Shea, 4. Cian O’Sullivan; 8. Craig Dias (0-1), 9. Conor Casey; 12. Shane Horan, 11. Paul Mannion (0-2, frees), 10. Shane Cunningham; 13. Pat Burke (1-1), 25. Stephen Williams, 15. Callum Pearson (0-2).
Subs: 17. Aidan Jones for Flatman (black card, 18 mins), Kevin Dyas for Williams (48), Mark Vaughan for Pearson (56), Nathan Nolan for Ross McGowan (66).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).