St Gall's celebrate centenary in real style


ALL IRELAND CLUB CLUB SFC FINAL/St Gall's 0-13 Kilmurry-Ibrickane 1-5:ROMANCE DOESN’T always belong to the little village. It’s a city street thing too. In their centenary year, St Gall’s of Belfast, a club who have known suffering and heartbreak in the real world as well as the sporting, climbed to the summit at last.

Kilmurry-Ibrickane, who had invested so much hope in this journey, just never got off the ground.

If you have Belfast blood or just an eye for a story, this was a day of days in Croke Park though. One hundred years of dogged history has seen St Gall’s suffer social deprivation, sectarian pogroms, burn-outs and divisions and disappointments. Always, the club has come back to bloom like a desert flower on some part or other of the Falls Road.

Whatever the smallest parish club has meant to the tiniest village in rural Ireland, St Gall’s has meant as much to its West Belfast home. This was to be their moment and they never buckled under the burden of having to make hope and history rhyme.

If it was a poor-to-middling game, neither side will care. The men of Clare will feel they did themselves an injustice. St Gall’s played with such confidence on the day that one suspects Kilmurry played as well as they were let.

And St Gall’s will respond anyway that they have been that soldier. Four years ago on St Patrick’s Day they went under to Salthill by the width of a point. A lot of forwards went home that day reflecting ruefully on their misses and how expensive they proved.

This was a win for a city team and Gall’s played all the way through with a confident swagger which reflected Antrim football in its heyday. From the throw-in, the Ulster champions swept the ball down the field and straight over the Kilmurry crossbar, Kevin Niblock getting the key pass to Kieran McGourty. No Clare hand had touched the ball.

From the kick-out, however, Kilmurray managed to pose the only serious question of the match.

The ball moved swiftly upfield. Declan Callinan took the kick-out and moved it forward, Seán Kelly picked out a lovely perceptive handpass to Stephen Moloney who buried the ball in the St Gall’s net.

There was just over a minute gone on the clock. We settled in for a toe-to-toe bareknuckle fight.

St Gall’s just had too much though. The next five points were theirs and the damage could have been worse were it not for some fine work from Dermot O’Brien in the Kilmurry goal.

St Gall’s were quickly up off the canvas with CJ McGourty slotting over a 45 after Terry O’Neill’s goal attempt had been turned around the post by O’Brien.

There followed a few minutes of uncertainty before midfielder Aodhán Gallagher hoisted a splendid point to leave the teams level for the last time in the game.

Most of this Gall’s team grew up together and their cohesiveness reflected that.

Both midfielders and all six starting forwards would register scores from play, a perfect spread for a club side.

After the dunt to their confidence that the concession of such an early goal gave St Gall’s, they just kept on doing what they knew best. Kilmurry managed just one more point (from Johnny Daly) in the first half as the Belfast club went in to their tea with a 0-8 to 1-1 lead to mull over.

If there was any table-thumping it would have been prompted by the knowledge that by then they should have been out of sight.

A tendency to kick the point instead of delivering the killer final pass for a goal let Kilmurray off the hook a couple of times and they had kicked a number of wides, including three from Rory Gallagher.

In the end, it made no difference. St Gall’s never put the pedal to the floor after the break, contenting themselves with holding Kilmurry off at arm’s length. Indeed, from the time of Rory Gallagher’s fisted point in the 43rd minute until injury time when Kevin Niblock pointed again, St Galls contrived not to score while still looking pretty well in control of the game.

If club is family than it will be a long time before a McGourty (or indeed their uncle and team coach Lenny Harbinson) has to buy a drink in St Gall’s.

For men who seem to attract controversy like other people attract the common cold, the three brothers were instrumental in this famous win.

The movement and passing among the Gall’s forwards was exemplary all through, but, in the first half in particular, Kevin McGourty’s ability to attack the Kilmurry full-back line before laying off a pass was a huge difference between the sides.

ST GALL’S: Ronan Gallagher; P Veronica, A McClean, C Brady (capt); M Kelly, A Healy (0-1), S Kelly; S Burke (0-1), A Gallagher (0-1); T O’Neill (0-1), Rory Gallagher (0-1), Kevin McGourty (0-2); CJ McGourty (0-3, two frees), K Niblock (0-2), Kieran McGourty (0-1). Subs: K Stewart for O’Neill (46 mins), S Burns for Burke (54 mins), S Kennedy for Veronica (60 mins).

KILMURRY IBRICKANE: D O’Brien; D Hickey, M Killeen, M McMahon; S Hickey, E Coughlan (capt), D Callinan; P O’Connor, P O’Dwyer; M Hogan, I McInerney (0-1 a free), S Moloney (1-2); M O’Dwyer (0-1), J Daly (0-1, a free), N Downes. Subs: E Talty for Hogan (11 mins), O O’Dwyer for Talty (32 mins), M McCarthy for P O’Connor (41 mins), B Moloney for Killeen (50 mins), P O’Dwyer for N Downes (52 mins).

Referee: D Fahy (Longford).