Sunday 22 October 2017

Brady leads charge for Mullinalaghta

Mullinalaghta 0-13 Abbeylara 1-7

Mullinalaghta captain Shane Mulligan leads the celebrations after their Longford final win. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mullinalaghta captain Shane Mulligan leads the celebrations after their Longford final win. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Joy for the men from the tiny parish on the Cavan border, and more heartbreak for Abbeylara who have now lost three senior finals in a row, two of them to Mullinalaghta St Columba's.

That was the outcome of a hard-fought, gritty battle for supremacy between the two best teams in Longford who know each other intimately.

Mulligan with his daughter Holly. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mulligan with his daughter Holly. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The underage sides of the two clubs amalgamate under the Northern Gaels banner, but when it comes to senior football, they go their separate ways.

Last year the Mullinalaghta team ended a 66-year wait for the Connolly Cup, and showed their quality by reaching the Leinster club semi-finals where it took a huge effort by mighty St Vincent's of Dublin to end the Longford champions' run in the provincial competition.

This year the question was asked: 'Would they have the hunger to go for the club's first two-in-a-row?'

Manager Mickey Graham, an Ulster title winner with his native Cavan in 1997, and the man who led Mullinalaghta to their big breakthrough in 2016, never had any doubts.

PJ Masterson of Abbeylara in action against James McGivney, left, and Conor McElligott of Mullinalaghta St Columba's. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
PJ Masterson of Abbeylara in action against James McGivney, left, and Conor McElligott of Mullinalaghta St Columba's. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"It's always a big question about hunger, but these lads have had so little success in 67 years, and to come and win it last year, you could have forgiven them if they said they had got what they wanted and faded away into the sunset," he said.

"But in fairness to the lads, they realise that they're not a big club, it's very tiny, and days like this are not going to come along too often.

"When they have a bunch of players like they have here, it's important to make the most of it. I had nothing to say to them. They just came back hungry and I can't commend them well enough, because we work off a small panel and we play the same players, week in, and week out.

"I'm just delighted for them. They'll never forget this. It's a special occasion," Graham added.

Robbie Smyth of Abbeylara in action against David McGivney of Mullinalaghta St Columba's. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Robbie Smyth of Abbeylara in action against David McGivney of Mullinalaghta St Columba's. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mullinalaghta had previously won the county senior title in 1948 and 1950 before last year's success. Their fourth championship gains added lustre by this being the 100th staging of the Longford senior football final.

On the day, the winners looked the better team, showing overall more composure in their play and, crucially, having more scoring options than Abbeylara.

They got seven men on the scoresheet, including man of the match Rian Brady who contributed 0-4, all from play, of their total.

James and David McGivney got two each, with another brace coming from Conor McElligott.

Counted

Conan Brady, Donal McElligott and Jayson Matthews (free) knocked over a single point each but every score counted, especially as Abbeylara produced a strong second-half performance.

Connor Berry of Abbeylara in action against Simon Cadam of Mullinalaghta St Columba's. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Connor Berry of Abbeylara in action against Simon Cadam of Mullinalaghta St Columba's. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The challengers relied too much on the county championship's leading scorer Robbie Smyth, who came into the game with 1-33 to his credit.

Smyth once more was Abbeylara's top scorer with 1-4, the goal coming from a 40th-minute penalty after Connor Berry was fouled by Mullinalaghta defender Simon Cadam.

Unfortunately for Smyth's side, he was backed up in the scoring by just three team-mates - James McEntire, Barry Smyth, and Jason Kelly (free).

Rian Brady set the tone for the title holders with his first point just 12 seconds into the match, and with just over a minute gone, he had stroked another accurate shot over the Abbeylara bar.

Conor McElligott got two points to put Mullinalaghta into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead before Robbie Smyth opened the Abbeylara scoring from a free in the 10th minute.

By then the likelihood of a physically daunting encounter had become reality with some strong hits going in from both sides. Referee Aidan Dowler did not hesitate to take action when players overstepped the mark.

He ended up giving yellow cards to ten players, five from each side, over the 62 minutes of the match, with Mullinalaghta's Jayson Matthews being sent off for a second yellow-card offence in the 60th minute.

This was no classic. Both sides got men back in numbers when under pressure, and the tackling, as the card count suggests, was uncompromising.

Mullinalaghta could have given themselves a more comfortable passage into the Leinster Championship if they had taken full advantage of the scoring chances they created.

A tally of 11 wides, six in the first half, compared with Abbeylara's six wides, one in the first half, illustrated the potential for the winners to have wrapped up the game earlier than they did.

Instead, with the scoreline at 0-9 to 0-4 in their favour, they conceded that penalty in the 40th minute.

Robbie Smyth's goal from the spot-kick revitalised Abbeylara, and by the 45th minute, he had tacked on two more points to level the scores at 0-9 to 1-6.

Now it was a mental as well as a physical contest. Which side could rise to the challenge and press on to the finishing line?

Rian Brady had the answer when he finished off a four-man move by slotting the ball over the bar in the 47th minute for 1-10, and from there the McGivneys, David and James, and Matthews before his dismissal, got the scores that mattered.

Abbeylara's Robbie Smyth got the last point of the game, but it was too little, too late.

Scorers - Mullinalaghta: R Brady 0-4; C McElligott 0-2; J McGivney 0-2; D McGivney 0-2 (2f); D McElligott, J Matthews, C Brady 0-1 each. Abbeylara: R Smyth 1-4 (pen, 4f); J McEntire, B Smyth, J Kelly (f) 0-1 each.

Mullinalaghta - P Rogers; S Cadam, P Fox, F Mulligan; C Brady, S Mulligan, D McElligott; A McElligott, J Keegan; D McGivney, J McGivney, G Rogers; J Matthews, R Brady, C McElligott. Subs: J Mooney for S Cadam (52); M Cunningham for C McElligott (57).

Abbeylara - G Kelly; PJ Masterson, S Mahon, Colm P Smyth; J McEntire, C Brady, Cormac Smyth; R Brady, F Battrim; J Kelly, Brian Smyth, B Crawford; Barry Smyth, R Smyth, C Berry.

Subs: P Berry for B Crawford (29); K Smyth for Brian Smyth (42); A Dalton for Barry Smyth (52); N Rabbitte for J McEntee 58.

Ref - A Dowler

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