Monday 21 October 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Mullinalaghta's moment has been coming but it should have been in Croker'

Unless there is a major change to central government's social policy, the likes of Mullinalaghta won't come around too often. Stock photo: Sportsfile
Unless there is a major change to central government's social policy, the likes of Mullinalaghta won't come around too often. Stock photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Mullinalaghta... Mullinalaghta. A week ago most people could not spell or pronounce Mullinalaghta. If a week is a long time in politics then an hour can change the face of football.

The club competition belongs to the plebs but even at that a half-parish is not supposed to be winning Leinster senior championships. On the Breffni side of the border, Gowna were the best team in Cavan for a decade; now the balance has shifted and the Longford men have created a very special piece of history.

Anyone who knows the club scene in Leinster will be aware that this was coming. It could have happened last year. When Dublin's St Vincent's were dumped out early by Rathnew last year all the other county champions started to think the road had opened up for them. I was one of those soldiers. I was in charge of Simonstown and we went down narrowly to St Loman's in the semi-final.

The Westmeath team then had the Leinster final in the bag when they were up by five points in injury time only to lose in the biggest smash and grab in history. Moorefield from Kildare delivered the sucker punches.

But Mullinalaghta could just as easily have been there. They had Loman's on the ropes but got caught in a tight finish. So the Leinster title was coming, only nobody thought it would be against Kilmacud. Again it is easy to be wise after the event but I certainly did feel that Mullinalaghta would make life very difficult for Crokes. I did not see them winning yet it is obvious that they have a lot of very good skilful players by any club standards - and even by some county ones. Many have already proved that with Longford.

Bands of brothers are hard beaten too. McGivneys and McElligotts, who strayed in from Kerry, and Mulligans and Bradys, who wandered over from Cavan, and Foxes, and a few others like big John Keegan. Mullinalaghta had been hardened by years on the road in Longford with an unbreakable spirit which really surfaced in the last ten minutes.

The other side to the story is that Kilmacud contributed greatly to their own downfall. They had this match under control and messed around with the ball instead of killing off the game by going forward and putting five or six points in it. With Paul Mannion caught in a Fox snare, the rest of the attack ran down blind alleys, overplayed the ball and invented stupid mistakes. Scoring 1-6 does not win many big games.

Kilmacud's decision-making was dreadful and you could almost see the inevitable happening as Crokes tried to hold possession. It is one thing doing that on a nice dry pitch in summer, something very different than trying it in Tullamore in winter. One turnover was all that was needed, a sweeping move, a penalty and the appearance of calm deserted Kilmacud.

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When Mullinalaghta got a scent of winning they were like a dog with a rabbit, they just would not let go. David Nestor, the Kilmacud 'keeper, committed more mistakes in the last few minutes than he did for the rest of the year. All season he has looked the part of a Dublin goalkeeper with his kick-outs always reaching his man. Now his touch deserted him in the minute of greatest need as Kilmacud had plenty of time to save the game. It does not make him a bad player or Kilmacud a bad team. They will be back.

Indeed it did appear to me that all through Kilmacud were taking this challenge too lightly, as if they thought their class would get them over the line. Class without the same level of work wins nothing. And it seriously underestimated the football talent of Mullinalaghta. There may have been a perception abroad that this was some type of hillbilly outfit who struck it lucky. In fact, they are a very talented team which just happened to come from a small rural area. Nobody will take them for granted again.

Mullinalaghta enjoyed it too. When a team has the right attitude they can enjoy every second of the hardest match, even when the result goes the wrong way, because they are tuned into the same wavelength and instinctively know that they have given their all. The other thing which impressed me about Mullinalaghta was the quiet dignity in victory. There was very little shouting about the media not giving them a chance or worrying about what anyone thought of them.

They are comfortable in themselves. It does not mean that Longford are going to beat Dublin but it was a good day for the farmer and primary school teacher and carpenter and fitter and all those who keep rural Ireland alive. For manager Mickey Graham, this is a wonderful achievement too.

Recently appointed as Cavan manager he now has to fight on two fronts. It is only for a short time and the sort of problem every manager would like to have. On the back of this success, Cavan will expect a similar changing of water to wine - so he has put himself under a bit of pressure.

Now, though, for the gripes department. Why is the biggest game in Leinster club football not played in Croke Park? Every year. These players are just as entitled - maybe even more so - to play in Croke Park as any top county team. In fact, a triple-header last Sunday would have been in order. Two Mile House of Kildare beat Shamrocks of Offaly in the intermediate final last weekend, while Dundalk Young Irelands beat St Brigid's of Offaly in the junior final and all the matches could have been played together, starting at noon.

So what if you had to turn on the lights for the senior match? It does not matter if the crowd was less than ten thousand. This is what the GAA is supposed to be about. The field belongs to club players from all these exotic places.

Tullamore is a beautiful summer pitch with great facilities but the surface is slow in winter and does not suit good fast football at this time of year.

The next time someone talks about protecting the clubs they should be asked why our best club players at all the grades cannot get access to the pitch that they all dream of playing on. Are they not good enough for it? A revolution in thinking is needed.

Clubs need to start roaring like lions; up to now they have acted like lambs. Last weekend was the perfect chance for most of these young men to play their one and only game in Croke Park and they were denied that. Why? Governments have been overthrown for less. We are a quiet people.

My second gripe is with the way this country is going. Unless there is a major change to central government's social policy, the likes of Mullinalaghta won't come around too often.

There needs to be a revolutionary (that word again) change in the thinking of those in power to reverse the trend towards Dublin and other urban areas of the east.

The days of big families propping up a small community are over. This Mullinalaghta team is an exception.

What is needed is decentralisation and a policy to create small (or maybe big) villages in rural Ireland which protect the school, pub, post office and the GAA. It is a policy to save a way of life. Again there is plenty of talk about doing something but nobody is held to account.

Finally, on a great weekend for clubs, the stand-out individual performance came from Siobhán Killeen, who scored 5-4 for Clontarf in the All-Ireland ladies' intermediate final.

A multi-talented sports person, she played as if she was enjoying herself, almost as if she had not a care in the world. If you score 5-4, it probably is like that.

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