Tuesday 25 June 2019

Fantastic Fox lays the foundations for Mullinalaghta fairytale

Mullinalaghta 1-8 Kilmacud Crokes 1-6

Marked man: Paul Mannion finds space at a premium as Patrick Fox puts him under pressure at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Marked man: Paul Mannion finds space at a premium as Patrick Fox puts him under pressure at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

This wasn't just a glorious triumph for a small parish in Longford, it was also a victory for every small club in the country.

The so-called weaker counties will be greatly encouraged too by what Mullinalaghta achieved in O'Connor Park, Tullamore yesterday.

John Keegan of Mullinalaghta St Columba's in action against Cian O'Sullivan of Kilmacud Crokes. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
John Keegan of Mullinalaghta St Columba's in action against Cian O'Sullivan of Kilmacud Crokes. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

They were 5/1 outsiders against a Kilmacud side that looked very much like Leinster champions-elect after beating St Peter's, Dunboyne and Portlaoise in recent weeks.

And they still appeared to be on course to win the provincial title for a fifth time when leading by three points after 50 minutes.

It wasn't that they had done anything especially impressive to put themselves in that position but with Mullinalaghta struggling to work the ball into scoring positions against the wind, it was difficult to see how they could launch a recovery package.

David McGivney pulled a point back in the 56th minute but the real drama came two minutes later when a super-slick Mullinalaghta move ended with Aidan McElligott being floored in the square.

Shane Mulligan of Mullinalaghta St Columba's in action against Paul Mannion of Kilmacud Crokes. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Shane Mulligan of Mullinalaghta St Columba's in action against Paul Mannion of Kilmacud Crokes. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Gary Rogers held his nerve as he calmly slotted the penalty past Kilmacud Crokes goalkeeper David Nestor, who had saved in similar circumstances late on against Portlaoise two weeks earlier.

McElligott followed up with another point, leaving a stunned Kilmacud facing the ultimate challenge. They worked very hard in five minutes of stoppage time but the Mullinalaghta defence held firm.

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Cian O'Sullivan and James McGivney were sent off on second yellow cards in stoppage time but confusion arose with the latter as referee David Gough forgot to flash the red card in his direction.

It took McGivney some time to leave the pitch but Gough later explained that he had, in fact, been red-carded.

David McGivney of Mullinalaghta St Columba's in action against Conor Casey of Kilmacud Crokes. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
David McGivney of Mullinalaghta St Columba's in action against Conor Casey of Kilmacud Crokes. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

It probably didn't matter a whole lot and Kilmacud made little of it, graciously accepting that Mullinalaghta deserved a victory.

Nobody in the crowd of 3,510 would disagree. This was always going to be a test of nerve for a side appearing in the final for the first time against opposition with such a famous pedigree in the Leinster championship.

And when Mullinalaghta's defensive alignment broke down in the fifth minute, allowing Pat Burke to fire in Kilmacud's goal, the signs looked ominous for the Longford champions.

Their response was impressive. Playing with the wind, they began to ask questions of the Kilmacud defence, with full-forward Rian Brady especially effective.

Cian O'Sullivan of Kilmacud Crokes argues with referee David Gough after being sent off. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Cian O'Sullivan of Kilmacud Crokes argues with referee David Gough after being sent off. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Advantage

He kicked three points and by the 20th minute Mullinalaghta were a point ahead.

They held the advantage until stoppage time when a pointed free by Paul Mannion brought the sides level (Mullinalaghta 0-5, Kilmacud Crokes 1-2).

Mannion had done little in general play due to an excellent shadowing job by Patrick Fox. Kilmacud would have expected play to open up in the second half, allowing Mannion to be more influential, but it didn't really happen.

Granted, they out-scored Mullinalaghta by 0-4 to 0-1 in the opening 20 minutes but with Fox - who won the man-of-the-match award - continuing to close out Mannion, Kilmacud were unable to build a match-winning lead.

That left them vulnerable against opposition whose never-say-die attitude has been one of many impressive hallmarks in recent seasons.

It applied again yesterday in what was the biggest game in the club's history, enabling them to finish with a flourish that floored the Stillorgan outfit.

The sense of togetherness in a team which has four sets of brothers - the McElligotts, the Mulligans, the Rogers and the McGivneys - was in evidence and while there were times when Mullinalaghta's handling let them down, they never allowed setbacks to undermine them.

Their cause was greatly helped by Kilmacud's sloppiness, which was totally out of kilter with the slickness which enabled them to score 2-17 against St Peter's and 1-17 against Portlaoise.

Those high returns were achieved through quick transfers and with clever movement, assets which they rarely brought to yesterday's game.

Much of that was due to Mullinalaghta's energy and work-rate but Kilmacud will still be very unhappy with the manner in which they wasted good possession. The final pass was misplaced far too often, while they also lost many of the 50-50 duels.

Kilmacud's management did all they could to ensure there was no complacency in the camp but whether that got through to the players is open to debate.

Certainly, there were times when they looked like a side who believed that Mullinalaghta would be unable to sustain their effort.

They were proven badly wrong by a squad whose self-belief got them through the difficult periods before powering them up for a final - and ultimately - winning drive.

Cue celebrations which last right through Christmas before they begin preparing for the next big challenge against Dr Crokes in the All-Ireland semi-final.

SCORERS - Mullinalaghta: R Brady 0-4 (1f); G Rogers 1-0 (pen); D McGivney 0-2; A McElligott, D McElligott 0-1 each. Kilmacud Crokes: P Burke 1-1; C Pearson, P Mannion (2f) 0-2 each, C Dias 0-1.

Mullinalaghta - P Rogers; S Cadam, P Fox, C Brady; F Mulligan, S Mulligan, D McElligott; A McElligott, J Keegan; G Rogers, J McGivney, B Fox; J Matthews, R Brady, D McGivney. Sub: M Cunningham for F Mulligan (48).

Kilmacud Crokes - D Nestor; L Flatman, R McGowan, A McGowan; C O'Connor, C O'Shea, C O'Sullivan; C Dias, C Casey; S Horan, P Mannion, S Cunningham; P Burke, S Williams, C Pearson. Subs: A Jones for Flatman (17, BC), K Dyas for Wiliams (48), M Vaughan for Pearson (56), N Nolan for R McGowan (64).

Ref - D Gough (Meath).

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