Niblock pulls strings as Gall's canter to glory
It was the dream final for the GAA, pitting the unique environments of west Clare and west Belfast together.
However, it was forgettable in almost every other sense for the neutrals among the 34,357 attendance, as St Gall's cantered to a first All-Ireland title, making amends for losing at the same stage here in Croke Park four years earlier.
Once they dusted themselves down from the shock concession of a first- minute goal from Kilmurry-Ibrickane wing-forward Stephen Moloney, they controlled the game to such an extent that the result was inevitable as early as the interval when they led by 0-8 to 1-1.
The Clare and Munster champions just never showed even the faintest glimpses of penetration, cohesion or spark that suggested they could find a way back into this disappointing final once they fell behind. As a consequence, the competitive value diminished quickly.It won't bother St Gall's, a tightly-knit community just off the Falls Road that prides itself on the success and quality of its football teams. They have been building steadily towards this moment in recent years and have put together a level of organisation and structure to their game that surely points to a return here at some stage in the future.
On a broader scale, their victory can only serve as a positive force for Antrim football, which is already flourishing on the back of last year's championship. Anything up to eight of the St Gall's side could conceivably find their way into a county team that has been doing very nicely without them after four rounds of the league, out on their own at the head of affairs in Division 3.
The wonder was that they didn't win more comfortably than the five-point cushion they had at the end.
But then their style, which demands so much patience and nerve in possession, perhaps does not lean towards ruthlessly demolishing opponents.
But once they have possession, they are extremely adept at keeping it, with each player comfortable in holding up the ball, protecting it and playing it around.
It is perhaps a legacy of their great command of 'sevens' football that demands skill and an ability to keep possession. Whether it's the tournaments in Castlewellan or Kilmacud, Gall's are never too far from the podium and by transferring their skills to 15-a-side -- and landing the biggest club prize of all -- they have underlined what a talented team they are.
Kilmurry-Ibrickane drew heart from the efforts of centre-back and captain Enda Coughlan and Moloney, but in almost every other duel on the field, they were soundly beaten.
But their experience has been a good one and in time they'll appreciate the true value of their conquerors.
Events in the first minute pointed to a potential classic, Kieran McGourty's point after Kevin Niblock's incisive run drawing the quick response of Moloney's goal, courtesy of Declan Callinan's break, at the other end before most spectators has settled properly in their seats.
But for the next 42 minutes Kilmurry added just one more point -- from a 25th minute Johnny Daly free -- as Gall's took over.
Their lines of running, switching of direction and accurate intelligent passing ensured a tempo that Kilmurry found too difficult to deal with.
The Kilmurry 'keeper Dermot O'Brien reacted well to intercept a McGourty pass to Terry O'Neill along the ground on six minutes, but there were signs of pressure on them everywhere. Kevin McGourty's industry, the absolute dominance of Aodhan Gallagher and Sean Burke at midfield, Sean Kelly's pace out of defence and captain Colin Brady's composure pointed to only one result.
Rory Gallagher and Niblock pulled a lot of strings too, with the latter particularly effective after the break.
However, by the time Daly had added to the Kilmurry goal, St Gall's had added another five points to lead by 0-6 to 1-1 some 25 minutes in, with a timely block by Martin McMahon on Conor McGourty preventing further leakage.
O'Neill and Kevin McGourty added points before the break for a healthy, but not unassailable lead, but a knowledge that they were a much superior side.
Niblock and Conor McGourty interacted well for the first two scores of the second half, as St Gall's pushed on, before Aodhan Gallagher and O'Neill combined with two long kick-passes to set up Burke for an 11th point.
Eventually Moloney broke the sequence and Kilmurry did start to get some fluency again, but not before Conor McGourty's delicate touch set up Rory Gallagher, ensuring all six forwards and both midfielders would score from play.
In the last quarter, Kilmurry engineered themselves to within four points, 0-12 to 1-5, and that scarcely seemed credible on the balance of play.
But St Gall's were in protective mode at that stage, shipping the ball confidently from one to another without ever really concerning themselves about the territory they found themselves in. The prize was too valuable for risk.
Kilmurry won't be too despondent, but their path back to Croke Park and St Patrick's Day is far from guaranteed.
As a county, Antrim now finds itself sharing the distinction with Wicklow (Baltinglass) and Portlaoise (Laois) of having All-Ireland club champions, but no All-Ireland senior title. Will it be a stepping stone to more?
Scorers -- St Gall's: C McGourty 0-3 (0-1f , 0-1 '45'), Kevin McGourty, K Niblock 0-2 each, Rory Gallagher, A Gallagher, S Burke, A Healy, Kieran McGourty, T O'Neill 0-1 each. Kilmurry-Ibrickane: S Moloney 1-2, I McInerney (f), J Daly (f), M O'Dwyer 0-1 each.
St Gall's -- Ronan Gallagher; P Veronica, A McClean, C Brady; S Kelly, A Healy, M Kelly; S Burke, A Gallagher; T O'Neill, Kieran McGourty, Kevin McGourty; C McGourty, K Niblock, R Gallagher. Subs: K Stewart for O'Neill (46), S Burns for Burke (54), S Kennedy for Veronica (60).
Kilmurry-Ibrickane -- D O'Brien; D Hickey, M Killeen, M McMahon; S Hickey, E Coughlan, D Callinan; P O'Connor, P O'Dwyer; I McInerney, M Hogan, S Moloney; M O'Dwyer, J Daly, N Downes. Subs: E Talty for Hogan (12), O O'Dwyer for Talty (32), M McCarthy for O'Connor (41), B Moloney for Killeen (50), P O'Dwyer for Downes (52).
Ref -- D Hickey (Longford).