Crokes choker paves way for Long' odds history march
Leinster Club SFC final: Mullinalaghta 1-8 Kilmacud Crokes 1-6
When it was all over, and Mickey Graham stood on the Tullamore pitch trying to figure out how his Mullinalaghta marvels had created history, he openly admitted that it was a "fairytale".
A fairytale ending with a nightmare sting for Kilmacud Crokes.
There's no doubt that this famously under-populated half-parish from north Longford were the headline story from yesterday's AIB Leinster club SFC final; but it's equally true that the much-lauded champions of Dublin were complicit in Mullinalaghta's crowning glory.
Crokes had played poorly, by their vaunted standards, for the first 54 minutes of this error-strewn decider played in difficult conditions.
And yet, at that point, it was still hard to conceive how they could lose it. They led by 1-6 to 0-6 - a scoreboard chasm given that St Columba's, for all their possession, had only managed one point over the previous half-hour.
The 9/2 underdogs were also facing into a strong breeze. It was, surely, only a matter of seeing it out for Crokes.
And maybe that was their downfall ...
"That's probably the mistake - we started trying to hold it instead of doing what we've done all year which is go forward with the ball and attack," admitted joint-manager Robbie Brennan.
"For whatever reason we reverted back to type, which we had been doing probably for the last three years, more of a defensive game, keep-ball, go backwards with it ... and it caught us."
"To be fair," Brennan clarified, "I think Mullinalaghta probably deserved it. We didn't play well, so I don't think we can have too many complaints."
And yet Crokes surely would have held on but for the concession of a penalty that will go in the annals of Longford GAA, never mind their three-in-a-row trailblazers.
The fightback fuse had been lit by David McGivney's towering point after 55 minutes. Gary Rogers had provided the clever assist; four minutes later he delivered the coup de grace.
It all stemmed from a defence-shredding move that saw James McGivney, Jayson Matthews and Donal McElligott combine to release Aidan McElligott. He was dragged to the turf by Cian O'Sullivan for a stonewall penalty.
Just a fortnight earlier, David Nestor had repelled another Rogers (Portlaoise's Craig) from a penalty that would have forced extra-time. The Mullinalaghta Rogers (Gary) also shot to the 'keeper's left but this time Nestor guessed incorrectly.
Suddenly, improbably, St Columba's led. Just as crucially, while their energy levels surged, Kilmacud appeared shellshocked. From the next play, Nestor's handpass was intercepted by Brendan Fox and Aidan McElligott kicked the game's final score.
Four signalled minutes (and more) of injury-time remained but instead of a Kilmacud fightback, it all ended in a stop-start blizzard of cards, confusion and some controversy.
Mullinalaghta's James McGivney, down injured, received a second yellow but didn't immediately walk ... referee David Gough later clarified that he told the player he was off, forgot to show a red but was adamant that McGivney had left the field before the end.
Soon after O'Sullivan, already booked for the penalty, received his second yellow, crowning an ill-starred Leinster campaign for the decorated Dub.
He wasn't the only Crokes man to struggle. A couple of forwards impressed at times - Pat Burke shot 1-1 and Callum Pearson hit an eye-catching 0-2 - but too often their attack butchered promising positions via a malaise of poor decision-making and sloppiness.
The role of the Mullinalaghta backs, especially Man of the Match Patrick Fox in shadowing Paul Mannion to the periphery, cannot be ignored either.
Perhaps Burke's fifth-minute goal contributed to their eventual ambush, fostering a belief that the bookies were right. Even though Mullinalaghta saw plenty of first-half ball and the workaholic Rian Brady landed 0-3 from pl ay, it still appeared to be Kilmacud's game to lose at the break, the scores level at 0-5 to 1-2.
And lose it they would.
Scorers - Mullinalaghta: R Brady 0-4 (1f), G Rogers 1-0 (pen), D McGivney 0-2 (1f), D McElligott, A McElligott 0-1 each. Kilmacud: 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; S Mulligan, D McElligott, F Mulligan; J Keegan, A McElligott; G Rogers, J McGivney, B Fox; J Matthews, R Brady, D McGivney. Subs: 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 (BC 18), K Dyas for Williams (48), M Vaughan for Pearson (56), N Nolan for R McGowan (65).
REF: D Gough (Meath)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Patrick Fox (Mullinalaghta).