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Saturday 16 December 2017

Gall's prevail by a country mile

WE were slapped squarely in the jaw with a couple of harsh realities in Croker yesterday.

Turns out the AIB club football championship isn't just as romantic as a Valentine's weekend in Venice. And yes, the hurling should have been played second.

Yesterday in Croke Park, the city boys of St Gall's took their first All-Ireland club title and, in doing so, reduced the involvement of little Kilmurry-Ibrickane to that of plucky village underdogs without consideration or sentiment.

Gall's, an almost ever-present in the Ulster club championship over the past decade, played their role of drilled, confident favourites clinically, leaving with the big trophy and a 0-13 to 1-5 win.

There won't be a cow milked on the Falls Road for days.

As it turned out, their dominance was far more pronounced then that scoreline portrays, Stephen Moloney's early goal for Kilmurray-Ibrickane keeping them from going under a lot earlier and much more comprehensively.

TEASING

For the final 15 minutes Gall's kept the ball in the manner of the older boys teasing the younger in the playground, picking off a few easy scores now and then just to reinforce their superiority.

"It's tremendous for the team first and foremost," commented Gall's manager Lenny Harbinson afterwards. "It's tremendous for the St Gall's community and the community in Belfast, particularly in Antrim as well.

"We're delighted to win today and win with a wee bit of style as well."

Style, but backed up with plenty of substance, too. Nine Gall's players scored from play over the hour. By comparison, only Maloney and Michael O'Dwyer did the same for the Clare and Munster champions.

And yet it started so well for Kilmurry. After Kieran McGourty put Gall's a point up after just 21 seconds, Seán Kelly's surge from wing-back and smart pass put Maloney through on goal.

He applied an assertive finish to the corner of the net and, with just over a minute gone, we had a game, if not a particularly good one, on our hands.

Gall's though, are a serious outfit. Having been denied by Salthill-Knocknacarra at this final stage four years ago, the experience and class of their key man took hold.

They replied with six points without response from Kilmurry, until Johnny Daly's 28th-minute free. And, as if to show off, Gall's fitted a further two points from play in before half-time.

"The early goal did set us back a bit," reckoned Harbinson. "But this team has a lot of experience. They steadied the ship; they didn't panic. There are plenty of good players in this team. We stuck to the game plan; we moved the ball quickly. More importantly, they took the simple scores."

Kilmurry got it all wrong, though their effort can't be faulted. Too many players were busting a gut to make too little ground, and running from your own full-back line in Croke Park has more than a touch of the kamikaze about it.

On the other hand, any time they kicked the ball they generally lost it.

Throw in the fact that between clean catches and breaking ball they won just two kick-outs in the entire first half and you get a more accurate picture of the sort of day Kilmurry endured.

"They held possession very well," commented Kilmurry selector Gerard McCarthy. "They found the spaces. We seemed, when we got the ball, not to be able to find any space. When they were in possession there were two or three options available.

"We were down five or six points and we needed a goal desperately at that stage. Even at that stage, when we were down the five or six points, we could look back and say we had one or two chances.

"When you analyse the game afterwards you will see that St Gall's had three or four chances when they got through for points and you'd say 'why didn't they go for goals?' They were that comfortable."

Hard as it must have been for the Kilmurry faithful to accept, the disparity in quality was immense. Gall's moved the ball with purpose and their execution was right on the money.

Were it not for four bad wides in the first half, the half-time gap would have been enormous.

Kevin Niblock posed a major threat in the air and the McGourty's, Conor, Kieran and, in particular, Kevin, looked sharp and dangerous.

Niblock and Conor McGourty claimed the first two points of the second half within five minutes of the restart and, from there, it was simply a case of pride for Kilmurry.

"We're a small club back in west Clare," added an emotional Enda Coughlan -- Kilmurry's captain -- afterwards. "There isn't much work back there. We could lose a few players. You never know what's going to happen after this.

"It was a great chance for us today. We were here. Maybe Ger thinks different but I think once we didn't win, it's not worth a f**k being here, to be honest. We came up today. We didn't win it. As far as I'm concerned it's not just a day out."

Such bitter sentiments were probably in Gall's memory from the '06 final, a lesson from which yesterday's win was the net product.

"When the whistle first went four years ago we thought that was it; it will be too hard to get back," admitted captain, Colin Brady.

"But that's just the disappointment of losing. I think once we gathered ourselves, it took us another year to get back into it."

"We came out today and we had the opportunity to rectify that.

"We're delighted to get the chance again to win. It's the high point," Brady added.

"Club football doesn't get any better than this."

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