Emotional and magical: Long wait for County Final success is over

It’s Saturday evening and there’s about fifteen minutes left in Creggs’ County Final replay against Kilglass Gaels. Shane Dowd has just scored a goal to put us ahead by eight points and I am engulfed in an emotional turmoil. We are eight points ahead and it should be a sufficient lead to see us home and end 33 years of heartbreak and pain, but, being Creggs, I know it won’t be that simple.

  My mind goes back to 1993, when I was manager, and as we headed into the last 10 minutes in the final against St. Michael’s we were ahead by seven points and all we had to do was see it out and the cup was ours. I don’t have to tell you we didn’t manage to do it and we ended up losing by two or three points.

  Back to last Saturday and our near-neighbours, Oran, had an eight-point lead at one stage in the preceding Intermediate Final replay, but were reeled in at the end of normal time by Kilmore. They went down in a twenty-minute period of extra-time to a heartbreaking defeat by a very unfair seven or eight points. So as we headed into the last quarter on Saturday, I knew that we would be tested like never before – and I was right.

  Kilglass threw caution to the wind, pushed everyone forward, totally took over and had us under the cosh for those never-to-be-forgotten final moments. My recent present of five stints from the heart people was tested like never before and the fact that I was still standing at the final whistle proved they must have been doing their job.

  Kilglass had umpteen chances to cut our lead but a combination of poor shooting and two exceptional saves by our goalie, Eugene Fleming, meant we managed to stagger across the line still five points to the good.

  ‘I don’t think anything quite matches watching your club win a county final’ is a quote from Eamonn Sweeney’s article in Sunday’s Independent and there has never been a truer observation. The outpouring of relief, sheer delight and happiness at the final whistle will live with me as long as I live.

  There were several members of the ‘83 team present, including goalie Peadar Shanagher and corner-back Noel Crean (whom I hadn’t seen for a long time), along with more senior citizens like Mick Roarke, Noel Hanley, Sean Keegan and Seamus Keane. Micky McGovern left his hospital bed for the first game two weeks earlier and although I didn’t see him, I’m told one of our best-ever players, Harry Connolly from Castlerea, was also present. 

  Anyway, it’s onto the pitch and we’re hugging everyone we meet and it’s just magic. Aidan Tully, a true Kilglass stalwart, comes over to congratulate me, fair play to him, and after a load of pictures with my own two lads, Mark and Paul, and my nephew David, the cup is finally presented. Joint captains, James McKeague and Colin Canny, accepted the trophy on behalf of our village team and sparked celebrations that have just about finished as I write this, on what is now Monday morning.

  The team, along with the management team and a large number of supporters, headed off to The Bridge House in Athleague where they enjoyed what I’m told was a fantastic meal. I headed back to my own house to have a big lump of sirloin steak and the usual trimmings to have me in top shape for a long night in Mikeen’s (can’t tell you how long) and myself and Carol were back up in good time for the arrival home of the triumphant team.

  Two years ago when I was manager, we won the Tansey Cup and it has always been a source of regret that for some reason, I wasn’t there when that cup came home. However, no matter how good it was, it couldn’t come close to the welcome the team got on Saturday night. It was almost 9 pm when the team came up the Main Street that was lit up by several bonfires, all on the trailer of a Ward and Burke Scania. They were greeted by hundreds of supporters, all holding candles and cheering like mad, and Mikeen drowned the whole team in champagne. I will never ever forget the sheer excitement and emotion of their arrival home.            

  ‘Because a county final victory feels, in a way that no other win does, like a personal victory for the followers of the club involved’ writes Eamonn Sweeney and how right he is again. Everyone has a share in it and it’s your friends and neighbours who are reaping, in our case the rewards, of the very long-awaited victory.

  Anyway what happened next will not be revealed but when we eventually got into Mikeen’s, it was great to see so many ex-players of all ages, shapes and sizes from many different eras. This included all the Connelly brothers, Mick Kirrane and his cousin, Padraig Whyte (an Oran man but also an honorary Creggs man), Bert Curley (now domiciled in Glinsk) and Jack Hegarty (also domiciled in Roscommon). Also there was a former teammate of mine on the 1971 U-21 winning team, Johnny Hegarty from Gortnadieve.

  Thank God it’s all over now and we got across the line, but we all know it’s small margins and little things that decide games. As Aidan Tully reminded me, the outcome could well have been different if their very influential centre-forward, Aidan’s son, Gavin, had not got an early black card and been sidelined for a large portion of the game. We’ll never know now, but for our manager Ger Dowd, it was a weekend he’ll never forget. He was also involved with St. Brigid’s who won the senior final by beating Shane Curran’s Padraig Pearses on Sunday afternoon. Well done Ger and to your Creggs management team and it’s the challenge of intermediate football next year for our lads to look forward to. 

An emotional farewell to Axel

It looks like this week’s column is going to be mainly about sport and sporting matters, because I just have to mention the events that took place in Limerick last Saturday afternoon.

  The Munster rugby team honoured their late head coach, Anthony Foley, by playing like the Munster team of old and giving a very good Glasgow team a right old beating. Axel would have been rightly proud of their performance and they certainly were inspired by his memory in a highly-emotional Thomond Park.

  While I have never been a fan of Leinster or the Dublin 4 brigade, their tribute to Axel, by taking to the pitch in Mountpellier wearing the red of Munster, was a real touch of class and showed how he was loved by all in the rugby world.

Harvest Festival throw-in!

Finally for this week, with all the excitement around the football, the upcoming Harvest Festival has almost been forgotten. The good news is it’s on this weekend and it will be bigger and better than ever and all roads will lead to Creggs, where you will be guaranteed great fun and craic!

  I’m sure all the events are covered somewhere else in the paper (Editor: Yes Frank, pages 27-29) but for me it kicks off on Friday night, when I presume I’ll be asking the questions at the GAA Quiz in Mikeen’s. Throw-in is at 10 pm.

  Then on Monday I will be serving the best quality pudding – black and white and maybe even cally – so I look forward to seeing you all there and hope you all enjoy the Creggs Harvest Festival.


Till next week, bye for now.