Faithleach’s conquer Connacht after thriller

Cox rocks with last-gasp goal!

AIB Connacht Club IFC Final

St Faithleach’s 2-14 Naomh Anna (Galway) 2-12 (after extra-time)

A goal bundled into the net by full-back Mikey Cox in the 83rd minute gave St. Faithleach’s a breathtaking victory in what was a thrilling, nail-biting and tremendously exciting Connacht intermediate football final played at Pearse Stadium last Saturday.

  When Myles Mac Donnacha pointed from 30 metres out in the 81st minute for the Galway side, it looked like the Roscommon champions were beaten. But in one last desperate attack Cathal Gunn lofted the ball goalwards and when a number players went for it, including the Naomh Anna goalkeeper Eoin Ó Currain and Faithleach’s Conal Kennelly and full-back Mikey Cox, it was Cox who got the decisive touch to send the ball over the line.

  The Galway players strongly protested a ‘square ball’, but referee Barry Judge consulted with his umpires and the score was allowed to stand. On the kick-out the final whistle sounded and Faithleach’s had won in the most extraordinary fashion possible.

  This was a right rollercoaster. In almost perfect weather conditions, Faithleach’s started in total control and with Conal Kennelly, Dave Rooney, Ciaráin and Diarmuid Murtagh on fire, they quickly ran up a handsome lead.

  Diarmuid Murtagh, who was at his brilliant best on the day, opened the scoring with a point in the second minute and Dave Rooney and Jonathan Hussey followed up with excellent points inside the opening five minutes, with Naomh Anna’s only reply coming from the boot of Iarla Ó Currain.

  In the 7th minute we were treated to a quite brilliant goal from Diarmuid Murtagh. With plenty to do when he received the ball 30 metres from the Naomh Anna goal, he beat two defenders with an outrageous dummy solo and duly planted the ball in the top corner with his right foot. It was a goal that would grace any stage. Faithleach’s were rampant.

  Further points from Jonathan Hussey (mark) and Dave Rooney (a ’45) saw Faithleach’s ahead by 1-5 to 0-1 with only 13 minutes on the clock. It could have been even more as Diarmuid Murtagh was denied a second goal by a superb block by Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh in the 13th minute.

  The whole complexion of this final changed in the 14th minute when Karl Nerney was black-carded for a foul on Oisin Mac Donnacha. Naomh Anna powered forward after that and points from Oisin Mac Donnacha and three from Dylan Seoige (one free) narrowed the gap.

  Ciaráin Murtagh lifted the siege with a point in the 21st minute, but three minutes later the Galway side were within a point after Matias Eoin Bairead finished off a great team move with a well-taken goal. Two points from play from Conal Kennelly in the final minutes of the half saw Faithleach’s go in at half-time leading by a single point, 1-8 to 1-7.

  The Galway champions played their best football on the resumption and at one stage early in the second half it looked like Faithleach’s were going to be swamped.

  Oisin Mac Donnacha opened the scoring in the 32nd minute to level the scores, and two minutes later, after Faithleach’s gave away the ball in defence, Warren Seoige took full advantage to shoot past Michael O’Donnell. When Oisin Mac Donnacha scored again it was 2-9 to 1-8 for the Connemara side on 36 minutes.

  But Faithleach’s hung on. In the 44th minute Matias Eoin Bairead burst through only for Michael O’Donnell to make a brilliant save. It lifted the Roscommon side. Diarmuid Murtagh pointed a free in the 45th minute and a minute later the same player made a scintillating run and his powerful shot flew just over the crossbar. Conal Kennelly lofted over a mighty point from 40 metres and now there was only a point between the teams again.

  In the 57th minute, Diarmuid Murtagh grabbed the score of the game – a spectacular point from out near the sideline – to tie up the scores. There was still time for both sides to win it. First, Ciaráin Murtagh’s free from 40 metres fell short, and then Naomh Anna sub Ferdia Breathnach was wide with a 30-metre effort, also from a free. Extra-time was now required as it finished St. Faithleach’s 1-12 Naomh Anna 2-9.

  In the first period of extra-time, the rampant Diarmuid Murtagh kicked two super points from play. With Naomh Anna replying through Ferdia Breathnach, it was 1-14 to 2-10 to Faithleach’s at the break.

  The second period of extra-time was incredibly tense. For long periods it looked odds-on that we would need a penalty shootout to resolve the issue.

  In the 73rd minute, Myles Mac Donnacha pointed to level the scores, and when the same player added another in the second minute of injury-time at the end of extra-time it looked like Faithleach’s’ goose was finally cooked. However, there was one last chance – and when Cathal Gunn lofted in that high ball in the 83rd minute the rest was about to become history.

  Faithleach’s had many heroes on the day but none more so than Diarmuid Murtagh, who was at his brilliant best. His contribution of 1-6 included a couple of tremendous points and a spectacular goal. Conal Kennelly, Dave Rooney, Karl Nerney (when he came back from his black card), Michael O’Donnell, Ciaráin Murtagh and sub Cian Glennon were all excellent on a day that Faithleach’s will never forget.

  The Murtagh brothers brought selector Gerry Byrne up to receive the cup which is named in honour of Gene, his late brother and Faithleach’s legend. What a day for the Ballyleague-based club.

  It was a fantastic way to win a title but a horrible way to lose and Naomh Anna played their part in what was a cracking game of club football. Roscommon clubs are now Connacht champions at senior and intermediate level for the first time ever – a fantastic achievement.