County Intermediate Football Champions!

Kildimo/Pallaskenry 2-10 Rathkeale 0-14

What an achievement for our Pallas Plastering/Chill the Beans-sponsored footballers! I really am honoured to be involved with this club, they just make you so proud to be associated with them on an ongoing basis, and they certainly make match reports so easy to write! We are now a dual senior club. Just eight seasons ago, our first teams contested an intermediate hurling relegation semi-final and couldn’t even make it past the quarter-finals of the junior B football championship. A lot of the players who played today played in those matches, but what a turnaround in such a short space of time! And that didn’t come easy, it took a lot of hard work and many people deserve a huge amount of credit. We’ve had unprecedented success at underage level, we have unprecedented representation on county panels, standards have been raised year on year both on and off the field; all these factors have contributed to the success that we have seen.

We suffered tragedy in the club this year, the community as a whole still feels the loss of Darren acutely. The loss is not something we will ever forget, but we have had to pull together to support each other and the bond that this group of players and the club beyond have is something really special. And that more than anything is what makes us all proud to be involved. We strive to be the very best we can be, in both codes: there is a core group of players that play both hurling and football but no matter what sport we play, we support all others.

To the match itself… it was a very enjoyable game; both sides play open, attacking football and both played some great stuff at times. Mick Neville Park was in fine nick, considering the absolute downpour that had hit in the afternoon and thankfully the rain largely held off while the match was ongoing. We did not start brilliantly and our opponents brought a level of pace and intensity to the first quarter that really was hard to match. They dominated proceedings in the early stages, and hit two points with their first two attacks. We struggled to get out of our half but tightened up a little bit, pressuring them into a few wides in a row, but we had to deal with wave after wave of Rathkeale attacks, and credit to our backs for keeping the score down. Peter Nash finally got us off the mark with a really difficult free, after Darragh Deegan had been fouled on the back of a powerful run, Peter curled it over the bar superbly. Rathkeale hit back with another free of their own, before Peter got our first score from play, another excellent score.

But Rathkeale continued their dominance as we approached the first half water break; they were moving the ball with pace and intent, were tackling hard, forcing us into mistakes and we just hadn’t got going. They kicked two scores from play in a row in response to Peter’s point but we would narrow the gap again just before the water break. Peter just had one of those first halves where everything he touched turned to gold; that is when you want your leaders to stand up, we were underpar but he kept us in touch as he kicked another superb point from play which meant we were only two points down at the water break, despite having not played.

From there, we woke up, and were the better team over the course of the next 45 minutes. We suffered an early setback in the first attack after the water break as Brian Howard brought down his man who was heading through on goal, with Brian receiving a black card and was sent to the sinbin for ten minutes. Rathkeale kicked the free; we were now three points down and a man down, our backs were really to the wall. But that seemed to be what we needed to kick us into the gear. We raised our intensity a couple of notches and suddenly, it was us who were turning Rathkeale over and first to every break. Cathal Downes was once again absolutely monstrous in the middle of the field, claiming kickout after kickout. Lorcan O’Leary, James Pomeroy and Tony McCarthy were quickest to the breaks while the movement of Peter, Darren O’Connell and Dylan Corrigan inside was causing serious problems for the Rathkeale defence. A foul on Darren allowed Peter Nash to kick an outrageous free, this time off his left foot, to narrow the gap again.

Rathkeale would kick another free to go three points up but that would be their last score of the half, and we would go on to kick four without reply. The first of these came from the superb Conor Staff, who was a willing runner in attack and defence all evening long, his shot just crept over the crossbar, an inspirational point which really drove us on. They were able to get their kickouts away a little easier while we were down to 14 men but we were turning them over before they breached our defensive cover and hitting them on the counter. When Conor was fouled as he drove at the heart of the Rathkeale defence, Peter was able to score the free yet again, to narrow the gap to just a point. We outscored them by three points to two for the period that Brian was sinbinned, and he returned to the field and made amends immediately. He seemed to pop everywhere, both as an attacking and defensive outlet and was involved in the move which led to Peter himself being fouled. This free allowed Peter to level the game as we approached half-time. And on the stroke of half-time, Dylan Corrigan weaved his way past a defender, but was hit high as he did so, referee Timmy McGrath awarding another free. Peter made no mistake, kicking his seventh point of the first half to give us a one-point lead: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-8 Rathkeale 0-7.

We had recovered from a poor opening fifteen minutes and were now motoring nicely but it was Rathkeale who would start the second half better. They scored from an advanced mark to level the game, before kicking another free to restore the lead that they had held for most of the first half. However, we would get the next score, and we would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. On moments like these, county finals are won. Lorcan O’Leary had a fine game, his ability to read a break around the middle was second to none, but realistically he probably will remember this final for the two second half goals he hit in a few glorious minutes. The first came when Conor Staff launched a ball in towards the edge of the square; Lorcan had strayed in and showed his undoubted aerial prowess, as he broke the ball down to himself, swivelled and finished brilliantly past the goalkeeper. The movement of Darren inside undoubtedly helped him but it was a huge score from Lorcan, one that you could feel would be crucial. And it was followed up with one of those moments that really does not come around very often, but the quick thinking of Peter and Lorcan created another goal opportunity from nothing. Darren was fouled close to goal, it looked like it would be a tapover free for Peter but Lorcan made the run off the shoulder, Peter spotted it and played the pass. Lorcan took the ball, brushed aside the marker and buried the ball low across the goalkeeper into the back of the net!

In a flash, the game had turned on its head. Two goals in three minutes for Lorcan now saw us hold a five-point lead! It was certainly a shock to Rathkeale’s system but unfortunately we kicked a wide before we could extend the lead to six points. Rathkeale had been the better side for large periods of the first half but now had to dig deep to stay in touch, and that they did. They kicked two nice points in a row to reduce the gap to just a goal again and to give them hope. It is odd how the momentum of a game shifts and despite having just hit two goals, now we needed a score to settle us, and it was Dylan Corrigan who delivered. He drove at the Rathkeale defence yet again and popped the ball just over the bar to restore a two-score lead. Our inside line of Darren O’Connell and Peter Nash were causing havoc with their moment and when the likes of Conor Staff, Cathal Downes, James Pomeroy and Tony McCarthy played their pinpoint kickpasses, we were retaining the ball inside. The accuracy of our shooting wasn’t always what we wanted it to be but we were still playing well, although Rathkeale were able to kick another free just before the second half water break.

With fifteen minutes remaining, we knew we had it within our grasp but needed to show composure to see it out. It was during this period that warriors like Barry Walsh, Jack Mullane and Mossy Sheehan really came to the fore; they were out in front of their men, turning the ball over and helping us launch attacks through the likes of Liam O’Sullivan and Brian Howard. Everything Peter Nash had kicked in the first half went straight over the bar, he had a bit more difficulty with the frees in the second half but nailed an absolutely crucial one to restore our four-point lead, after a foul on Conor Staff. 

That would be our last score of the game; we had other chances but couldn’t convert and perhaps dropped a little too deep in the closing stages. Ryan Kelly came off the bench to offer fresh legs and immense work rate, after Darragh Deegan had run his socks off. Tony McCarthy, Lorcan O’Leary, Conor Staff and captain Liam O’Sullivan all stepped up to win crucial kickouts for us in that final quarter, which helped us relieve pressure while Tony and Liam also won breaks on Rathkeale kickouts. These dominance at kickout time, with some laser accurate kicks from Jamie Hickey, was a big part of why we won this game; we were always able to put pressure on Rathkeale’s kickouts and Cathal Downes just seemed to be everywhere under the high ball. 

But with time ticking away, Rathkeale scored a lovely point from distance to narrow the gap to just three points and as we approached injury time, they made it a two-point game. They threw the kitchen sink at us in the dying moments and Jamie Hickey had to produce an absolutely top class save to keep our lead intact. He hadn’t been called into action too often throughout, and that is the sign of a top keeper, that he was able to react like that when we needed him most. We conceded a couple of frees they went for goal from a 20m free with almost every one of our players on the line. Thankfully, we were able to divert it behind and it was Conor Staff who rose highest to claim the ’45 as it was floated in, which would be the last action of the game as referee Timmy McGrath blew the final whistle!

Cue pandemonium as players and supporters alike erupted in sheer delight and shortly after, we were able to watch Liam O’Sullivan lift the trophy, which marked our climb from junior B to senior football. We now have a Munster campaign to look forward to in December but there are some celebrations to enjoy in the meantime! 

Credit to all the players involved; we had a huge panel of players this year and this has been one of the main differences this year. We have a lot of players involved on county panels, a lot of players involved with hurling and other sports but this year, we were able to have worthwhile training sessions all year long and that is thanks to all the players who togged out and committed to this panel. It may be a cliché to say that the panel is so important but it really is the truth. In previous years, with smaller panels, there have been times when we have not had the numbers to have a worthwhile training session and that was not the case this year. Being able to have quality training sessions even when down a number of players is something that cannot be underrated so a huge thank you to every single one of the players, the county medal is worth just as much to number 38 as it is to numbers 1-15. 
We must also thank the club for all the support they have provided to players and management throughout the year; no stone was left unturned! And to the management team, they built upon the foundations laid by previous management teams, who also deserve credit. But John Chawke deserves huge credit for leading the club to senior football in his first year as manager; already a club legend, he is now cementing his place in folklore. He was joined this year by the great Ollie Coffey, a superb coach, who has added a huge amount this season! Billy O’Sullivan and Paul Browne put in a huge amount of work as selectors, while Alan Fitzgerald is an ever-present on the sideline! Many thanks also to Éanna McGarrigle on stats, Darren O’Shea as liaison officer, Brendan O’Shea on first aid and Mark Melbourne as physio; all of these are important roles and the work the lads put in is absolutely massive.

I’ve definitely gone on too long again, fair play to you if you’ve made it this far. Two last thank yous: to our sponsors, Pallas Plastering and Chill the Beans, thanks to the O’Connell family who have definitely played a huge part in this success; and to all our supporters who have got behind the team all year! These are the moments in sport that are meant to be enjoyed: as a club, as a community, we have had a lot of success in recent years and you have to enjoy these moments as they occur, they may not last forever. So we’ll finish up there, a special night for the club, 2022 promises to be yet another special seasons. I’ll say it again: what an achievement. Cill Díoma/Pailís Chaonraí abú!

Team: Jamie Hickey; Barry Walsh, Mossy Sheahan, Jack Mullane; Brian Howard, Tony McCarthy, Liam O’Sullivan; James Pomeroy, Conor Staff (0-1); Cathal Downes, Lorcan O’Leary (2-0), Darragh Deegan; Peter Nash (0-8, 0-6 frees), Darren O’Connell, Dylan Corrigan (0-1)
Subs: Ryan Kelly for Darragh Deegan
Bench: Eoin Sheahan, Matthew Lucey, Johnny McHale, Garry Sheehan, Martin Nunan, Paudie Walsh, Luke Guinane, James Fitzgerald, Mícheál Cuddihy, Naoise McGarrigle, Darren Lane, Ciarán Galvin, Tadhg O’Shaughnessy, Shaun Barry, Sean Staff, Kieran Bourke, Bryan O’Shea, Tom O’Shea, Evan Considine, Darragh Walsh, Aaron O’Donovan, Pa Staff