Mullahoran eager to secure Ulster glory
By Michael Devlin
It wasn’t the way he’d envisaged advancing to this weekend’s Ulster Intermediate Football Final, but Mullahoran captain Killian Brady isn’t exactly complaining.
The Cavan champions sealed their passage in Saturday’s decider with Antrim’s Naomh Eanna by unusual means. Still level with Banagher of Derry after two bouts of extra-time in the semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, the match then went to down to a free-taking competition. Five kicks for each team - by different players - 33 metres from goal.
Mullahoran’s first four kicks all hit the target, and after Banagher’s Niall Moore missed for Banagher, the onerous task of the deciding free went to Cormac O'Reilly. Like his team-mates before him, O’Reilly made no mistake with his kick, sending the Dreadnoughts through to the final after 90-plus minutes of gripping championship action.
“We definitely did the hard way, that’s for sure,” Brady told GAA.ie. Banagher had played for 33 minutes of normal time with 14 men but came back into the game to force extra-time and then looked the more likely to win from there.
Scores from Mullahoran’s Enda O'Reilly and Philip Brady however kept them alive, and after extra-extra time, the game eventually was locked at 0-19 to 1-16.
“The last day, being the man up and everything, we had the opportunity to push on halfway through the second half at four points up. We missed a couple of opportunities and fair play to Banagher for coming back into it. Any team could have won it from that point, and probably a replay would have been the ideal scenario.”
Brady revealed it was a surreal situation for the players to wrap their heads around as the sides entered the shootout. “It’s funny because there’s only five lads have control of it at that point. The mindset at that point was just look it, there’s going to be no loser at that point I don’t think.
“Both teams had given it their all for over 90 minutes of football. If you had to lose it that way, so be it. Obviously, it would be a cruel way to go, but I don’t think we’d have had any complaints. If that’s the rules, that’s the rules.”
Mullahoran’s previous win, the quarter-final against Down winners Bredagh wasn’t a straightforward affair either. Winning by three with minutes to go, they conceded a last-minute goal that brought-on extra-time, having played the entire second half with 14 men.
The lead swung back in Bredagh’s favour in the additional period, but eventually a crucial goal from Patrick Brady two minutes from the end put the Cavan side four points ahead, and they saw out the win.
“We probably could have had both games wrapped up in normal time, especially the Bredagh game, says Brady. “We were three points up and conceded a goal with the last kick of the game, and we did well to come through that in extra-time.
“We know there aren’t too many scenarios we are going to face in a final that we haven’t faced before. It’s a little bit of a learning curve, we could have had both games closed out, so it’s something we need to work on, when we do get on top that we push on and look for that insurance score.”
Mullahoran’s season this year has been one of putting the record straight. Senior Championship winners in Cavan just six years ago, they endured a nightmare 2017 season, losing all 11 league games in Division One. Relegation to the Intermediate ranks served as a much-needed reality check for Brady and his team-mates, and the contrast to this year’s campaign has been night and day.
“No doubt we were an established senior team. It’s funny, this year we celebrated 40 years since we won Intermediate, and we were playing senior football ever since. It’s a long time to be up there so to get a kick like that and drop down in both league and championship was a tough one to take. I think it was so important for us to come straight back up.
“It was just a combination of things really. Losing games early on in the league didn’t help the confidence. We were missing a couple of lads who would have been starters, boys who were away travelling came back late to the squad.
“We didn’t get momentum up early enough and we lost a lot of tight games last year, whereas now we have a bit more experience to come through games like that, and we didn’t have that last year.
“The buy-in from the players this year was excellent. The commitment was top notch, and guys didn’t miss a beat all year. It’s paying off now and you can see the confidence there now. Bouncing back up was the number one aim at the start of the year.
“Winning the first couple of games in Division Two, we struggled through them to be honest with you, there were still scars there from last year. But once you got those few wins, we steamrolled a few teams and then hit a bit of a dip in our form coming into our first couple of championship games, winning one by a point then losing the second one.
“It was probably the best thing that could happen us in terms of addressing problems. Defensively we were conceding goals and we fixed that, and we haven’t looked back since.
“There were definitely three or four teams that could have one the Intermediate championship in Cavan, but people would have said from the outside looking in that Mullahoran would be one of those teams that would realistically thinking about coming back up.
“We knew ourselves it was always a realistic aim for us to come straight back up because we weren’t losing anyone. We had the quality there last year but we just didn’t get it out of ourselves.”
Cavan club teams’ record in Ulster isn’t exactly glowing. They are yet to win a provincial club title at senior level, while only Ballinagh in 2007 have made it through to clinch Ulster success at Intermediate level.
Mullahoran are now just a game away from putting their name in the history books alongside them, and Brady says the support from other club teams from around the county has been “phenomenal”.
“Any of the Twitter posts from other clubs or anything has been wishing us luck. It’s unreal and hopefully we can bring a cup back. There hasn’t been a great tradition of winning Ulster championships in Cavan, so it would just be fantastic.
“No-one would begrudge you if you were to win it. There’s lots of good senior clubs around us, and hopefully when we are playing them all next year we’ll have a bit of bragging rights at least.”
Looking at Saturday’s opponents Naomh Eanna, Brady is certain of yet another tight game. The Glengormley outfit raised their game in the closing stages of their semi-final to see off Tyrone winners Tattyreagh 0-13 to 0-8, with substitute Mickey Morgan coming off the bench to slot over two stoppage-time points for the narrow win at the Athletic Grounds.
“We haven’t seen much of them now,” says Brady. “We’ll sit down to do our homework this week and work on a few things from our own perspective, we’ve a lot of things to improve on.
“Our conversion rate the last day wasn’t where we’d want it to be, and I’m sure they’d be thinking the same. I think the way they finished the game the last day, they have the hunger and determination to finish out games, and it’s going to be another tight game in store.”