Tir Chonaill Gaels are top dogs again
GAA London Danny Sullivan & Sons Ltd SFC Final
Tir Chonaill Gaels 1-15
Kingdom Kerry Gaels 1-08
By Damian Dolan
At Ruislip on Sunday Tir Chonaill Gaels’ latest generation ensured that the club’s 50th Anniversary year will be suitably marked at its Gala Dinner next month, as they delivered county title number 14.
After two years in the wilderness the Greenford club re-established itself as top dogs in London, and in doing so kept up its proud and astonishing record of never having lost a county final.
In truth it was a record that was rarely in jeopardy on Sunday, as Kevin McMenamin’s first half goal put Tir Chonaill in the box seat. There was little doubt where the cup was heading when Kevin Waldron was then shown a straight red in first half injury time for striking Eoin O’Neill.
Tir Chonaill led by seven at the time and there was no way back for the Kingdom from there, although their late rally, culminating in Peter Atkinson’s goal, caused a few anxious moments in the Greenford camp.
But only briefly; it was a heroic last ditch salvo by the Kingdom but it was too late to deny the Greenford what they had single-mindedly targeted from the outset of the year.
Such was the club’s determination to be London champions again, long standing director of football Paddy Carr, who won an All Ireland Senior Club Championship with Dublin’s Kilmacud Crokes, was drafted in to spearhead that challenge.
On Sunday at Ruislip, he delivered what the club crave above all else, the county title. He’ll now be charged with taking Tir Chonaill Gaels to the next step – victory in the Club Championship quarter-final. A feat which has so far eluded the London’s best.
Much had been made of the Kingdom coming into the final battle hardened following their play-off win over Fulham Irish and hard fought semi-final with Parnells. Tir Chonaill, meanwhile, had eased past St Kiernans to reach their first final in three years, but all too comfortably so for even their own liking.
Determined not to drawn into a dog-fight, Tir Chonaill flew out of the blocks, playing with pace and no little precision. O’Neill hit the post but John McNicholas opened the scoring in the second minute.
John McGrath’s super strike was systematic of the bright start made by Tir Chonaill and O’Neill added point number three. We’d only played six minutes but already the alarm bells were ringing for the Kingdom.
Lloyd Colfer had the chance to settle his side, but pulled his shot across the face of Brian McBrearty’s goal. The Kingdom looked to its stalwarts and Waldron was doing his best to drag his side into the game, while Aidan Dillane produced a sublime finish with the outside of his right boot to open the Kingdom’s account, and no doubt settle a few nerves.
That did little, though, to halt the Tir Chonaill steam roller – Mitchell and Gottshe (free) pointing. The movement and pace of O’Neill and McMenamin typified Tir Chonaill’s high tempo start and the diminutive duo combined in the 18th minute for their side’s only goal. O’Neill palming a ball perfectly into the path of McMenamin and he raced clear before confidently beating Ger Reidy. In the blink of an eye the Kingdom suddenly trailed by seven.
Colfer pointed but sensing the need to change something before it was too late the Kingdom sideline introduced Peter Atkinson and Peader Stack.
Paddy Callaghan picked out O’Neill to point with a peach of a ball, with O’Neill then central to arguably the game’s key moment. Waldron had already been yellow carded for a challenge on O’Neill, when the Kingdom midfielder struck out at the Tir Chonaill forward just before the break. Referee Rob Whelan had little option but to brandish a straight red. The Kingdom had already had a hill to climb – now it was a mountain.
That said they almost made the perfect start to the second half, when Atkinson’s powerful shot was turned away by Brian McBrearty. Colhoun pointed the rebound but Tir Chonaill were soon back in the groove and when Gottsche, who was revelling in the freedom afforded him in the middle of the park since Waldron’s dismissal, added a 45 fears were growing that we could be in for a repeat of the sides’ 2007 county final meeting, when Tir Chonaill had 18 points to spare.
Six unanswered points over the next 14 minutes increased the Tir Chonaill lead to 14 points and those fears looked like they might be realised. But the Kingdom had shown enough in their play-off win over Fulham Irish and their late semi-final victory against Parnells to suggest they weren’t just going to wave the white flag.
With both sides ringing the changes, Tir Chonaill undoubtedly lost some intensity to their play and the Kingdom didn’t need to be asked twice to cease the initiative.
Colfer had at times looked like he was fighting a lone hand for the Kingdom, but 14-men or not the introduction of Atkinson had certainly added some spark to their forward line. Colfer racked up three quick scores with Atkinson making it four in a row after McBrearty had saved Michael Mullins’ free.
From the kick out the Kingdom then swept back down field with Atkinson firing the ball past McBrearty. It was a stunning finish and but for a great block a minute later Atkinson might have added a second goal. Colfer’s follow up ballooned over the bar to make it eight unanswered points by the Kingdom, and the gap was down to just six.
Unfortunately for the Kingdom, the game was already in the last minute when Colfer struck.
Even so, for arguably the first time there was an uneasiness about Tir Chonaill. Peter Sherry’s ball and McMenamin’s finish reasserted the Greenford’s side stature was worthy county champions for a 14th time. Now for the All Ireland Club Championship. If anyone can get the club over that hurdle, it’s Carr.
Tir Chonaill Gaels: Brian McBrearty; Thomas Gribben, Paddy Callaghan, Brian Collins; Eamonn McConville, Mark McConville, Peter Sherry (0-1); Mark Gottsche (0-3, 2f, 1x45), Caolan Doyle; John McNicholas (0-2), John McGrath (0-2, 1f), Barry Mitchell (0-2); Benny Reilly, Eoin O’Neill (0-3), Kevin McMenamin (1-2). Subs: Ciaran Boyle for Reilly (33mins), Luke Kavanagh for McGrath (42mins), Dave Harrington for Gribben (47mins), Dave McGreevy for Collins (50mins), Austin Concannon for Callaghan (53mins).
Yellow cards: Barry Mitchell (55mins).
Kingdom Kerry Gaels: Ger Reidy; Donnacha McCarthy, Pauk Horkan, Niall O’Connell; Philip Kelly, Stephen Browne, Ryan McStravick; Kevin Waldron, Stephen Sheehan; Michael Mullins, Aidan Dillane (0-1), Ciaran McCallion; Niall Traynor, Chris Colhoun (0-1), Lloyd Colfer (0-5). Subs: Peter Atkinson (1-1) for Sheehan (22mins), Peader Stack for McStravick (27mins), Michael O’Shea for Traynor (h-t), Ricky Ashe for Dillane (45mins), Mike Galvin for Colhoun (47mins).
Yellow cards: Kevin Waldron (21mins).
Red cards: Kevin Waldron (min).
Referee: Rob Whelan.