After showing significant promise in recent years it finally came good for Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s as the north Longford club made it through to the Senior Football Championship Final for the first time since 1952 and this is indeed a wonderful achievement.
Just the minimum of margins separated the sides in the tense and exciting finish at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday evening last as the brave Mullinalaghta men - having led by a commanding eight points at one stage - held out to conquer Clonguish and Gerry Lynn’s charges can now look forward to the title decider against Killoe Emmet Og on Sunday October 5th.
Things were looking bleak for St. Columba’s for most of the first half as they showed a lot of nerves in wasting a few scoring chances and appeared to be facing a real uphill battle when they conceded a gift goal in the 14th minute.
A speculative shot from Clonguish forward Darren Quinn ended up in the back of the net as a blunder by the Mullinalaghta keeper Patrick Rogers was punished while Joe O’Brien shot over the bar in the early stages of the game.
But inspired by the excellent Ruairi McElligott at centrefield, the pressure that St. Columba’s were piling on was eventually rewarded after enduring a frustrating wait for their opening score - a well struck point from Donal McElligott in the 23rd minute.
David McGivney then converted a free and the direct ball into the full-forward-line yielded a crucial goal from another county minor Aidan McElligott, who found the back of the net from close range in the 27th minute after doing well to win possession.
All of a sudden Mullinalaghta were ahead and it got even better a couple of minutes later when a dipping long range shot from the boot of defender James McGivney produced a second goal following a misunderstanding in the shaky Clonguish defence.
David McGivney then fired over a glorious long range point from play to leave St. Columba’s in a comfortable 2-3 to 1-1 advantage at the break. And the second half was only a minute old when they stretched their advantage with another score from the accurate McGivney who converted a free in front of the posts.
The alarm bells were clearly ringing in the Clonguish camp with their manager Mickey Graham making no less than three changes at half-time as Paddy Dowd, Kevin Burke and David Faughnan were all brought on in a desperate bid to salvage the situation.
Mullinalaghta were getting their tactics right in crowding out Paul Barden whenever the ball came in his direction and the county star was closed down frequently in receiving very tight attention from a cluster of St. Columba’s players.
It obviously worked as Barden was restricted to just a solitary score during the course of the game, which was watched by an attendance in the region of 1,000.
There was a slight reprieve for Clonguish (minus the services of suspended defender Conor Shields) when Ciaran Williams fired over a point with two minutes gone in the second half - their first score since the fortunate Darren Quinn goal in the midway through the first half.
But back came Mullinalaghta to score three great points in a row (all from play) through substitute JJ Matthews, John Keegan and Jayson Matthews in quick succession to leave Clonguish trailing by 2-7 to 1-2 and seemingly in serious trouble.
Midfielder Keegan really stood up when it mattered in producing a prominent performance on the big occasion and he and Ruairi McElligott certainly played leading roles in this famous victory.
However, Clonguish were thrown a lifeline when Kevin Burke shot to the back of the net in the 39th minute after receiving the perfect pass from Darren Quinn and a point quickly followed from a Joe O’Brien free.
Moments later, Stephen Norton had a goal attempt blocked as the Clonguish comeback continued and then centre-half-back Enda Williams got in the clear to shoot over the bar in the 45th minute.
A point apiece from frees converted by David McGivney and Joe O’Brien was followed by a brilliant strike from play by young McGivney in the 50th minute. But that proved to be St. Columba’s final score of the game, although the influential county minor McGivney was unfortunate when his shot for another point hit the upright soon after.
Clonguish were now 2-9 to 2-5 in arrears but they called on all their vast experience in a determined bid to keep their title hopes alive with a terrific Paul Barden point in the 53rd minute giving the ‘greens’ a boost.
Soon after Joe O’Brien was on target from play and following a poor effort from Ciaran Williams, O’Brien fired over a free in the 59th minute to close the gap to the minimum of margins, 2-9 to 2-8.
Clonguish then had three decent chances to snatch a draw, the last of which was from a Paddy Dowd ‘45’ but he failed to connect properly with the pressure kick deep into stoppage time and the danger was cleared by Mullinalaghta, thus bringing to an end the very long wait of 62 years for the club to get back into the county senior final.
MULLINALAGHTA ST. COLUMBA’S: Patrick Rogers; Conan Brady, Patrick Fox, Simon Cadam; James McGivney (1-0), Shane Mulligan, Francis Mulligan; Ruairi McElligott, John Keegan (0-1); Conor McElligott, Gary Rogers, Donal McElligott (0-1); David McGivney (0-5, three frees), Jayson Matthews (0-1), Aidan McElligott (1-0).
Subs:- JJ Matthews (0-1) for C McElligott (injured, 25 mins); Aaron Earley for P Fox (43 mins); Rian Brady for F Mulligan (57 mins).
CLONGUISH: Stephen Watters; Brendan Burke, Ronan Sweeney, Ciaran Corcoran; Brendan Devine, Enda Williams (0-1), Stephen McLoughlin; David Barden, Padraig Cooney; Shane O’Brien, Ciaran Williams (0-1), Stephen Norton; Darren Quinn (1-0), Paul Barden (0-1), Joe O’Brien (0-5, three frees).
Subs:- David Faughnan, Kevin Burke (1-0) and Paddy Dowd for P Cooney, S O’Brien and C Corcoran (all at half-time).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (St. Mary’s Granard).