The stronghold of the big four has been broken as Cooley Kickhams won’t contest a Senior Championship semi-final this year.
After losing two finals on the trot, some Peninsula locals thought that Seamus McEnaney’s late installation as Cooley boss would be the final piece of the puzzle as they tried to lift Joe Ward for the first time since 1990.
And when Brian White returned home midweek to boost their chances, it seemed it might all come together at the last minute for the Peninsula side, despite their poor performances so far in the campaign.
But as we often see in sport, fairytales do not come true, especially if you are associated with Cooley. In the end, the defeat was what they deserved out of the game as they allowed the Mairtins so much time on the ball throughout the game and foolishly depended on the returning White to drag them to the semi-final.
Out of 11 points, White – in his first game back in the Championship – kicked nine of them, a major indicator of Cooley’s inability to grab the bull by the horns when the chance was there.
At times, when they needed a leader, someone to put the ball over the bar and calm the nerves, players shirked responsibility, looking for White on many occasions.
Focusing on Cooley’s faults though is a discredit to Naomh Mairtin who got their tactics perfect on the day. Playing Nicky McDonnell in midfield with JP Rooney as a roaming forward, the Mairtins got everything right and could of won by more, if it wasn’t for their inexperience at this stage in the competition.
Colm Nally’s side gave it their all as a tenacious display by every man in a blue jersey put it up to the Kickhams.
The Mairtins came out top on everything, whether it was positional play or in the battle of mind-games, they certainly did their homework on Cooley as they ruined White’s homecoming.
From the opening throw-in, Cooley took their time to settle, knowing the pressure was on them to make yet another semi-final appearance. The Mairtins, having avoided a relegation battle came into the game knowing that there was nothing expected of them. With no burden on their shoulders, they played with a tremendous freedom, which showed early on.
Cooley hit three wides in a row in the opening minutes before Francis McCullough sent over the first score for the boys in blue. Their next score was a big blow though as Brian McQuillan had all the time in the world to pick out Patrick Halligan just ten yards out from goal.
Halligan also had adequate time to pick his spot as he drove the ball past a helpless Neil Gallagher for a Mairtins goal.
Rooney swivelled the hips to score a point to put the Mairtins 1-2 to no score ahead seconds later and at this stage, Cooley needed something special and up stepped White. Two trademark frees, followed by a show of class and a drop of the shoulder to set up a score by White saw the gap reduced to two. A Rooney free and two more from White saw the Mairtins take a one point lead at the interval, 1-3 to 0-5.
Cooley had 30 minutes to save their Championship, but it was the Mairtins who played like a team vying for Joe Ward glory as they craftily worked three scores over the black spot, a free each from Rooney and Halligan and a Paul Berrill point from play following a darting run by the Mairtins forward.
In between these points, Cooley showed their frustration as tempers boiled over. MJ Hanlon – who was already booked – got into a confrontation with Nicky McDonnell, which resulted in a red card for the Cooley front man.
Down to 14 men and trailing by six points, McEnaney had his work cut out for him on the sideline, but White was prepared to make it all right as he soon hit the target three more times, with Patrick Sheelan also getting in on the act.
The Mairtins, for the first time looked rattled and sensing their opponents’ vulnerability, Cooley hit them again, making their next two attacks count. White sent over a sublime free on the left hand side to put them level, but it was their next score which had Peninsula supporters celebrating.
Brian Donnelly created space for himself and picked his spot, putting Cooley ahead for the first time in the game with seven minutes remaining, 0-10 to 1-6. The question was, who could hold their nerve now?
It was the Mairtins who answered. A close range free from Rooney had them believing again as they drew level momentarily. On 58 minutes, they forged ahead again. Nicky McDonnell worked his way in to split the posts with a super score.
In a frantic final five minutes, White managed to drag them level again, pointing through a crowd of players, 1-8 to 0-11, but there was still time for a winner as Brian Berrill hit the score of the game down the right hand side.
Spinning away from Patrick Sheelan, Berrill looked as though he spun the wrong way – towards the touchline rather than cutting inside – but he managed to squeeze the ball in between the posts to send Mairtins fans into hysterics.
Cooley were on the verge of being eliminated and they knew it as pandemonium set in. White – who else – was being looked for with every pass and the Mairtins knew it as they crowded round him. Under immense pressure from four or five players, he sent his next effort just wide.
Five minutes of added on time was played and in the fifth and last minute, it looked as though Cooley had pulled a rabbit out of the hat as Patrick Sheelan sent what looked like a terrific score over the bar, only for it to drift wide, just centimetres of the post. The game was up and Cooley heads dropped, so much that McDonnell was able to race past the Kickhams defence to fist over the bar and book a historic semi-final spot for Naomh Mairtin.
For Cooley Kickhams fans, the wait continues.
Scorers – NAOMH MAIRTIN: Patrick Halligan (1-1, 1f), JP Rooney (0-4, 3f), Paul Berrill, Nicky McDonnell (0-2) each, Francis McCullough (0-1), COOLEY KICKHAMS: Brian White (0-9, 6f, 1 ‘45’), Brian Donnelly, Patrick Sheelan, both (0-1).
Naomh Mairtin: Craig lynch; Eoghan Wright, David Delaney, Eamonn McQuillan; Paul Campbell, Brian Howell, Brendan Reilly; Nicky McDonnell, Barry Sullivan; Paul Berrill, Brian McQuillan, Patrick Sullivan; Francis McCullough, JP Rooney, Patrick Halligan.
Subs: Brian Berrill for Francis McCullough (36mins), Kenny Lambe for Paul Campbell (52mins), Stephen Campbell for P Sullivan (55mins), Francis McCullough for P Halligan (56mins).
Cooley Kickhams: Neil Gallagher; Conor McGuinness, Alan Page, Keith White; Sean Donnelly, Richard Brennan, Patrick Sheelan; Brian Donnelly, David Hughes; Aoghan McGuinness, Michael Rafferty, Conor Rafferty; MJ Hanlon, Brian White, Ciaran Sheelan. Subs: Gavin Long for C Rafferty (28mins), PJ McGivern for C Sheelan (48mins), Jason Long for M Rafferty (50mins), Sean O’Neill for D Hughes (57mins). Wides – NAOMH MAIRTIN 3 (all first half), COOLEY KICKHAMS: 7 (5 first half).
Bookings – NAOMH MAIRTIN: Eoin Wright (25mins), Brian Howell (27mins), JP Rooney (34mins), Nicky McDonnell (42mins).
COOLEY KICKHAMS: MJ Hanlon (23 and 42 mins), Alan Page (33mins), Gavin Long (38mins), Brian Donnelly (39mins), David Hughes (40mins), Aoghan McGuinness (43mins).
Red Cards – COOLEY KICKHAMS: MJ Hanlon (42mins).
Referee: Noel Hand.