Declan Byrne in action during today's IFC final between St. Mochta's and St. Fechin's at The Grove. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
CTI Business Solutions IFC final
St. Mochta's 1-15 St. Fechin's 1-13
Emotions simmered in Castlebellingham on Sunday afternoon until, finally, they boiled over. Declan Byrne dropped to his knees upon the full-time whistle, wincing, clenching his fists, shouting. Bedlam surrounded him. A sea of blue and yellow tinged The Grove’s green, but Byrne was the eye’s attraction. This meant more.
For the first time since 1982, St. Mochta’s will play senior football. Not since the days of the Louth forward’s father, Brendan, has that been said. And how fitting it was that the No.13 led them to the promised land, kicking five points in a herculean effort.
Credit must also go to Stephen McCooey, the ‘fox in the box’ who always finds the way to goal. He somehow located the net in the second half before giving them the lead in the 13th minute of stoppage time. Eamon O’Neill, Philip Englishby and Conor Garland were excellent too.
In truth, the match became irrelevant fairly quickly, the outcome being all that mattered. A shame, really, considering it was a fantastic spectacle, one which had the heart rate swelling bigger than a buckled knee.
Captain Darren McMahon dedicated the victory to the late Ken Meegan. Byrne remembered his brother, Ciarán, who departed in heart-breaking circumstances. His right leg, it wasn’t a pleasant sight. Cruel.
An innocuous collision with Niall McCabe ended his involvement within 13 minutes. He had come in at half-time and kicked a fine point.
Following the lengthy stoppage, his team seemed to suffer, their minds appeared with him. But the game was there to be won and Fechin’s showed desire and commitment, things which Bevan Duffy personified. He was fantastic, claiming four marks in the closing quarter and pumping those legs towards goal. He was like a bull among pigeons, throwing men off as he burrowed down the field, kicking two points and contributing to several more.
Ultimately, his team didn’t do enough, though. Their 13 wides to Mochta’s five reflects what might have been.
Just as they did during their group meeting mid-summer, Mochta’s got off to a flying start, landing six of the game’s opening seven points with McMahon, Englishby and Byrne powerful.
But, typical of the enthralling nature of this epic final, the pendulum swung. Only Garland and McMahon scored in the second part of the opening period as Ronan Holcroft and Joe Corrigan made their presence known for the Hoops.
Eight points to six as the teams trotted off, McGahon and trainer Ciarán Quinn lagged behind, cuddling their trump card, issuing ‘Casey’ with instructions. The youngest of the Byrne boys came in and had an almost instantaneous impact, peeling off McCabe and putting his team four in front following Declan’s majestic free a moment earlier.
Then came McCooey’s goal, he looked to have lost it amidst contact with two Fechin’s tacklers, but his toe poke evaded them and trickled beneath Niall McDonald. Mochta’s were seven ahead.
Admirably, Fechin’s found some inspiration as the Louth Villagers stiffened and even prior to the fateful midfield collision - which resulted in an almost 15 minute delay - they were coming in waves. In saying that, Byrne’s loss was no doubt a contributor to Mochtas’ panicky spell.
“Fechin’s were probably on top at that time. I don’t know whether it helped us or hindered us, Ciarán going off,” McGahon said.
“We had to rejig more than we thought we would have to. We had set-up to play to Ciarán’s strengths. It was just about regrouping and Decky, the boys just stepped up.”
Holcroft (3), Eoghan Duffy and Brian Devlin made it five points on the trot and when a sideline punt was punched to the net by the latter, Fechin’s had turned it around with 63 minutes on the clock. Was Mochta’s ‘keeper Jason Callan fouled? Perhaps. Square ball? More than a hint.
But the man-of-the-match, Byrne, rose into the clouds and plucked possession, starting the attack which he ended by scoring a free. Level. Andrew English and Holcroft traded efforts. Level, 1-12 apiece. Bevan Duffy and O’Neill. Level. McCooey point, crucially, Holcroft miss. Ciarán McMahon point, Fechin’s miss. Two points, 1-15 to 1-13. Full-time. Epic. Game of the year. The correct winner.
“We always felt that we were selling ourselves short in Louth and failing to produce the consistency needed to show how good we are over the last couple of years.
“It’ll be a good couple of days…”
St. Mochta’s: Jason Callan; David Lennon, Philip Englishby, Liam Lawlor; Gareth O’Reilly, Andrew English (0-1), Conor Garland (0-1); Darren McMahon (0-2), Eamon O’Neill (0-2); Barry Mulholland, Gerry Garland (0-1), Jamie Farrell; Declan Byrne (0-5, four frees), Stephen McCooey (1-1), Emlyn Clerkin
Subs: Ciarán Byrne (0-1) for O’Reilly (HT), Ciarán McMahon (0-1) for Ciarán Byrne (56), Danny Kindlon for Farrell (64)
St. Fechin’s: Niall McDonald; Conor Haughney, Leo McGrane, Niall McCabe; Colm O’Neill, Paul Matthews, Matthew Flanagan; Brian Devlin (1-1), Bevan Duffy (0-2); Jamie McDonnell (0-1), Donal Ryan, Joe Corrigan (0-1, free); Eoghan Duffy (0-1), Niall Devlin, Ronan Holcroft (0-7, six frees)
Subs: Harry Haughney for Matthews (38)
Referee: Stephen Murphy (Naomh Máirtín)