2019 Club Football Finals - Junior & Intermediate

The walk into Croke park, the cavernous spaces behind the stands. That’s where you see the famous players stepping off the bus on All Ireland day isn’t it. Off the bus. Into the dressing room. Heroes, just for one day. Strapped. Rubs. Pull on the club jersey, a quick glance at the badge. Familiar since you started playing all those years ago. Bit of ballwork in the warm up room to kill the nerves and butterflies in your gut. Last few words. Passion. Pressure. Some tears maybe, then it’s out the door, a turn, down the tunnel and there you are. Croke Park. All Ireland club final day. The noise. Glare. The green of the pitch and the height of the stands. Towering. What dreams are made of.


A free deep into stoppage time brings Kilcummin to Croker edging home by the barest minimum against Two Mile House. They become the 11th club from the Kingdom coming to Croke Park for a junior final since 2002 and here is a symmetry. For former Uachtarán CLG Sean Kelly opened Croke Park to the clubs so it’s fitting his own club gets to grace the field of glory:  He said I always hoped one day my own club would be there and now they’re there.”

They face the mighty men of St Enda’s in the final. And rarely has a club headed to Croke Park with unanimous support of so many in its county and province as the lads from Hightown Road. Maybe because so many Ulster Gaels can understand what they have endured to be where they are now. Perhaps it reflects the struggle others had to keep the games alive in dark days down the years. Its relatab;e for most clubs in the North. Every day hassle it was. St Enda’s carry an astonishing tale of brutality, murder and vandalism that was visited on the club in the name of sectarianism.


It has left them unbowed, stronger, and carrying a true sense of mission. It can only deserve respect. They have men like Joe Maskey, a dual player of note with Antrim who can lob keepers from the halfway line because that’s just the sort of thing you do up on the Hightown Road. They’ve Peter Healey who plays senior for Antrim and is a final year at UCD winning a Sigerson Cup medal last year. Manager Frank Fitzsimmons is an inspiring influence on the Glengormley men. The mantra? Attack Attack Attack. That could bring them a long way in the wide-open spaces of Croke Park on Saturday evening.


In the junior final Beaufort take on Easkey in a tie that lends itself to all manner of surfing and weather-related references. The scale of Beaufort’s achievement should not be underestimated. And history should be on their side as they come to Croke Park knowing Kerry teams have a remarkable record in club finals. Beaufort hope to be the ninth Kerry club to win the All-Ireland junior. Lios an Phúca like every team have their characters. What of Nathan Breen, Beaufort’s Wales supporting midfielder who was raised in the Principality and returned to his dad’s home in Kerry as a teenager. There he caught the Gaelic football bug, as you do in Kerry. He told the Irish Mirror,” I remember my first game. I was 13, with the under-14s. They put me wing-forward. Let me off.  “It was like a cow being introduced to a field for the first time.” Beaufort, Kilcummin and Dr Crokes are all within the Killarney area, so the buzz around town had been remarkable with a sense of mission. Kerrymen on a mission is always a dangerous combination.


Easkey have history of their own, a team on the rise again after suffering double relegation since winning a Sligo Intermediate in 2015. The Sea Blues are led by veteran defender Noel McGuire, who in 2007 captained Sligo to their Connacht championship title against Galway, their first in 32 years. In their semi final win over Red Hughs, Easkey led after a wind assisted first half and they arrive at Croke Park on the crest of a wave on the back of James Lindsay’s goal which ended Red Hugh’s resistance. As a small village with two pubs and a shop, you’d have to think the two pubs will be lively come Saturday night. Could be worth a trip to the north west Sligo seaside for some sun, sand and maybe a surf on a Sunday morning to clear the head.


O’Neills wishes all four clubs all the best in this weekend’s All Ireland Finals.