On Sunday last, the greatest chapter was written in the history of Kilmeena GAA Club when the All Ireland Junior Football Championship was won in dramatic fashion. Since winning the Mayo Junior Championship back in November, this team had vanquished all before them, but on the green swards of Croke Park, a dramatic epic was about to enfold against the Kerry champions, Gneeveguilla, who themselves had blazed a trail through Kerry, Munster and then putting the Ulster champions to the sword.
As the wind careered in from Dublin Bay and swirled around the towering stands of this most famous of stadiums, the ball was in and the game was on. Both sides went at each other with a pace that bordered on the frantic. The first ten minutes were a whirlwind. A fine Darragh Keaveney point was cancelled out by a score at the other end. Jack Carney was beginning to assert himself at midfield, And the wizard Joyce was disrupting the Kerry men’s attempts to build attacks on their right flank. At this stage the Kilmeena men had already spooked the Gneeveguilla kick outs, and were putting them under immense pressure.
The mid sector of the half belonged completely to the Kilmeena men, yet by the 20th minute they found themselves a point down. Johnny Mcglynn tapped over a fine score after a driving run from Niall Feehan but our opponents levelled and then went in front. The Kilmeena defence were defending stoutly. Neillie Duffy was winning ball in the midfield, and Conor Madden was beginning to play like the midfield general that he is. Carney was now causing the Gneeveguilla defence serious problems and two driving runs from Jack yielded a point from a free and a narrowly missed goal opportunity. The half ended with the Kerry men nicking a point in injury time.
The start of the second half saw Kilmeena take the game by the scruff of the neck. They were dominating possession, and the Kerry men were truly hanging on. First Darragh Keaveney slalomed through the opposition defence only to be hauled down 20 metres out. He duly converted the free. Then Seanie Ryder ghosted behind the Gneeveguilla cover to fist over a fine point. The Kerry men countered with a point from a free. The early period of the half again should have yielded more Kilmeena scores but the game at 5-5 was all to play for.
The final quarter saw Kilmeena really kick for home. First a Keaveney free after Carney was yet again brought down in full flight. Joey Smyth then slotted over a lovely score after great build up play, and then with 4 minutes of normal time remaining, the black and white bedecked supporters were in raptures after Neillie Duffy slotted over a fine score after good work from John Ryan and Johnny McGlynn And then the drama really began. Desperately seeking a goal, The Gneeveguilla forwards suddenly clicked and with them bearing down on goal Paul Groden pulled off a stupendous double save. And then the unthinkable happened. Deep into injury time and only 40 seconds left on the clock, the Kilmeena defence coughed up possession and the men from Kerry rattled the ball to the neck. It was the proverbial dagger to the heart, and the supporters in the stands wondered if yet another Mayo team was once again about to experience yet another valiant defeat. But this group of players are made of strong stuff, and the first period of extra time will long be remembered as one of sheer grit and determination from these brave men. They re grouped and after Gneeveguilla knocked over an early score, they just got tore into their opponents. Straight from the throw in they forced a turnover in the tackle, and incredibly they went on to force six turnovers in the tackle in a period which ended level with Keavo equalising from a free. Into the final period of extra time and this time there was to be no stopping the men from Clew Bay. Paddy Keane and John Ryan were shoring things up at the back, and as the Kerry men relented under wave after wave of Kilmeena attacks, first Joey Smyth swivelled and spun and stroked the ball over the bar, and then with just over 2 mins left Seanie Ryder won a ball inside and fed it to Darragh Keaveney coming in off the wing to kick a point that would grace any all Ireland final. The noise rolling down from the Hogan stand to greet the score could be heard back in Myna. In the final moments there was to be no repeat of normal time and it was fitting that MOTM Carney again made a vital interception seconds before the final whistle which signalled scenes of wild jubilation.
Every single player played his part in a phenomenal performance, which ultimately graced this citadel of Gaelic Games, and will forever be etched long in the memory of all who were there to witness this greatest of all victories. Match report by John Doherty and photos by Ollie Mulchrone
Click on the following links to access photo albums from this historic day