WORTH WAITING FOR The Kilmaine squad and management celebrate with the Pete McDonnell Cup. Pic: Michael Donnelly
IT was a long time coming. The beaming smiles on the faces of Colin Hughes and Jarlath Mullin as they thundered up the steps to accept the Pete McDonnell trophy said as much. Kilmaine had bridged a 28-year gap since last taking this cup back to the barony.
They’ve been close a few times and on most occasions they entered the fray burdened by the favouritism tag. None moreso than last year when they faced Castlebar Mitchels’ second string in the final.
They came a right cropper there but recovered enough afterwards to win the Connacht Junior championship before losing narrowly to Kerry champions Na Gaeil in the All-Ireland semi-final as January opened the first chapter of 2020.
Before a ball was kicked in this year’s competition they were again considered the team most likely to succeed. Then a year like no other unfolded. Nobody in their wildest nightmares could have imagined the scourge Covid-19 would impact on everyone’s lives.
Summer was well advanced by the time certain restrictions were lifted.
Sport got the green light but with the caveat of adhering to strict conditions.
Kilmaine beat all-comers to reach their latest date with destiny. They needed little reminding of the Kilmena challenge awaiting them in the final. Last year at the penultimate stage they pushed them to the limit. It took a couple of late scores bordering on an act of grand larceny before Kilmaine advanced.
Conditions were perfect for football. Heaven assisted too sending down a balmy evening carried over from high summer. Just as well too. Patrons limited to two hundred were seated along the open terrace. The teams readied themselves in section 102 and 108 in the stand.
It’s how things must be done now.
From the outset it looked as if the south Mayo men would have an easy route to victory. They opened up a four point gap with relative ease. We wondered if Oisin Mullin’s feet touched the ground such was the speed he travelled at. Inside, his brother Jarlath was wreaking havoc whenever he gained possession while that young prince of footballers, Adam Barrett, was unerring from frees.
But in jig time the game became a real contest.
Kilmeena’s Joey Smyth took all the time in the world to dot the I’s and cross the T’s before he goaled.
Early in the second half Kilmaine pulled an ace from their pack by introducing Michael Hession. He immediately left his mark on proceedings. He was on hand to goal when a ball fell kindly for him after a bit of mí-ádh in the Kilmeena defence.
He chipped over two grand points for good measure.
Holding a three point lead as they game down the money side Kilmaine had to withstand a late rally. Hearts skipped a beat when Kilmeena’s last shot for an equaliser was just inches.
“Spectators are requested not to come on to the pitch at the end of the game,” said the stadium announcer. God bless his innocence, but there was no harm in asking.
Hardly had referee Cormac Reape, who didn’t blow a whistle wrong all evening, signalled the end when Kilmaine supporters charged forth breaching all social distancing to salute their heroes.
And as moonlight lit Mayo, bonfires blazed in Kilmaine to welcome the champion’s home.
A loud shout-out must go to their manager David O’Loughlin. He has been a lifelong servant of Kilmaine football. Because of his perseverance and dedication to the cause, Kilmaine’s glorious hour has finally come.
Well done also to Ger Flanagan from this chapel who won an Intermediate medal with Balla on Saturday night under the excellent stewardship of Shrule’s Ger Butler.