GAA: Comeback kids do it again

2/1/2006 - By: Ronan Early

All-Ireland JHC semi-final...

Erin’s Own 1-6 Skehana 2-6

THERE was a TV show made in Banagher last year. It was called Pure Mule. Pule mule, in Offaly patois, means something is really good. It can also mean something is lousy. It all depends on the intonation.

So with two minutes to go everything looked pure mule for Erin’s Own in Banagher. But then they got a pure mule equalizing goal from Brendan Mullins and had a pure mule chance to win but Craig Doyle hit a pure mule 47 metre free. The scuffed and spinning shot dropped around the small square and Christy Coady doubled above his head and the net danced. PURE F**KING MULE.

The Bagenalstown bench emptied faster than a classroom on the last bell of term. Black track-suited subs and maors jumping over the line landed, leaving size-ten shaped craters in the soft winter sod. Magpie-coloured flags chopped the chilled air of the wedged stand, 2,000 for joy. The bear’s share of the crowd, people from Muine Bheag and those from all over Carlow, hollered and hooted and were amplified even further by the tin roof which can scarcely ever have had its bolts tested by such a feral roar.

Erin’s Own were in the final. The remaining seconds of injury time were negotiated without further scores, although Coady got sent off for a second yellow card from the zealous ref (tempting as it is, there will be no further pure mules).

The bench drained again on the last whistle. So did the stand and the players were pummelled and well wished by the delighted and emotional supporters.

The widening knot of celebration made its way around the side of the stand and milled outside the ebullient dressing room. Inside, the protagonists were as excited as you’d expect of those who had just made the All-Ireland.

“Where’s Brendan Mullins?”

“The Cork boys will be after him,” was shouted from the benches and everyone laughed loudly while the men with mics struggled, with very little finesse, through the mass of bodies to the brother of Mark - who transferred to Na Piarsaigh and the Rebels in the early 1990s.

“It hit John Miley, just skidded off his hurl. It sat perfectly for me - couldn’t miss it,” said Brendan.

The scorer of the winning goal had just been sent off for the first time, but two yellows as opposed to a straight red means he is ok for the final.

“Ah we practice that in training the whole time,” Christy Coady joked of doubling on Craig Doyle’s miss hit free. “I just swung the hurl at it.”

Trainer Martin Kelly was perhaps the most emotional of all in the heaving dressing room. He took his time to work his way back to the giddy melee under the stand, stopping to talk to many of the families of celebrating players. By the time he got made it back, the enormity of his side’s achievement was already beginning to sink in.

“We’ve had hard times over the years. Our supporters haven’t had much to cheer lately. A few junior and underage wins but nothing on this scale. And the people of Bagenalstown crave success. They came here today to support us in their thousands. It was unbelievable support.

“We knew we were up against it. At half time we said to the boys to give us 30 minutes at 100%. Not 25 minutes, not 27 minutes, keep going to the end. That’s what they did. They never stopped battling. It wasn’t our best performance of the year but we came through it and I can’t speak highly enough of the boys,” said Kelly as cheers from boys short circuited the speakers on the microphones.

Hard to imagine such jubilation a half an hour earlier. After a deadlock and typically low scoring winter-hurling first-half (1-2 to 0-5) it seemed Skehana’s sprightly start to the second half would be enough to see them advance.

Points from play from Joey Glynn, Fintan Finnerty and Peter Kelly, between the 30th and 35th minutes, gave the Connacht side a three-point cushion. That cushion was rarely threatened for the remainder of the game.

Erin’s Own had application and a reasonable percentage of possession but they hadn’t much in the way of penetration.

The inside forwards saw little of the ball; rarely was the sliotar flown in early and accurately. And the half-forwards were winning not a lot of what came their way.

The more seconds that ebbed away, the more it became clear that Erin’s Own didn’t have the firepower to overturn the goal lead with a run of white flags.

Tellingly, in the second half, Muine Bheag regis-tered four times the number of wides than points. And the only point they got came from a free. And when Joey Glynn cancelled that out with a 47th minute free the low mumbles from the travelling Carlovians intensified.

More time and more scrappy fare passed and just when the good ship Muine Bheag drifted rudderless onto the rocks, a leader emerged. Anthony Elliot seized possession around the middle of filed and ran determinedly, desperately even at the Skehana cover. Here was a fella who wasn’t even going to contemplate losing.

The ball was transferred to Christy Coady whose low cross was deflected by John Miley into the path of Mullins. The half-forward smashed it first time and high into the goal.

Muine Bheag now had adrenaline and momentum as allies and attacked in search of a winner. Their chance came when they drew a free just out-side the 45. Fists were pumped on the sideline as Craig Doyle looked at the posts.

One of the Shehana players, however, stayed down for nearly two minutes with cramp just behind Doyle who hopped the ball off the hurl in a vain attempt to calm himself before the biggest free his young life.

Eventually he was given the green light. The stand hushed. “Go on Styler,” came a lone and desperate voice.

Doyle picked and struck what Martin Kelly later described as “the worst free he’d ever taken”. Then Christy Coady “just swung a hurl”.

ERIN’S OWN: David Miley, Martin Cummins, Ronan Minchin, Simon Nevin; Niall Drea, Trevor Nolan, John Rodgers; Anthony Elliot, Eoin Minchin; Brendan Mullins (1-1), John Miley (0-3, 0-2f), Christy Coady (1-0); Eoin Somers (0-1), Eoin Drea, Craig Doyle (0-1f). Subs: Morgan Drea for Simon Nevin, Gary Doyle for Eoin Drea

SKEHANA: Tomás Hansberry, Cathal Jordan, Michael Hughes, Padraig Scanlon; Fergal Costello, Damien Costello, Eamon Hansberry; Mark Farrell, Jarlath Fahy; Derwin Costello, Sean Mannion, Joey Glynn (0-4, 0-2f); John McHugh, Fintan Finnerty (0-1), Peter Kelly (1-1). Subs: Gabriel Ruane for John McHugh

REF: Declan Magee (Down