Dunloy, Ballymena

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Naomh Éanna in Dreamland

Naomh Éanna face the photographers before their IFC Final win.

Naomh Éanna (Aontroim) 2-11 Mullahoran Dreadnoughts (An Cabhán) 1-10

Release. Elation. Joy.

As a sea of amber and black engulfed the damp Armagh sod, cutting through the mist of an early December evening, these three emotions were vividly painted across the face of every man, woman and child with a connection to the Hightown club.

Having never won an adult championship title in Antrim before this year, Naomh Éanna eclipsed their wildest dreams by capturing the Ulster IFC title with victory over Cavan's Mullahoran at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday evening.

The Breffni men had fought their way back into the game early in the second half, a brace from the superb Enda O'Reilly and a super score wide on the right from Cian O'Reilly levelled matters, but a response from Eoin Nagle steadied the ship for a push that would see Naomh Éanna over the line in some style.

Joe Maskey's decisive moment of sublime skill brought the stand to its feet, leaping high to pluck the ball from the air, before quickly steadying himself and finding the bottom corner of Sean Briody's net.

Briody was the busier of the two goalkeepers on the night, having to turn away two fisted Ethan Gibson efforts in the first half, but just seconds before the Naomh Éanna goal their own custodian Paddy Flood could well have been picking the ball out of the net.

With Mullahoran trailing by just three points, full-forward Philip Brady took control of the ball in the Naomh Éanna box and crashed an effort off the crossbar with Flood all at sea. Moments later, Maskey had the ball in the Mullahoran net and the lead was six. Fine margins.

Within minutes of the game getting underway, Kristian Healy and Mullahoran danger man Enda O'Reilly swapped scores, before Gibson had his first effort, getting on the end of a Healy hand pass only to see it fall into the grateful arms of Briody.

Minutes later though, they did make the breakthrough, a loose ball bobbling around the Mullahoran box before landing at the feet of Kristian Healy, and he buried it past Briody, before Conan Lyttle pounced on the resulting kick out to open up a four-point gap.

Corner back Callum Mussi finished a sweeping move in response for the Cavan champions, but Eoin Nagle split the uprights on a looping run to restore the advantage, before Mullahoran hit a patch of good form.

An Enda O'Reilly free was followed by a fine effort from PP Galligan, the midfielder languidly cutting through the Naomh Éanna defence to float over off his left foot to leave only two between the sides, but a brace of frees from Odhran Eastwood doubled their lead once again, before a further O'Reilly free left them trailing by three at half time.

Drawing on the dogged determination that ultimately defeated Banagher in the Semi-Final, Mullahoran roared onto the pitch for the second half and within minutes had obliterated the Naomh Éanna lead, a brace of O'Reilly frees and a point from corner back Cian O'Reilly launching the comeback.

Frank Fitzsimons and Pat Hughes take a moment of calm pre-match in a foggy Armagh.

A common feature of the Naomh Éanna performances this year is that when a team gets close, they find an extra gear and they did so again as Eoin Nagle ended an excellent team move with a neat point, before Ruairí Scott added a beauty from under the stand. Another Eastwood free saw the three-point gap restored before Joe Maskey's goal doubled the deficit.

You could see the Mullahoran belief deflate in the face of the delirium in the stand, but the Cavan men soldiered on, Enda O'Reilly trading white flags firstly with opposite number Ruairí Scott and then Eoin Nagle as the game entered the 56th minute.

As Seanie Smith rolled the dice from the Mullahoran bench, Odhran Eastwood floated over his fourth free of the evening to leave seven between the sides, before the Breffni men were handed a chance for a late consolation goal from the spot after Paddy Flood dragged down Philip Brady.

With Flood receiving a black card to add to the yellow he picked up in the first half, the Naomh Éanna netminder was dismissed and Ruairí Scott made the long trot from centre forward as Flood exited the pitch to a standing ovation.

Scott could do little to keep out O'Reilly's penalty, rolled in neatly to the bottom right corner and the remaining minutes were played out with the Cavan men attacking wildly and Naomh Éanna comfortably defending in numbers.

At the final whistle, the elation and release was clear for all to see and James McAuley raised the McCully Cup into the Armagh fog to the cacophony of ecstatic Éannaigh below.

Naomh Éanna: Paddy Flood, Killian Jennings, Mick McNamee, Diarmuid McNulty, Conan Lyttle (0-01), James McAuley (c), Conor McAuley, Ryan Kennedy, Joe Maskey (1-00), Peter Healy, Ruairí Scott (0-02), Kristian Healy (1-01), Ethan Gibson, Odhran Eastwood, (0-02, 0-02f), Eoin Nagle (0-03).

Subs: Ciaran O'Neill for Ryan Kennedy 25'.

Mullahoran Dreadnoughts: Sean Briody, Callum Mussi (0-01), Tadhg McGahern, Cian O'Reilly (0-01), Paul Brady, Matthew Hynes, Colm O'Reilly, Killian Brady (c), PP Galligan (0-01), Raymond Lynch, Enda O'Reilly (1-02, 0-04f), Sean McKeogh, Gavin Brady, Philip Brady (0-01), Cormac O'Reilly.

Subs: Shane Sheils for PP Galligan 52', Daniel Smith for Colm O'Reilly 55', Barry McArdle 56'.

Referee: Dan Mullan (Gleann an Iolair, Doire)

Man of the Match: Joe Maskey (Naomh Éanna)


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