Croke Park had never been closer and yet now it seems as far away as ever for Naomh Colmcille.
Knocknagree 2-9 Naomh Colmcille 0-7
First-half goals, both avoidable for Ryan McKinley’s Naomh Colmcille, by James Dennehy and John F Daly fired Knocknagree into the All-Ireland Junior club final at GAA headquarters, ending Naomh Colmcille’s epic run to the last four in the process.
Knocknagree were slicker and sharper all over the park and it proved just a bridge too far for Naomh Colmcille, who finished with 13 men following the dismissals in added time of the Lynch brothers, William and Michael.
And yet, they will reflect on a day when they might have been able to make a better first of it.
The Cork and Munster champions struck a body blow to Naomh Colmcille with a goal after just six minutes.
The danger looked gone when a diagonal ball from Fintan O’Connor for Anthony O’Connor was carried with too much weight. O’Connor retrieved and popped back for Dennehy, who lobbed the off-his-line John Roulstone.
It is not a goal the Naomh Colmcille net minder will want to see a re-run and Knocknagree had a rampant look about them with O’Connor’s free and a sweeping effort by Donagh Moynihan given them a five-point cushion by the tenth minute.
It took Naomh Colmcille 13 minutes to get off the mark, through a free from their captain, Willie Gillespie, and Matthew Crossan arched over another.
When the sides parted at the break, Naomh Colmcille were at the base of the mountain after gifting Knocknagree a second goal on 25 minutes.
Alex Devenney, flawless all season, conceded possession to Anthony O’Connor, who off-loaded for John F Daly to tuck past Roulstone.
Eoghan McSweeney drilled over two magnificent points in the first half as Knocknagree headed for half-time boasting a 2-4 to 0-3 advantage.
A year ago this week, McKinley was appointed to the Naomh Colmcille hotseat and even then in his wildest of dreams he couldn’t have forecasted such a voyage.
2016 had been a disaster for the Pairc Colmcille men as they were relegated from the Intermediate Championship – having been finalists in 2015 – and consigned to the drop to Division 4 in the All-County League.
The target for McKinley had been League promotion but, a week after a draw against St Mary’s of Convoy ended those hopes, their Championship hopes took a real shot in the arm with a quarter-final win over Moville.
Through gritted teeth they won, first, the Donegal JFC title and then cut a swathe through Ulster, culminating in their history final win over Belnaleck, as Matthew Crossan’s goal fired them to glory.
But there was no repeat of the heroics here as Fintan O’Connor (2), Moynihan and substitute Chris White drilled over points to seal the passage to the Jones’ Road.
In time, Naomh Colmcille will be able to reflect on a history-making season but, for now at least, it’s that nagging sense of a chance missed.
Knocknagree: Patrick Doyle; Michael Mahoney, Paul O’Connor, Gary O’Connor; Karl Daly, Keelan Buckley, Donagh Moynihan (0-2); Danny Cooper, Padraig Collins; James Dennehy (1-0), John F Daly (1-0), Eoghan McSweeney (0-2); Matthew Dilworth, Anthony O’Connor (0-2, 2f), Fintan O’Connor (0-2). Subs: Andrew Sheehan for K. Daly (black card, 25), Chris White (0-1) for Cooper (43), Thomas Cooper for McSweeney (57), Tadhg Long for J Daly (60).
Naomh Colmcille: John Roulstone; Ricky Hegarty, Alex Devenney, Paul Friel; Gerard Curran, Ciaran Devine, Kevin Gallagher; Michael Lynch, Daniel Clarke (0-1, 1f); John Fullerton, Ryan McErlean, Oran Hilley; Matthew Crossan (0-2), Willie Gillespie (0-4, 4f), William Lynch. Subs: Michael Friel for Curran (half-time), Eddie Gillespie for Gallagher (37).
Referee: John Gilmartin (Sligo).Tags: