Craigbane target All Ireland final spot

Craigbane captain Gavin Conwell celebrates
Craigbane captain Gavin Conwell celebrates

ON SUNDAY, Craigbane’s first Championship-winning captain, Gerard McLaughlin, celebrates his 50th birthday. Current half-back Rory Moore celebrates his 19th. There are no prizes for guessing what each would like by way of present!

Michael Wilson reports

The only thing that matters for anyone in Craigbane this weekend takes place in Portlaoise that day at 3.30pm when St. Joseph’s will take to the field for the biggest game in the club’s history against Milltown-Castlemaine of Kerry. At stake is a place in the All Ireland Intermediate Club final. Enough said.

“We are one hour away from playing in an All-Ireland final and, of course, there will be nerves as we build up to the game but once the ball is thrown in, those disappear and it is about football,” revealed Craigbane manager Kevin Moore.

“It’s up to the boys now. We are as well prepared as we can be. It’s now about getting the mental side of things right but I have no doubts over these players, they are where they are on merit.

“We‘ve no fear of playing anyone. This is new territory for every player and for the club, but the prize at the end of the game is unreal. We started out this time last year so it has been a long road but it’s one you wouldn’t have changed from. Sunday is the biggest game the club has ever been involved in but we want to be involved in a bigger one.”

It has been a long but rewarding journey which has brought the North Derry men to this stage. Last season brought not only the Derry and Ulster Intermediate titles but also promotion to senior football as well as - fittingly - the Gerry Crossan ‘Derry Club of the Year’ Trophy. It was a dream season that could be bettered only by an All Ireland victory.

Standing in their way is the formidable obstacle of John Fintan Daly’s Munster champions who collected Kerry’s sixth successive Munster title with victories over Clondegad, Newmarket and Mullinahone. It took a late goal from 19-year-old Cathal Moriarty to see of Clare’s Clondegad before they had three points to spare against Newmarket of Cork in the semi-final. Former Kerry player, Ian Twiss scored 0-4 while Jerome Flynn notched the crucial goal on a day when Mick Burke was outstanding at midfield for the Kerry side.

Tipperary champions, Mullinahone provided the opposition in the Munster final but were easily beaten by a rampant Milltown-Castlemaine. Twiss scored 0-5 while Flynn added 1-2 as the Kerrymen powered to a 1-14 to 0-6 win.

A formidable task then for Craigbane but not one which is beyond them according to their manager.

“We don’t know too much about Milltown-Castlemaine. We watched them in the Munster final but it is only one game and it can be difficult to judge a team on one performance, you don’t always know the strength of opposition or who is playing as they normally would. What we do know is they come from a county steeped in football and it is going to be a big test but we are not going there just to make up the numbers.

“We have a nice blend of experienced players like Fergal Crossan, Gavin Conwell and others, as well as a few younger ones like Lee (Moore), Blain Gormley, Cathal O’Kane, Aidy McLaughlin and others. These are all players who have played for Derry at various levels including senior. That shows we have a good pedigree and we’re travelling down confident.

“I think it’s going to be quite an open game with plenty of football in it. Milltown-Castlemaine are not going to roll over for anyone and have beaten some very good sides to get to the semi-final but so have we. It will be all about performing on the day.”

Craigbane’s own run to the All Ireland semi-final has brought emphatic victories over Kilclief (Down) and Carrickmacross (Monaghan) before Armagh’s Culloville were defeated by the minimum in an Ulster Final during which Cathal O’Kane refused to come off despite suffering a broken jaw. That highlights the desire within a group of players whom their manager claimed fully deserved last season’s success.

“Everyone’s is fit and ready. Ironically it should be the first time I have had the full panel available since we started our Championship run but it is the perfect time to have it.

“It has been strange working through what is usually the close season. We had to check things out to see when we had to stop and when we could train. Thankfully, we got things sorted and after a couple of weeks off, the boys have worked very hard. Every one of them has made some sacrifices over Christmas, everything has been about this game.

“The season looks like it will run and run but that’s what happens when you are successful. The Universities and the County manager have been great about things. They know the players are in an All-Ireland semi-final and have left them to focus on the club. The only football commitment any of the players have had is Craigbane.

“A lot of the clubs around Derry, and even some in Tyrone, have been contacting us all week to wish us well which is great to see. Our supporters, who have been superb all year, will once again get right behind us. There seems to be a huge number of people going to the game from Craigbane.”

With the Kerry side scoring at least one goal in every game of their Munster win and Craigbane yet to concede a goal since getting out of Derry, something has to give this weekend.

“We don’t rely on one or two players any more for scores,” adds the St. Joseph’s manager, “We have six good forwards who can all weigh in, while Aidy McLaughlin and Blain Gormley are as good a midfield as there is. We have done all the preparation we can, now it is about the players going out and performing and I have no doubt they can do it.”

Would be a nice birthday present if they did, wouldn’t it.