Faughanvale 2-09, Drum 1-05
Joe Gray now knows what it means to win a championship.
Sixteen years ago in 1999, as a young player breaking into the senior team, he was part of a famed St. Mary’s team that lifted the Intermediate title for the second season in succession, a third victory in four years for the club. He openly admits he did not realise the significance of the achievement.
But the barren years that followed provided perspective, none more so that 12 months ago when St. Mary’s slipped out of Intermediate football.
The club was at a crossroads.
Yet from that heartbreak, Gray, his management team, the players and the club have rebuilt in spectacular fashion. It started with a Neal Carlin Cup victory and continued through an impressive Division Three league campaign that restored their Intermediate status. Saturday’s victory over closest rivals Drum, though, was the icing on the Championship ‘cake’.
“I said to the boys, 1999 was probably my first year in senior football and to be honest, I think I took it all for granted,” explains the ‘Vale player-manager, “I came in and thought that was what happened every year, you come out and wins things but a long, long time has passed since then, so this one to me means a hell of a lot more because I know what it means.
“I know what sacrifices you make to try and win these. I know the commitment the boys put in all year round and, with being in the management set-up, I know all the stresses that it brings as well. This means a massive, massive amount to me and to all the players as well.”
He had no need to articulate that to those present. It was written over the faces of every man, woman and child wearing green and white that spilled out on to the Owenbeg pitch following the 2-09 to 1-05 win though the contrast from 12 months previously was not lost of Gray.
“We were massively disappointed last year. We met at the start of this season and we ironed everything out. We let everyone have their say. Then we said, ‘Right, it’s gone, now is time to refocus.’ We set our goals and so far we have hit three of them and won everything we went for which is huge credit to everyone involved this year.
“It is a big turnaround but the year is not over yet and we will set new goals now and see how far they take us.”
But for every moment of elation on Championship final day, there is an opposite emotion and Drum played their part though the game had been won in the opening 11 minutes.
Perhaps it was the familiarity of four previous meetings that prompted St. Colm’s to shake things up tactically with Ryan O’Kane - despite carrying an obvious injury - pushed to full forward. It never worked and Faughanvale had a match-winning lead before Drum could sort themselves out.
With six minutes gone and ‘Vale already three points to the good through Gray, Kevin Martin and Eunan Murray, a long Martin McGuinness free dropped short but was pounced upon by Conor O’Hara, who got above Drum keeper Cahair O’Kane to punch into the net with the St. Colm’s keeper appealing for a square ball. It looked very close but the umpires had no hesitation awarding goal.
A difficult situation for Drum became near impossible five minutes later when a superb ball from the right picked out the impressive Aaron Cassidy at the back post. The half-back’s angle was acute but he was aware enough to turn and find Murray who arrived at pace, side-stepped O’Kane and fired the ball into an unguarded net.
When, seconds later, Kevin Martin sent over a lovely score for 2-04 to no score the writing looked on the wall. That Drum made ‘Vale work so hard was credit to them but St. Mary’s had already taken a huge step toward the trophy.
“It’s hard to sum that up,” added Gray, “We have had five really hard battles against Drum this season and, to be honest, I’m glad to see the back of them, we have seen that much of each other. We got a good start and that’s what really set the platform for the win.
“We talked about it (a good start) all week and I think we came out of the blocks really sharp and we got that lead. That allowed us to relax, soak up the Drum pressure and hit on the break which suited our style of play.
“When Drum kept coming back and got that goal in the second half, that brought a bit of pressure. Thankfully we managed to get up the field and get another couple of scores. That settled the nerves again and we could see the game out.”
The game played out in a remarkably similar way to the first meeting, even down to the fact that once again Drum didn’t take their chances. Ten points adrift, they had no right to get back into the game but they did and had chances to get closer than the four point deficit they managed at one point.
Drum’s first score from play was Conor O’Kane’s 42nd minute goal when he judged his run perfectly to rise highest and punch Drum back into the game at 2-06 to 1-05 after a scramble near the Faughanvale posts.
St. Mary’s were rocking but, as they have done all season, they found the answers they needed. First Gray hit a superb 35m point to settle his side before a poor kick from O’Kane saw Kevin Martin fouled and the same player picked himself to send over the free to mean that within seconds, Drum’s momentum from the goal had all but vanished.
The remaining minutes were managed without stress before the celebrations could begin in earnest with the prospect of an Ulster campaign to start against Tyrone’s Brackaville on November 1st in Healy Park (12.45pm).
Saturday’s result confirmed what most have known all season. Faughanvale have been the best team in Division Three all year. Now they have the trophies to prove it.
Faughanvale: Daryl Moore; Declan McGuinness, Michael Sweeney, Gordon Fahey; Jordan Curran, Steven King, Aaron Cassidy (0-1); Odhran McKinney, Michael McLaughlin; Eoin McElhinney, Joe Gray (0-2, 2f), Martin McGuinness; Kevin Martin (0-2, 1f), Conor O’Hara (1-1), Eunan Murray (1-2). (Subs) Ryan King for C O’Hara (inj), 12mins; Sean Bradley for K Martin, 51mins; Oisin Quinn for M McLaughlin, 56mins; Simon Green for O McKinney, 58mins; Martin Sweeney for D McGuinness, 60mins.
Drum: Cahair O’Kane, Liam Millar, Alex Moore, Niall Farren; Damian Brolly, Shaun McGlade; Niall Burke; James McCartney, Conor O’Kane (1-0); Niall Ferris; Corey O’Reilly, Donal Brolly; Conor O’Reilly,Ryan O’Kane, Rory O’Reilly (0-5, 5f). (Subs) Marc McLaughlin for R O’Kane, H/T; Ryan O’Hara for S McGlade, 40mins; Shane Millar for C O’Kane, 52mins; Dean Mulhern for A Moore, 56mins;
Referee: Anthony Campbell (Magherafelt)