IF ONE week is a long time in politics, imagine what almost 20 years feels like in Championship hurling!
Seamus mullan was in Kevin Lynch’s Park
Photographs: stephen Latimer
With only 2009’s much maligned Junior Championship victory over Eoghan Rua to show for the intervening years from a 1992 victory over Banagher at Drum, the hurlers of Na Magha played as if exorcising the ghost of every setback since and fully deserved to be crowned Derry Intermediate Championship winners.
The scenes of elation among the players and supporters inside Kevin Lynch’s Park told its own story and illustrated how much the win meant to a club that has often battled against the odds and were, once again cast in the roles of underdog against Banagher’s second string.
And they had every reason to rejoice after a hard-fought abut richly deserved victory over a Banagher side that battled to the final whistle in what was a tough, physical and bruising encounter with no quarter asked or given.
Afterwards Na Magha manager Dee Doherty accepted that it had been a tough hour’s hurling but claimed he expected nothing less,
“For certain that was a battle, a physical battle but we said this was going to be a tough game,” explained Doherty.
“Banagher did not come here to make up the numbers, to lose matches. Nobody comes to final to lose. They’ll be hurting now but we have felt the hurt on many other years. It’s our turn to celebrate.”
The determination that coursed through the veins of each and every Na Magha player was vividly demonstrated in the final seconds of added time. With four points between the sides Banagher’s Sam Guy seemed to have the goal at his mercy as he took aim from about eight metres out but Na Maghan keeper Barry Robinson launched himself at the sliothar as it arrowed towards the roof of the net, with no concern for his own safety, and it somehow cannoned off his body and over the bar. His was the never-say-die spirit the Na Magha players showed right throughout the game in wet and windy conditions.
“Robbie Hegarty was outstanding for us but Barry Robinson in nets was unbelievable, outstanding. In the dying seconds of the game he made a point-blank save. He’s been my outstanding player this year for Na Magha.”
With former Derry star Sean McCullagh dominant at midfield in the opening quarter Banagher looked the more likely side to win as they cruised to a 0-04 to 0-01 lead by the 15th minute.
Na Magha centre back Leigh Hawkins said of McCullagh’s display, “He was outstanding and it’s good to see him back. He played very well and was unlucky to be on the losing side.”
But Na Magha stemmed the tide, Alan Grant and Ryan O’Donnell at midfield, and Hawkins at centre half-back, eventually wresting control in the middle third.
With Hegarty as sharp as a tack at corner back, the Banagher challenge was repulsed and Na Magha were well placed when Brendán Quigley, who had a quiet opening quarter, scoring three excellent points to close the gap to 0-05 to 0-04 at the break, the city side backed by the blustery wind for the second half.
Yet it could have been even better for Na Magha by the end of the first with nine wides, some from eminently scoreable positions. Indeed in the final minute of the half Banagher keeper Michael O’Neill fumbled a low shot from Daryl Connolly but corner Tamar Douban somehow scoped the sliothar wide with the net beckoning.
Centre half Hawkins reflected on the first half wastefulness.
“Our shooting in the first half was wayward,” admitted the Na Magha captain.
“Our plan, if we were playing into the breeze in the first half, was to contain them and we did that. In the second half our plan was to get the ball into Breandán and he would get scores.
“But in fairness all our forwards played well. Young Tamar Douban, in his first year, did well and scored two fine points. He could have got a goal near the end but he composed himself and took a point to put us four ahead.”
There was a feisty start to the second half when Sean McCullagh and Ryan O’Donnell had a contretemps in the middle of the field and both picked up yellow cards for their over zealous reactions.
With the wind blowing towards misty Benbradagh it took Na Magha ten minutes to find their rhythm but the game breaker arrived at an opportune time, Peter McElhinney latching onto a loose ball on the 13 metre line and dispatching low to the net with an accurate ground shot.
But just when Na Magha seemed to be in control of the game at 1-06 to 0-06 with ten minutes remaining Banagher’s Cillian McDermott got the merest of touches to a long ball to the goalmouth and deflected it pass Robinson to tie the scores at 1-06 each.
But when the Ballyarnett side needed their players to stand up and be counted most they did, with keeper Robinson, Hegarty, Connolly, Hawkins, Grant and Quigley making massive contributions in different but vital ways.
The Na Magha captain sang the praises of their corner-back and their net-minder in particular
“Robbie (Hegarty) has put in a lot of hard work this year. He’s very fast, a great young lad who always does what he’s told to do. He works hard and gets the job done. This was just reward for all his hard work.
“Baz (Robinson) was unbelievable. He’s kept us in a lot of games. His puck-outs and his shot-stopping have been outstanding. He’s a great player to have behind you in defence. He’s well organised, a very good keeper.
“Brendán has hurled well with the county this year and that has stood to him with the club. His form showed in the dying moments when he stepped up to the mark when we needed a couple of scores.”
With the game in the melting pot Quigley scored two fantastic points to open up a 1-08 to 1-06 lead, Grant weighed in with a pointed free and young Douban showed maturity beyond his years when he turned down a goal chance to score the insurance point.
In that testing period Na Magha showed composure and discipline, something their captain said they had talked about in the build-up to the game.
“All year we have talked about keeping our discipline and maintaining our work-rate throughout a game. When we talked about the game the first thing we talked about was keeping our composure and our discipline and especially with the conditions, it paid dividends. We knew that if we kept working, kept the work rate up we had the players to get the job done. I’m so glad we got there in the end.”
With silverware in the trophy cabinet Na Magha can now turn their attention to the Ulster club junior semi final.
“Ulster is a great tournament to be in but you want to get respect in your own county first before you go further afield. Now that we have the Intermediate Championship under our belt, we can try and go on and reach the final and show the hurling people in the county what we’re made of. This win is testament to all the hard work that has been done by the stalwarts down the years in Na Magha.”
The final word went to manager Dee Doherty,
“It’s been a long time waiting for those celebrations,” he revealed. “Some of those players in there are coming to the end of their time. We’ve been at this for a number of years, knocking at the door for a few years now. We had our chance this year and we took it but that was a real battle, for every player from 1 to 15.”
Na Magha scorers: Peter McElhinney 1-00, Brendan Quigley 0-05, 0-01f, Alan Grant 0-02, 1f, Tamara Douban 0-02 and Daryl Connolly 0-01
Banagher scorers: Killian McDermott 1-00, Sam Guy 0-02, Sean McCullagh 0-02, Kieran O’Neill 0-02, 0-01 ‘65’ and Owen Biggs 0-01
Na Magha: Barry Robinson; Robby Hegarty, Niall McCarron, Dermot McDaid; Ciaran McCarron, Leigh Hawkins (c), Alan Furlong; Ryan O’Donnell, Alan Grant ; Diarmuid Shiels , Peter McElhinney, Daryl Connelly;
Joe Temple, Brendan Quigley, Tamar Douban; Gearoid O’Mianain for J Temple, 40 mins
Banagher Reserves: Michael O’Neill; Callum Devine, Declan O’Neill, Fergal McKay; Eoin Crossan, Kevin Lockhart, Kieran Lynch; Sean McCullagh, Kieran O’Neill; Sam Guy, Dean Lockhart, Owen Biggs; Killian McDermott, Owen Kealey, Anthony Cartin. (Subs) Niall Farren for A Cartin H-T
Referee: Donnan Cleary (Ballinascreen)