Steelstown Brian Ogs 0-09, Greenlough 0-08
At last! At long, long last!
Poignantly, on the 13th anniversary of Brian Og McKeever's passing, Steelstown - the club which bears his name - were finally crowned Derry Intermediate football champions.
Thirty four years after the likes of Anthony McGurk had the idea to establish a GAA club in the Ballyarnett area of Derry City, the Brian Ogs got their hands on a senior championship title for the first time. And even if he wasn't to kick another ball for the rest of his career, the name of Cahir McMonagle has been written into the folklore of Steelstown after his late free settled a tense, tight battle against the reigning champions.
Not that it wasn't deserved. Steelstown were the best team throughout with Diarmuid Baker brilliant in a 'Man of the Match' display but when the game was in the mix, when some of his young team-mates were looking around for leadership, it was a familiar face who dragged his team over the line.
Neil Forester was playing in his fourth final. Like some of his team-mates, he knows the pain of losing a county final. He spent most of this one trying to put the shackles on Greenlough dangerman Enda Lynn and was largely successful, well as much as anyone can be against Lynn.
Forester's biggest contribution though came in the last quarter when manager Hugh McGrath threw caution to the wind and let the jet heeled former county man off the leash. With his team trailing and five minutes to go, two or three typical 'Fo' bursts forwards breathed new life into Steelstown just when they needed it. Indeed one of his trademark breaks from the back brought the point of the day as Forester levelled at eight points a-piece with five to play.
Then, when another star performer on the day, Donncha Gilmore, broke forward and was fouled. The scene was set for McMonagle and his free didn't disappoint. There was still time for another Steelstown free to float just wide enough to keep the nerves jangling before referee Gregory McWilliams' full time whistle brought an outpouring of emotion three decades in the making.
Tears, smiles and shock were all evident as players, coaches, family and fans soaked in a moment few could deny them. It was a fitting finale.
The day didn't start well though when experienced full back Kevin Lindsay failed a fitness test and was unable to start meaning a reshuffle for Hugh McGrath and it was another twist of fate as that man McMonagle was drafted in and Forester switched to pick up Greenlough talisman, Lynn.
There were changes too for the reigning champions after Martin Kane's appeal against his semi-final red card was dismissed meaning Joe Cassidy had to draft in Kevin McCann as St. Oliver Plunkett's went in search of back to back titles.
Yet it was the challengers in blue who made the better start, bossing possession in the opening minutes and building an early three point lead through Jason McAleer and two Eoghan Bradley efforts which was little more than they opening deserved.
Eoghan Concannon had been detailed to pick up Niall Loughlin but Brian Ogs' ability to retain the ball meant the county man was being starved of possession. That prompted Lynn to go wandering and the experienced forward's emergence as a force was the catalyst for Greenlough's belated introduction to the action.
Neither side employed a dedicated sweeper but Baker for the city men and Christopher Lagan for Greenlough filled the role when required and Baker was the busiest of those two with Greenlough playing largely direct on the break.
That was enough to bring Steelstown lead to a single point after the impressive Ryan Tohill got his side's first on nine minutes with a Lynn free following soon after and from there the dye was cast on a game in which never could ever shake the other off. By half-time the sides were level at five points a-piece, Morgan Murray and Ben McCarron (free) for Steelstown and Lynn, Loughlin and Conal McErlean cancelling those out for Greenlough.
This third quarter belonged to Greenlough as Steelstown went 19 minutes either side of half-time without scoring but unlike previous years, they dug deep to stay in the game. A superb solo effort from Lynn and Brian McCallion's lovely score after Loughlin had soared high to fetch a kick-out had the champions 0-7 to 0-5 ahead but Steelstown gathered themselves eventually.
A McCarron free and one from play from the Dery player levelled things by the 43rd minute but following the second half water break, it was Greenlough who managed to edge themselves ahead again though substitute Patrick Feeny.
There were five minutes left and the story of those five minutes will be retold in Pairc Bhrid for years to come. It's been a long trek but the destination has finally been reached. The journey though continues.
Steelstown scorers: Jason McAleer (0-1), Eoghan Bradley (0-2), Morgan Murray (0-1), Ben McCarron (0-3, 2f), Cahir McMonagle (0-2, 2f)
Greenlough scorers: Ryan Tohill (0-1), Enda Lynn (0-3), Niall Loughlin (0-1, 1f), Conal McErlean (0-1), Brian McCallion (0-1), Patrick Feeney (0-1)
Steelstown: Martin Dunne; Oran Fox, Neil Forester, Diarmuid Baker, Donnacha Gilmore; Eoghan Concannon, Jason McAleer; Oran McMenamin, Ryan Devine, Gareth Logue, Cahir McMonagle, Ben McCarron, Mark Foley, Eogan Bradley, Morgan Murray. (Subs) Rory Maguire for G Logue, 38mins; Mickey McKinney for M Murray, 48mins; Eoghan Heraghty for M Dunne (inj), 59mins; Shanbe O'Connor for R Devine, 58mins;
Greenlough: Kevin Mullan, Jude Moore, Jack McCann, Paul Quinn, Conal McErlean, Stefan Lynn, Christopher Kearney, Brian McCallion, Kevin McCann; Christopher Lagan, Stephen Bradley, Enda Lynn, Ryan Tohill, Niall Loughlin, Caolan Tohill.
(Subs) Enda McNally for J Moore, 42mins; Patrick Feeney for C Tohill, 42mins; Conor Mullan for R Tohill, 48mins; Christopher Lynn for E Lynn, 56mins; Conor Madden for K McCann, 56mins;
Referee: Gregory McWilliams