McGearailt goal steers Gaeltacht through to first final

BECOMING the sixth team from Kerry to qualify for the AIB All-Ireland club final and the first-ever native-speaking combination, represents a monumental achievement for An Ghaeltacht.

An Ghaeltacht 1-9 St Brigid's 2-3

A powerful second-half display made it all possible for them in Semple Stadium yesterday, with a 42nd-minute goal from Riobáird MacGearailt proving the most decisive score of the game. Coming just a minute after St Brigid's had scored their second goal, it inspired the west Kerry side to surge forward and confidently take control.

At the end, the Dublin champions were fighting a losing battle, struggling to create opportunities against the bitingly cold wind and coming up against a stonewall defence in which Tomás Ó Sé at centre-back was a commanding figure all through the second half. And, when it mattered most, team captain Darragh Ó Sé exerted a vital influence on the outcome.

Inevitably, the wind partly dictated the way the game was contested on a perfect playing surface. St Brigid's used it to dominate the play at stages in the first half, but it didn't really benefit them as they never had the capacity to open up the Gaeltacht defence.

And, finishing with just a goal lead at the break was to seriously undermine their challenge.

Bringing in Barry Cahill (at wing-back) for his first competitive game in eight months, they led from the third minute after Raymond Gallagher fired over a terrific point from a sideline kick on the 21-yard line. After Cathal Ó Dubhda had a low shot saved by keeper Paul Keane in the seventh minute, Brendan Breathnach got what proved to be Gaeltacht's only score until late in the half.

In contrast, St Brigid's were greatly encouraged by two further scores from Gallagher. One came from play following a great run by top forward Declan Lally, who almost stole a first minute goal after a Darragh Ó Sé mistake and the other from a free. However, in general play, the Fermanagh player made no real progress against Marc Ó Sé, a towering figure all through in the winners' defence.

Lally, a Dublin panellist, used his obvious pace to very good effect at times when the St Brigid's defence was dealing capably with some disjointed attacking movements from the opposition.

However, with team captain Jason Ward unable to master Darragh Ó Sé after a promising start, it was never really converted into effective team play up front. As a result, Raymond Gallagher and Declan Darcy especially suffered from the lack of a good service. And this applied even more at the other end of the field in Dara Ó Cinnéide's position at full-forward. A little bit more ball came Aodán MacGearailt's way on the left flank, but his obvious lack of match fitness after a recent injury limited him.

While defences on both sides were generally dominant, St Brigid's had more scoring chances because of their wind advantage. One of them produced the first of their goals, in the 23rd minute, when Kevin Bonar won possession from a Declan Darcy cross. But, while that gave them a five points lead, it dwindled after a strong finish from Gaeltacht yielded two well-take scores from Conal Ó Cruadhlaoich. It left the score 1-3 to 0-3 at half-time.

Within seven minutes of the resumption, the margin was down to a single point, after Darragh Ó Sé kicked over a marvellous point and Dara Ó Cinnéide followed up with another valuable score. Interestingly, however, St Brigid's managed to temporarily stem the recovery by mounting a few attacks, one of which produced an unexpected goal from Lally in the 41st minute.

Psychologically, it was hugely important at a stage when both sides were vying for control and could have had a major influence on the result except for the fact that in almost the following attack, Gaeltacht had the ball in the net. Tomás Ó Conchuir, whose high work-rate won him a lot of ball, crossed from the left and Rob MacGearailt won it cleanly under pressure. More impressively, he found the target as he swivelled and kicked in the same movement.

In another minute, Ó Cinnéide had levelled the scores from a well-struck 45 yards free and, while the fourth quarter remained to be played, effectively the initiative was decisively in Gaeltacht's grasp.

Riobáird MacGearailt won a firm grip at centre-forward (wiping out Peadar Andrews' early advantage), Ó Cinnéide used his experience to good effect and with Darragh Ó Sé stamping his authority on the game, it was noteworthy that his partner Pól Ó Cuinn provided solid support.

Two points from Ó Cuinn and Ó Cinnéide, in the 47th and 51st minutes respectively, pointed Gaeltacht firmly towards the winning post and there was little the Dublin side could do to stop them. Apart from the excellence of Ronan Ó Flatharta at right half-back and the continuing grip exerted by Marc Ó Sé, the imposing figure of Tomás Ó Sé at centre-back represented Gaeltacht at their most efficient and most confident. And, fittingly, he was rewarded with the last score of the match.

Pat McEnaney's refereeing was what we expect from him, confident and highly competent.

Scorers: An Ghaeltacht: R. MacGearailt 1-0; D. Ó Cinnéide 0-3 frees; C. Ó Cruadhlaoich 0-2; B. Breathnach, D. Ó Sé, P. Ó Cuinn and T. Ó Sé 0-1 each. St. Brigid's: D. Lally and K. Bonar 1-0 each; Raymond Gallagher 0-3 (0-1 free, 0-1 sideline).

AN GHAELTACHT: P. O hEalaithe; S. MacSithigh, M. Ó Sé, D. MacGearailt; R. Ó Flatharta, T. Ó Sé, B. Breathnach; D. Ó Sé (capt.), P. Ó Cuinn; C. Ó Dubhda, R. MacGearailt, T. Ó Conchuir; C. Ó Cruadhlaoich, D. Ó Cinnéide, A. MacGearailt. Subs: C. MacGearailt for A. MacGearailt (50th minute); M. MacGearailt for Ó Cruadhlaoich (58th).

ST BRIGID'S: P. Keane; K. Keane, M. Cahill, D. Cahill; G. Norton, P. Andrews, B. Cahill; K. Darcy, J. Ward (capt.); M. Galvin, Rory Gallagher, D. Lally; K. Bonar, Raymond Gallagher, D. Darcy. Subs: J. Noonan for Galvin (35th minute); O. McCann for D. Darcy (39th); S. Quinn for K. Darcy (50th); C. McGlynn for Bonar (56th).

Referee: P. McEnaney (Monaghan).

Attendance: 4,004.

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