For long stretches their football season looked set for an abrupt ending, but the West Kerry team grimly stayed in contention and produced the flashes of flowing play that enabled them to get their ultimate reward.
As the action inched towards full-time, Castlegregory looked in trouble as they trailed 0-11 to 0-9 and Shane Hennessy, the man bestowed with the man-of-the-match award afterwards, sized up a free on the right wing. Hennessy’s kick floated goalwards where corner-forward Colm O’Mahony rose amongst a crowd to flick the ball on and it somehow crept into the far corner of the net.
Suddenly Castlegregory were on the cusp of a dramatic success, but they yielded their winning position in injury-time. Goalkeeper Shane Kenny’s decision to take a short kick-out in the 63rd minute backfired as Kiltimagh’s Sean Malee intercepted and when he was fouled, Ciarán Charlton showed a glacial nerve to steer the ball between the posts and the match towards extra-time.
But Castlegregory were never spooked by that chain of events and, inspired by the masterful point-kicking of Hennessy and O’Mahony, were 1-12 to 0-13 ahead by the midway juncture of extra-time.
Kiltimagh were fine battlers though and a tremendous long-range point by midfielder Paul Regan, coupled with a free from the impressive Charlton left them only trailing 1-13 to 0-15 near the close of extra-time.
The ebb and flow trend of the match continued in the final plays as Kiltimagh’s chance for a levelling point evaporated when a Charlton free fell short and Castlegregory subsequently moved the ball upfield where Alan Fitzgerald calmly slotted the insurance point.
It had been a turbulent ride to victory admitted Castlegregory trainer Colm Geaney afterwards.
“We won the game without playing well and didn’t really express ourselves. The fear factor of playing in Croke Park contributed to that as did Kiltimagh’s performance. But we went for the jugular near the finish and had the legs to win it in the end. It’s a fantastic feeling now.”
It was rough justice for Kiltimagh to lose out as they contributed much to a pulsating game. They were the livelier team in the opening-half and had a couple of stellar individual performers in full-back John Murtagh and Tomás Morley around the middle.
Their prowess at snaffling breaks at midfield was also key and in wing-forward Ciarán Charlton they had a dead ball specialist. By the close of the opening quarter they lead 0-3 to 0-1 and maintained that position to be 0-6 to 0-4 ahead at half-time.
The situation could have been worse for Castlegregory as both Brian Gallagher and Noel Lydon shot points for Kiltimagh that could just as easily have materialised into goals.
Smart thinking by Charlton saw him place Morley in for a point quickly after the restart but as they faced a three-point deficit, Castlegregory hauled themselves back into contention. The experienced promptings of Sean O’Mahony were key, while Stephen Browne and Colm O’Mahony pitched in to assist the comeback as well.
But it was Shane Hennessy who emerged as their figurehead, his splendid point-kicking put them ahead 0-8 to 0-7 by the 46th minute. The action became frantic from thereon in as the teams traded points yet Kiltimagh’s burst to lead 0-11 to 0-9 looked crucial.
However, O’Mahony’s goal changed the game and Castlegregory were the more competent team in extra-time.
Scorers for Castlegregory: C O’Mahony 1-3, S Hennessy 0-5 (0-1f), S Browne, A McNamara 0-2 each, A Lynch, A Fitzgerald 0-1 each.
Kiltimagh: C Charlton 0-7 (0-7f), B Gallagher (0-1f), R Malee 0-2 each, T Morley, N Lydon, P Regan, M Schlingermann 0-1 each.
CASTLEGREGORY: S Kenny; G O’Connor, J Scully, J O’Connor; S O’Mahony, S Browne, A Finn; M O’Shea, R Kelliher; S Hennessy, A Fitzgerald, JB Spillane; C O’Mahony, A Lynch, A McNamara.
Subs: B Lynch for Fitzgerald (42), D Heasman for O’Shea (42), C O’Connor for Kelliher (52), C Sills for Finn (55), G Fitzgerald for G O’Connor (60), A Fitzgerald for A Lynch (63), Kelliher for McNamara (78).
KILTIMAGH: P Burke; P Larkin, J Murtagh, J Mulhern; D Gallagher, C Heneghan, A Lydon; T Morley, P Regan; C Charlton, S Malee, L Lydon; B Gallagher, N Lydon, R Malee.
Subs: P Lydon for Mulhern (34), Mulhern for P Lydon (38), P Lydon for A Lydon (49), M Schlingermann for D Gallagher (58), A Forkan for N Lydon (61), J Byrne for B Gallagher (63), B McCarthy for Heneghan (73), A Carroll for S Malee (73), K Lydon for L Lydon (78).
Referee: S Carroll (Westmeath).