They may not have scaled the heights of their glittering Munster final display before Christmas but despite being four points down entering the final quarter and struggling against a 14-man Craigbane side, the Kerry champions displayed superb composure.
Their players and supporters greeted the final whistle in ecstatic fashion as they realised they will be the third Kerry club in four years to sample the grandeur of All-Ireland final day in this grade.
“I’ve only known them a year but my eternal gratitude will go to my friend Gerry Casey for getting me to go down working with them,” said manager John Fintan Daly.
“Lord God, I never thought I’d be taking a club to an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. It’s very special and is a real honour for me. Kerry invented the game of Gaelic football and as a Corkman I’ve no problem admitting that openly. These Ulster teams come down with their short-passing game but we worked on our foot passing which is the Kerry tradition. That showed today. We held our discipline and kept our composure.”
The magnitude of the prize on offer appeared to affect the standard of football in this match as both teams were unusually wayward in front of goal. By the 18th minute, both teams registered a single point apiece until Gavin Wrenn and Ian Twiss supplied three points between them to ensure Milltown-Castlemaine were in a more advantageous position at the break, leading 0-4 to 0-2.
Milltown-Castlemaine’s aspirations of victory were handed a further boost when Craigbane wing-back Brian Rainey was sent-off. However the personnel shortage did not inhibit Craigbane and they knitted together their best passages of play in the game. Full-back Fergal Crossan and midfielder Blaine Gormley grew in stature, and when Derry senior Lee Moore found the net, they led 1-5 to 0-4.
But critically Milltown-Castlemaine never panicked. Their riposte was pivotal as Cathal Moriarty and Jerome Flynn transferred the ball to Shane Murphy who finished to the net. Substitute Derek Twiss boomed a long-range free over and after spurning chances from play, Twiss raised another white flag with a 40-yard shot.
They could easily have wrapped up the match in injury-time only for Jerome Flynn’s goal effort to hit the woodwork and while Donal Kelliher tapped the rebound over the bar, there was a nervous conclusion in store.
Ryan Moore blasted over a point to shave the deficit to the minimum but a defence which featured Kevin McKenna, Paul Carroll and Marcus Mangan held firm. The younger members of the Kerry club made vital contributions yet Daly paid a glowing tribute to the experienced figures.
“Damien Murphy was sick all week but he was a colossus at full-back. He slipped when Lee Moore scored their goal but I was very upset about that as it wasn’t his fault.
“There were problems in the technical area. We were trying to get our sub on and we couldn’t so because of that they had an extra man to create an overlap and they scored the goal. I also thought Joe Daly, our 40-year-old goalkeeper was brilliant.
“What a performance by Mike Burke as well at midfield, who was marking a player in Blaine Gormley that mark my words, will play championship for Derry this year. Then Derek Twiss came on as a sub and who else into the teeth of a wind with an All-Ireland final place at stake would have kicked a point from distance like he did towards the end. It’s a wonderful day for everyone involved.”
Scorers for Milltown/Castlemaine: S Murphy 1-0, I Twiss 0-3 (2fs), D Twiss 0-2 (1f), G Wrenn, D Kelliher 0-1 each.
Scorers for Craigbane: L Moore 1-2 (1f), A McLaughlin 0-2, C O’Kane, R Moore 0-1 each.
MILLTOWN/CASTLEMAINE: J Daly; J Blennerhasset, D Murphy, Kevin McKenna; P Carroll, M Mangan, J O’Connor; M Burke, D Kelliher; J Flynn, S Murphy, G Wrenn; C Moriarty, C Kerins, I Twiss.
Subs: B Delaney for Kelliher (blood) (6), Kelliher for Delaney (21), Delaney for Kelliher (38), D Twiss for Kerins (42), Kelliher for G Wrenn (45), P Wrenn for Mangan (55), Kieran McKenna for I Twiss (61).
CRAIGBANE: P Sharkey; D McLaughlin, F Crossan, M McGinty; B Rainey, R Gormley, C McLaughlin; B Gormley, K McElhinney; A Devine, A McLaughlin, C O’Kane; Ryan Moore, L Moore, G Conwell.
Subs: D Lowry for McElhinney (40), N Reilly for L Moore (53), Rory Moore for C McLaughlin (55).
Referee: Damien Brazil (Offaly).