Admittedly, St Vincent’s still held a one-point lead and weren’t in quite the bother that Dublin found themselves during their O’Byrne Cup defeat there last January. But the game was delicately poised all the same, and there for the taking.
That the 2013 and 2014 Leinster champions ultimately finished strongly to win by a flattering seven-point margin says a lot about them as a team.
Their character certainly can’t be questioned with a strong finale seeing them outscore the Longford champions by 1-5 to 0-2 in the closing 13 minutes.
Shane Carthy hit 1-2 of that late tally and 1-3 in total on a day when he rose to the occasion and helped secure their December 11 final spot alongside Rhode.
All Star Diarmuid Connolly wasn’t as influential though he did kick the 47th-minute point that begun their late spree of scoring.
The Marino club’s panel depth is impressive, with substitutes Albert Martin, who kicked the winner against Ballymun in the county semi-final, and Joe Feeney, an Armagh player this year, both scoring.
Manager Tommy Conroy will feel there is more in the tank, though. Vincent’s have been flattered to overcome the Carlow and now Longford champions by eight and seven-point margins and have maintained their county championship pattern of doing just enough to win.
“You’d like to think they might make it easier on themselves,” said Conroy. “But I think they were a bit unlucky at times today too. We missed a few scores, hit the woodwork. If we’d got those scores, it might have been different.
“But full credit to Mullinalaghta, they showed great heart and never gave up. It was probably the few subs we introduced that made that bit of difference in the end.
“They’re an experienced group of players and have been around a bit. Today, that experience just helped in dealing with what Mullinalaghta were throwing at them which was a tough, physical encounter.”
Mullinalaghta, who took out Stradbally of Laois and Westmeath’s St Loman’s in previous rounds, were aiming to become the first Longford club side to reach the decider.
They gave a strong account of themselves and were unfortunate that Tomas Quinn netted against the run of play for Vins after 16 minutes, a strike that ensured no real daylight would be opened up between the teams despite Mullinalaghta’s strong start.
And when the game was there to be won at the death, they simply lacked the experience and panel depth to get it done. They also lost midfielder John Keegan to a straight red card in the 64th minute, though the game was already decided at that late stage.
“We could have set up a massed defence and tried to frustrate them but that wasn’t us,” said Mullinalaghta manager Mickey Graham, the former Cavan forward. “We went out to play football and I think beforehand people probably would have thought at half-time they’d be heading for the gates with that sort of approach by us. But they were treated to some lovely football from both sides. I’m just so proud of those lads.
“They were bringing on lads with inter-county experience and then you look at all the former and current Dublin players they had, also lads who had played U21 for Dublin. We don’t have that luxury, but as regards heart and determination you couldn’t have asked for more from our lads.”
Rian Brady was a livewire up front for the hosts and hit two first-half points while Gary Rogers troubled the Vins defence.
Mullinalaghta led 0-6 to 1-2 after 20 minutes but bursts of three and two points without reply from Conroy’s charges put the north Dubliners 1-7 to 0-8 up at half-time.
Rogers kicked a great score from distance after the restart to leave one in it again but it was a poor third quarter generally with just that score registered.
Vins eventually got their act together and Connolly’s point appeared to focus them with sustained scoring from then on to slowly turn the screw on St Columba’s.
Carthy was unlucky to hit the post with a fine shot but eventually got his goal in the 59th minute when he finished off a good move with a close-range finish.
S Carthy (1-3), T Quinn (1-2, 2 frees), E Varley (0-2), Cormac Diamond, R Trainor, D Connolly, A Martin and J Feeney (0-1 each).
D McGivney (0-3, 3f), R Brady, J Matthews and G Rogers (0-2 each), J McGivney and S Mulligan (0-1 each).
M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, C Wilson; B Egan, G Brennan, Cameron Diamond; D Murphy, D Connolly; D Burke, S Carthy, Cormac Diamond; R Trainor, E Varley, T Quinn.
J Feeney for Murphy (41), A Martin for Burke (41), N Mullins for Cormac Diamond (49), K Golden for Cameron Diamond (49), M Loftus for Varley (61).
P Rogers; P Fox, S Cadam, J Mooney; S Mulligan, D McElligott, C Brady; R McElligott, J Keegan; G Rogers, J McGivney, D McGivney; J Matthews, A McElligott, R. Brady.
M Cunningham for R McElligott (42), F Mulligan for C Brady (54).
D Moore (Laois).