A year on from Kevin McCarthy’s Croke Park hat-trick which sealed AIB All-Ireland intermediate club success for Kilcummin, his pal and namesake Ian repeated the trick for Na Gaeil in the junior decider.
“I know Kevin well, I might give him an auld text,” smiled game-breaker McCarthy whose 3-2 alone was more than an overwhelmed Rathgarogue-Cushinstown managed in the entire game.
That’s how it’s been for Kerry teams in the junior grade with the Tralee outfit curiously matching the landslide 21-point win of Kingdom colleagues Beaufort in last year’s final.
In all, it’s a fifth junior win in six seasons for Kerry teams though with domination comes expectation and there was as much relief as jubilation for Na Gaeil when they got the job done.
“Obviously we’re absolutely over the moon but there’s definitely a bit of relief there as well, yeah,” said McCarthy, a former Kerry minor. “We won our championship the final week in May, I think, so you’re looking back over eight months since we got out of Kerry. It’s been a fairly drawn out thing, but it’s absolutely magic now.”
Save for the first 20 minutes when Donal Rooney’s men appeared to be gauging the temperature of the game and sussing out their opposition, it was all Na Gaeil who outscored the Leinster champions by 3-17 to 1-1 from there.
The key to Na Gaeil’s dominance was their implementation of a powerful press on the opposition kick-out, a tactic which yielded the opening goal when Dara Devine stole possession and fed McCarthy, and kept Rathgarogue-Cushinstown penned in for long spells.
“At the start they were getting the better of us and we were kind of worried,” said McCarthy. “But we had an idea of what we wanted to do and once we saw them kick it out in real time, a couple of times, then we got a better grasp of it. It’s very hard to know from videos but we got a bit more of a sense that he was going to try everything risky basically.”
Short kickouts carry an inherent risk for sure but then Rathgarogue-Cushinstown goalkeeper Nicky Sinnott, who converted a penalty close to half-time which threw them a brief lifeline, could argue that what awaited a long kickout to midfield was even more risky; Kerry senior duo Jack Barry and Diarmuid O’Connor.
So they continued to go short and Na Gaeil took full advantage, returning 1-5 without reply before Sinnott’s penalty conversion to lead 1-8 to 1-4 at the interval and then adding another unanswered 1-8 after the restart to kill the game.
Captain Eoin Doody was terrific, hitting the first three points of the earlier 1-5 blitzkrieg, while Diarmaid Herlihy and Mike Griffin cut a dash with their kicking into the Canal End in the second-half.
Barry got on the scoresheet too as did substitute Paul Daly who, in his early 40s, is older than the Na Gaeil club itself, which was founded in 1979.
Manager Rooney confirmed his departure afterwards, citing the considerable workload involved and a young family at home. His last act then was to preside over an All-Ireland win in which his team produced an almost perfect performance.
“Not far from it to be fair, not far off it,” Rooney agreed.
What about next year in the intermediate ranks under new management, can they progress and perhaps do what Templenoe have done in recent seasons, enjoying success in the higher grade?
“100%,” said Rooney. “I’m not saying they’ll win intermediate next year but they certainly won’t be far away from it.”
McCarthy’s 3-2, for the record, was the largest ever return in a junior club final, eclipsing the 3-1 scored by Templenoe’s Stephen O’Sullivan in 2016 and the 1-7 managed by both Bryan Sheehan for St Mary’s in 2011 and Paul Galvin for Finuge in 2005.
“I’d say I haven’t scored three goals in about 10 years combined,” smiled McCarthy, who wrapped up the hat-trick by rounding Sinnott in the 64th minute and goaling.
“When I got the second it was hard not to have it in your mind, ‘Jeez, wouldn’t it be unreal to get the hat-trick’. Then the ball came in and I probably could have passed it but there wasn’t a hope in hell. Because I might never play here again.”
I McCarthy (3-2); E Doody (1f), M Griffin, D Herlihy and D Devine (2f) (0-3 each); R O’Neill, D Goggin, J Barry, D Reen, D Bourke and P Daly (1 free) (0-1 each).
N Sinnott (1-0, pen); D Bolger (0-2, 2 frees); J Dunne, D Martin Carroll and T Cody (0-1 each).
T Culloty; D Bourke, E O’Neill, R O’Neill; E Doody, A Barry, K O’Donovan; D O’Connor, J Barry; I McCarthy, D Devine, D Goggin; M Griffin, D O’Connor, D Herlihy.
K Dineen for O’Connor (42); E Walsh for E O ‘Neill (46); J Lowham for Griffin, D Reen for Goggin (48); J O’Connor for O’Donovan (49), P Daly for Doody (58).
N Sinnott; P McGrath, P Cody, P Murphy; B Cody, E Porter, B O’Neill; D Martin Carroll, M Cody; T Cody, R Murphy, B Furlong; E Cummins, D Bolger, J Dunne.
M Power for O’Neill (24); O Bolger for McGrath (36); A Ryan for Cummins (42); L O’Connor for R Murphy (56); J Kelly for Sinnott, P Barron for Bolger (58). Referee: S Lonergan (Tipperary).