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Naomh Éanna bid for All-Ireland glory

Antrim and Ulster Intermediate football champions Naomh Éanna booked their place in the All-Ireland Club IFC final with an impressive seven-point victory over An Spidéal of Galway in Páirc Tailteann last month and they take on Kerry and Munster champions Kilcummin in Saturday’s decider at Croke Park Antrim and Ulster Intermediate football champions Naomh Éanna booked their place in the All-Ireland Club IFC final with an impressive seven-point victory over An Spidéal of Galway in Páirc Tailteann last month and they take on Kerry and Munster champions Kilcummin in Saturday’s decider at Croke Park
By Paddy Tierney

AIB All-Ireland Club Intermediate Football Final
Naomh Éanna v Kilcummin (Saturday, 4.45pm, Croke Park)

NAOMH Éanna will bid to become the seventh Ulster winner of the All-Ireland Club Intermediate Football title when they take on Kilcummin of Kerry in Saturday’s decider in Croke Park.

Last year, Tyrone champions Moy Tír na nÓg triumphed 1-10 to 0-7 over Michael Glavey’s of Roscommon.

Previously, Truagh Gaels (2014), Cookstown Fr Rock’s (2010 and 2013), Lisnaskea Emmett’s (2011) and Inniskeen Grattens (2006) had sealed Intermediate glory.

Yet, Kerry sides have a formidable record at this level also – winning five times with the most recent being St Mary’s Cahirciveen’s victory in 2016.

In an ironic twist of fate, the extension of the All-Ireland Club Championships to include the Junior and Intermediate grades in 2004 came about during Sean Kelly’s presidential tenure. Kelly is a Kilcummin native and he’ll have every reason to think his clubmen can clinch All-Ireland glory. The bookies rate the Kerrymen as 1/2 shots.

Yet, they only had one point to spare in their semi-final clash with Two Mile House of Kildare.

Naomh Éanna had a much more comfortable afternoon in Navan when they put Galway’s An Spidéal to the sword on a scoreline of 3-9 to 0-11.

First half majors from Kristian Healy, Ruairi Scott and Joe Maskey sent the Hightown men on their way.

Such is the standard they set themselves, captain James McAuley stressed they weren’t fully satisfied with their performance in the last four.

“Everyone is enjoying their football and the games can’t come quick enough,” stated McAuley.

“We are playing good football and we are enjoying our football. All the hard work has been done over the winter.

“It was great to score three goals against An Spidéal, but we weren’t completely happy with our first half performance.

“We conceded three points on the bounce going into half-time and we conceded seven frees out of a total of 11 points so we still have plenty to work on.”

Croke Park
Still, McAuley is acutely aware of the frightening pace Naomh Éanna have in their locker.

As the team’s centre half-back, he is often the instigator of their blistering counter attacks.

Few teams have been able to live with their speed of play with Tyrone champions Tattyreagh coming closest to halting their progress in the provincial semi-final.

Even still, Naomh Éanna eked out a two-point win and the wide open spaces of Croke Park ought to play to their strengths.

“Any time I have been speaking to Frank (Fitzsimons) about it, he has been saying that, on paper at least, Croke Park would be built for our team because it is wide open and it will allow us to kick the ball,” said McAuley.

“If it doesn’t come down to that, we are able to run the ball as good as any team in the country, I think.
“Hopefully we can show that on Saturday because we probably haven’t had that eight or nine out of 10 performance yet. We are hoping it comes in the final.”

History
When Naomh Éanna defeated Mullahoran to capture the Ulster title, they became the first Antrim football side to win provincial honours at Intermediate level.

Indeed, Colin Brady is the only Antrim man to captain a side to an All-Ireland club football crown having led St Gall’s to their Senior title in 2010.

McAuley will be hoping to follow in his footsteps by climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand on Saturday evening.
“It is like your childhood dream – to be playing a Kerry team at Croke Park in an All-Ireland final,” said McAuley.

“It will be an unreal experience and it would be great to bring the All-Ireland back up the road to Hightown.
“We’ll enjoy the build-up, but there’s a game to be played at the end of the day and we’ve a job to do.

“We’ve learned with every game and our performance level has probably raised with every game, especially throughout the Ulster campaign.

“We beat Doohamlet, Tattyreagh then Mullahoran. Looking back, you’d probably say An Spidéal was our best performance.

“For a young team, we are learning with every game and we are learning from our mistakes. Hopefully, we’ll continue that progression.”

Manager, Frank Fitzsimons is hoping to have a full hand to pick from with midfielder Ethan Gibson expected to recover from the hand injury he picked up in the closing stages of the All-Ireland semi-final.

Kilcummin are also returning to full strength after Kerry senior panelist Kevin McCarthy, younger brother of former Kingdom star Mike McCarthy, recovered from injury to play a part in their win over Two Mile House.

Former Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy is also an integral member of their squad and Naomh Éanna will need to be at their brilliant best to prevail on Saturday night.

Ulster sides have a great record in this competition, but so too do Kerry teams. Something has to give.
Naomh Éanna have shown enough class, speed and tenacity in their campaign to date to suggest they are more than capable of making further history under the lights at Croke Park.

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