Kilmacud Crokes celebrate a third consecutive Leinster football title, and seventh overall, a joint record with two other clubs, at Croke Park on Saturday. I[npho/Ken Sutton]

Crokes make it 3 in Leinster

Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin)  1-14; Naas (Kildare) 0-10

Great teams have a penchant for finding a way to win in close encounters of the GAA kind and you would have to doff your hat to Kilmacud for finding this escape to victory route more than most over the past three seasons.

Naas were as good as them for long stretches of this Leinster club football final in Croke Park on Saturday afternoon, but when the witching hour came, it was the lads in purple and goal who found a way to administer the killer blow. 

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Watching this match, either Glen or Scotstown, who meet in the Ulster SF club final this coming weekend will fancy their chances but they also know, especially the Derry champions, how resilient the South Co. Dublin unit can be, as was evidenced in last year’s All Ireland final.

Now with three in a row of provincial campaigns signed off on successfully, they can gain a breather before embarking on a sailing to deliver back-to-back All Ireland titles early next month.

Unlike most teams, Crokes are made up mostly of genuinely gifted club players and a sprinkling of top stars like Paul Mannion and Shane Walsh in their attack. It invariably leads to one or the other, or both, taking the leading role on such big occasions.

On Saturday, it was the Galway star who had his gun out of its holster shooting the lights out with a magnificent personal tally of 1-8 to his name, the goal coming at the death when every Naas player, including their goalkeeper Luke Mullins, had gone forward in search of a goal to bring them back into the game.

Mannion, fresh from an All Ireland victory and unlucky not to get another All-Star, seems to find renewed energy with his teammates at this home club. "It’s the same as with Dublin, you are just trying to focus on one game at a time. We know this is a massive achievement for the club. What keeps us coming back is this feeling. It’s easy when you are winning and you are being successful, but for years there we weren’t.

"That was the hard part, getting everyone together, a good management team that really believes in the team. We’re riding on the crest of a wave now and we’ll hopefully keep it going," he told RTE.

However, it was ‘22 All Star Shane Walsh who led the team to victory this time around as he emerged as man of the match following his scoring exploits. 

He killed off the Lily brave hearts when flying forward before kicking from way out on the left into an empty net.

"I took a solo and spotted the goalkeeper out, so it was about getting past the last defender and sitting it into the goal. It was a nice way to finish a game rather than it going the other way,” he explained.

Make no mistake about it, but Naas were in this game right to the death and were seeking that game changing goal when only two points behind with an hour’s play on the clock.

Walsh and Rory O'Carroll shot points to ease Dublin nerves before Walsh delivered the coup de grace with his 64th minute goal from distance to ensure the club’s seventh provincial title, drawing them alongside previous kingpins St Vincent’s Dublin and Portlaoise.

Not for the first time, when an opponent threatened as Naas did, Crokes were able to dig deep and  score 1-2 without reply to leave their rivals shell-shocked at the clinical way they had been dispatched.

Kilmacud Crokes: D Higgins; D O'Brien, T Clancy, R O'Carroll (0-1); C O'Connor, A McGowan, M O'Leary; C Dias (0-1), B Sheehy; S Horan (0-2), P Mannion (0-1f), D Mullin (0-1); H Kenny, S Cunningham, S Walsh (1-8, 0-5f) Subs: D Murphy for Kenny h/t, Ca Pearson for Mullin 38, L Ward for Cunningham 50, D Dempsey for O'Connor 50, J Murphy for Dias 58.

Naas: L Mullins; M Maguire, C McCarthy, C Daly; B Byrne; P McDermott, E Doyle, E Prizeman; P McDermott (0-1), J Burke; A Beirne (0-4), D Hanafin (0-1), J McKevitt; S Hanafin, D Kirwan (0-4, 0-2f) Subs: K Cummins for P McDermott 50, T Browne for Prizeman 50, N Aherne for D Hanafin 58, S Cullen for McKevitt 60.

Ref: D Hickey (Carlow)

St Brigid's (Roscommon) 1-13; Corofin (Galway) 2-5

Now then, tell me who was expecting that? A five-point Connacht victory by the underdogs from Roscommon but really there was only ever one team on the front foot as St Brigid’s lowered Corofin’s colors in no uncertain terms at Dr Hyde Park on a dank and dreary December Sunday.

Only twice, when defender Liam Silke got in for a Galway goal on the cusp of the interval and skipper Dylan McHugh burying the second midway through the second half did anyone doubt the outcome, but the young and brilliantly marshaled  young Rossies only used that reverse to propel themselves forward with great efforts and slick passing to leave their vaunted opponents chasing shadows by game’s end.

The winner’s defense was magnificent in the way they held the visiting side to seven scores across the hour with Brian Stack, Pearse Frost and Robbie Dolan outstanding in anticipating and closing down space.

Led by the superb Ben O’Carroll, who ended up with a haul of 1-7, the Roscommon champions outplayed their more fancied Galway counterparts and deservedly claimed the Shane McGettigan Cup.

The Saints had started the better and once O’Carroll converted a 14th minute foul on Alan Daly with a green flag, they got the extra belief to not just match but take the game to Corofin, who had looked very composed in their run through Connacht.

That’s not to say that the losers didn’t try might and main to find the rhythm that so many opponents just couldn’t handle. 

Conor Cunningham thought he had lifted them back into the game as it entered the second quarter but his thundering shot smacked off the woodwork and came harmlessly back into  play. Points still followed from Darragh Silke and Jack McCabe and that was the microcosm in time when you wondered if they would kick on and overwhelm their young opponents.

This they tried to do but Brigid’s showed remarkable composure not just to quell that tidal wave but to hit back with a small tsunami of their own by scoring four points on the trot, with O’Carroll accounting for a brace, one from play and Bobby Nugent landing two further placed balls to give them a seven-point cushion.

Silke’s goal following great approach work by Micheál Lundy proved to be a false dawn rather than a genuine comeback moment as the two sides trundled in for half time with the homesters 1-6 to 1-2 to the good.

Corofin threw the kitchen sink at them on the restart to try to narrow the gap and skipper Dylan McHugh finally found the net to cut the lead to the minimum.

Despite the goals, the home defense were mostly masters of play at their end and with O’Carroll and Brian Stack raising white flags at the other end, the  pressure was back on Corofin to find another killer goal.

Two big points from Ruaidhrí Fallon and Ciarán Sugrue pushed the margin beyond their opponents and led to joyous scenes of celebration with the sounding of the final whistle.

St Brigid’s: C Sheehy; R Dolan, B Stack (0-1), P Frost; R Stack, A Daly, R Fallon (0-1); E Nolan, S Cunnane; B Nugent (0-3f), P McGrath, C Hand; B O’Carroll (1-7, 0-4f, 1-0 pen), B Derwin, C Sugrue (0-1) Subs: J Cunningham for Hand (51), C Gleeson for Derwin (57), S Trundle for McGrath (60).

Corofin: B Power; L Silke (1-0), C Cunningham, R Mahon; B Cogger, D McHugh (1-0), G Burke; P Egan, C Brady; D Wall, D Silke (0-1 '45), MFarragher; G Sice (0-2, 0-1f), M Lundy, J McCabe (0-2) Subs: K Molloy for Wall (h-t), C Newell for D Silke (43), D Burke for Farragher (47), G McHugh for Burke (53), T Gill for Egan (58).

Ref: B Judge (Sligo).

Cushendall (Antrim) 0-20; Slaughtneil (Derry) 2-10

These two teams give hurling hope that it can flourish and grow outside of the eight or nine counties which have dominated the game at club and intercounty levels since GAA time began.

Slaughtneil have proved that hurlers and footballers can play at a high level and still perform without burnout while Cushendall are the sort of club that has driven Antrim on for decades with their input.

In this Ulster final you could make a case for either side to deliver and it will be interesting to see now how the Antrim side perform in the rest of the series against  new Leinster champions, O’Loughlin Gaels, who are good Kilkenny club champions but not in Ballyhale Shamrocks’ league.

In Newry on Sunday, Caus were the better hurlers and the better-organized hurling team and had several top class showings from such players as Ruairi McCollam, man of the match Ed McQuillan, Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell and the ubiquitous Ryan McCambridge always smelling dangers and then more often than not repelling it.

They were sharper and keener to the ball, maybe that was a result of extra time and a shock against Portaferry a few weeks earlier. Factor in too that their opponents, Slaughtneil had to wait in the wings for 11 weeks since winning their own Derry final to test themselves and you get an idea of why the winners were always looking good in this tie.

It is probably no coincidence either that it took until the second half before the Derry boys found a higher plane to operate on and then they started to look the part as they whittled away at the Cushendall lead. However the vital goal that could have transformed the game never came although there were a few close shaves for the winners.

We will soon know how good Cushendall are before Christmas as they are set to take on the Gaels the weekend after next.

Cushendall: C McAlister; P Burke, L Gillan, M Burke; S Walsh (0-1), E Campbell (0-1), R McCollam; F McCurry, R McCambridge; R McAteer (0-2), N McManus (0-8, 0-6f, 0-1 65), F McCambridge (0-1); E McQuillan (0-4), N McCormack, J McLaughlin (0-3) Subs: A Delargy for McCormack (49).

Slaughtneil: O O'Doherty; P McNeill, S Cassidy, S McGuigan (0-1); C McKaigue, RÓ Mianáin, M McGrath; J Cassidy, B Rogers (0-1); G Bradley, M McGuigan (0-1), E Cassidy (1-0);  S McGuigan (0-2), C O’Doherty (0-4f), K McKaigue Subs: Shéa Cassidy (1-00) for G Bradley (21), Jerome McGuigan for E Cassidy (41), Peter McCullagh (0-01) for M McGuigan (49).

Ref: J Clarke (Cavan).

O'Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny) 0-22; Na Fianna (Dublin) 1-18 

The kudos go to Na Fianna for making their maiden voyage into Leinster such a tour de force but ultimately they weren’t clinical enough to oust Kilkenny kingpins  O’Loughlin Gaels in the provincial hurling final at Croke Park on Saturday evening.

Two men in the Cats lineup proved a cut above with Mark Bergin accounting for no less than 11 points, including the late, late winner, while Paddy Deegan produced one of the all-time great center-back dominations that also saw him score five points from play over the course of the hour.

Even at this stage, the Gaels will be confident of accounting for Antrim side Cushendall in the All Ireland semi-final while Waterford champions Ballygunner look the likely favorites going forth from the provincial series.

O’Loughlin’s always had a few points to spare through the opening half and led by two points at the break,  before a brace of Colin Currie points on the resumption brought the side level at 0-11 apiece.

When Colin turned provider for his brother Sean to get the only goal of the game eight minutes into the second-half, the prospect of a fairytale first season end for Na Fianna looked to be on. 

The Gaels fought back and such was the closeness of the action that the sides were level half a dozen times in the second moiety. Na Fianna made another bold bolt for glory when the Mobhi Road side led by one point, 1-18 to 0-20 with two minutes to go. Could they hold out? Luke Hogan had different ideas as he landed the equalizer before the great Bergin kept his cool to strike the winning score.

O'Loughlin Gaels: S Murphy; T Forristal, H Lawlor, M Butler; D Fogarty (0-2), P Deegan (0-5), J Molloy; J Nolan (0-1), C Loy (0-1); C Heary (0-1), MBergin (0-11, 0-9f), E O'Shea; P Butler, O Wall, S Bolger Subs: L Hogan (0-1) for P Butler 26, C Kelly for Loy 49, J Ryan for Nolan 54.

Na Fianna: J Treacy; S Burke, C McHugh, D Clerkin; P O'Dea, L Rushe, K Burke; B Ryan (0-3), P Feeney; J Tierney (0-1), M Murphy, S Currie (1-1); C Stacey, AJ Murphy (0-2), C Currie (0-11, 0-9f) Subs: D Ryan for O'Dea 13, S Barrett for Feeney 46, S Baxter for Stacey 53, G King for Tierney 60.

Ref: C Flynn (Westmeath).

Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-24; Clonlara (Clare) 0-17

Who is going to stop Ballygunner in the remaining games as they strive to win their second All Ireland club title in three years?

With Ballyhale out of contention, the Deise club with 10-in-a-row completed internally within county boundaries, have now made it three in succession in Munster. 

Clonlara came to the final after showing great heart and commitment to earn a place in the final but they were never in this game as the all-conquering Waterford squad had much too much  on all levels.

First half goals from the irrepressible  Dessie Hutchinson and a wonder-team goal involving up to a dozen players which saw Kevin Mahony lash home  meant the Gunners were in command and suffocated their rivals by continuing to score at will, ending up 13 points ahead of a game but out classed Banner outfit.

The Mahony brothers, Pauric with 0-10 and Kevin with 1-4),  are unstoppable at the moment particularly when  you factor in the form and scoring prowess of Hutchinson 1-1 and man-of-the-match Peter Hogan who landed four great points for his side.

However, it’s not just the forwards who are doing the business, in defense, they are as tight as tuppence by holding the finest teams from Cork, Limerick and now Clare to an average of 13 point per game - a sensation in hurling terms.


Munster SH Club Final

Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-24; Clonlara (Clare) 0-17

Leinster SH Club Final

O'Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny) 0-22; Na Fianna (Dublin) 1-18 

Connacht SF Club Final

St Brigid's (Roscommon) 1-13; Corofin (Galway) 2-5

Ulster SH Club Final

Cushendall (Antrim) 0-20; Slaughtneil (Derry) 2-10

Leinster SF Club Final

Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) 1-14; Naas (Kildare) 0-10