To say the senior side of Kilcullen GAA has suffered a torturous past few years is very much an understatement. The reality of the situation is that it is as low as it can go as the senior players in the club struggle to deliver performances that the younger generation can look up and aspire to.
On Saturday in Hawkfield our U21’s put that worrying trend right, delivering a performance built on hard work, determination and outright self-belief. On Saturday’s our U21’s, against all the odds, brought home the Championship that Kilcullen GAA has yearned for these past years.
Yes…It was the ‘D’ championship but make no mistake the effort and dedication it takes to win the ‘D’ championships is no less than it takes to win the ‘A’. These U21’s got together in August when it was still nice summer football with long balmy evenings. These lads gave a commitment to each other that they would stick together true thick and thin and the measure of that commitment could be seen the last few weeks with 20 lads training in the harshest conditions together as the honoured that commitment.
After getting out of jail in the drawn match, with a four-point swing in the dying minutes, the U21’s knew that they had gotten a lifeline and Saturday in Hawkfield there were going to deliver, there was no other option.
A few tactical changes by the management team immediately forced Grange to switch their half back into full back to mark Big Ben Foran. Grange elected to play into the wind after winning the toss hoping to limit the Rags to as few as scores as possible and take their own opportunities in the second half.
This suited Kilcullen as the management were united in their belief that whatever elements are there take them when you have them. Kilcullen were happy to play wind assisted as that is what they had banked on.
From the off the tactic was clear, use Foran at full forward and try to exploit what Kilcullen felt as the opponent’s weakness, their full back line and keeper. Graham Lavin got the first score of the game on 8 minutes but Grange, into the wind hit right back a minute after with a well taken point. David Sexton, playing in a tailored made free roll, added the next score and Lavin added another point on 12 minutes to give Kilcullen a 0-03 to 0-01 lead.
Ross ‘The Sniffer’ Coughlan made the decisive breakthrough for Kilcullen in the 15th minute taken a well-executed goal and credit to the opposition they stayed calm to tack on two points of their own to leave the score 1-03 to 0-03 in favour of Kilcullen.
Coughlan added another on 22 mins before the man marked Alan Kenny slotted over on 27mins. The most decisive play of the first half came just before half time as the Kilcullen tactic to pressurise the full back line and goalkeeper as captain Garry Kenny (or was it Ben Foran) slotted home from long range with Alan Kenny adding a second points right on the stroke at half time.
Some say the goal was a fluke and to be honest if you were a neutral you might agree but it was a concerted plan to drop ball in on top of the opponents Keeper to test his metal and it proved fruitful for Kilcullen. The Rags went into the break with a healthy 2-06 to 0-03 advantage but knew the second half would be Grange’s time to shine.
Indeed, the Grange team came out in the second half with renewed vigour and immediately rattled in two goals on 4 and 5 mins to have Kilcullen on the back foot. With their lead instantly whittled down to just 3 points after 5 minutes the neutral money was now on Grange.
It was at this point that the Kilcullen management team worked their magic from the side-line. An inspired move to bring Sexton back to sweeper to negate the rampant Grange attack proved pivotal as the ‘Thinker’ Sexton put himself in the right position time after time to intercept and breakdown attacks and assist his half back line.
Kilcullen started to grow in confidence as they began to pin Grange back with intelligent use of the ball into the wind. Kenny, Lavin excelled at holding the ball up and developing intelligent play, a tactic they had worked on mid-week.
Ben Foran got Kilcullens first point of the second half on 8 mins before Graham Lavin rounded off Kilcullen’s scoring on 12 minutes with another point.
Grange kept battling away but the performance once again by Kilcullens backs was outstanding as they limited Grange to just an additional two points themselves on 14 and 22 minutes.
As the clock ticked down so did Grange’s composure as their number 6 was sent to the line for a second yellow. Another Yellow and a black card for Grange signalled to the Kilcullen management that their race was run.
Kilcullen introduced Rob Byrne and Tim Carey to add some fresh impetus to the midfield and attack while the rest of the team grew in stature with every passing minute.
When the final whistle sounded the Rags and Ragettes assembled poured onto the pitch in honour of their brave heroes. 2-08 to 2-05 was the final score in a match that served to bring fresh hope back to senior side of Kilcullen GAA.
A visit to the club’s juvenile awards day followed straight after the match. The U21’s were given a rapturous standing ovation as they entered the room to display the cup to all the up and coming Kilcullen juveniles.
What does this mean for Kilcullen GAA? What is means is simply this! There is talent in our club and the talent is willing and ready to perform if the structure is there to support them. This bunch of lads displayed this past few months that togetherness, dedication and a plan can work if the commitment is given by all.
Remarkably only two of the starting 15 will miss out on U21 next year! The majority of the team have at least another 2 years at that age group with all these young men proving that given the chance their blood only runs black and white and they can do a job for Kilcullen.
Who are these young men? In goal Dylan Aulsberry stood up and was counted when asked to almost do the unthinkable and play in goal. Dylan did even question the request, instead he rolled up his sleeves and did what he needed to do and man did he do it with class.
The full back line of Jack Dooley, Ben Phelan and Colm O Brien all fresh out of minor. In Fact, Dooley and Phelan only miss out on another year of minor by a few weeks. These lads were the foundation of everything that was good about the U21 team. The rest of the team knew they could count on this trio to deliver and boy did they do just that match after match. What a future for these young men!
The half back line led by captain fantastic and some say the scorer of the goal before half time Garry Kenny. Kenny is a natural leader and he led from the front. Crunching tackles and interceptions in the final 15 mins signalled what Kilcullen GAA means to him and with the attack minded Jamie Caples and the uber constant David McMahon alongside these 3 and indeed the back 7 were a formidable force.
At centre field Adam Noone is a hidden gem in the realms of Kilcullen GAA. A work horse with an engine the envy of many and a man to do a job, kick points and break down attacks. A mid fielder with a twist Noone has a wonderful all round game.
Colm Byrne pulled on his mid field jersey for the final and if metres were counted Byrne would have certainly ranked high in the most metres covered for Kilcullen. Most of those metres were with the ball on his toe and when not assisting in attack ‘Coli’ was fielding ball in the full back line and relieving pressure.
Graham Lavin, Tom Hennessy and Davi Sexton made up the half forward line with Sexton dropping deep to almost be the brains of the team. A what a brain he has! Remember this young man is only a few months back from surgery and was not even in the starting line up in the opening round of the championship. What an all-rounder but with a footballing brain to set him apart from the rest.
Graham Lavin tormented defences throughout the campaign and kicked some vital frees at vital times while Tom Hennessy was a defender’s nightmare when he switched on the afterburners.
Alan Kenny was man marked for both games against Grange and he still managed contribute with vital scores. Ross Coughlan, another who did not start early in the campaign, forced his way back into the starting line-up. After all, when a lad gets a bus from Donegal for training how can you leave him out. That kind of dedication is unmeasurable.
Finally, Big Ben Foran, a man who spent most the campaign at mid field was asked to fulfil a different role for the reply. A Role he appeared to revel in if training was anything to go by. Foran gave Kilcullen a plan A & B and the team knew that if they needed to Foran was a man who would put his body on the line for the team.
Off the bench Kilcullen had players of the calibre of Tim Carey, Rob Byrne, Stephen Willis, Luke Dowling, Joe Carey and Stephen Ryan. A bench that in the end made the difference on more than one occasion.
Finally, credit must go to the management team led by Kevin O Brien and Brian Bell. These lads had the insight to bring in other help when needed as well as serving to galvanise this team of lads into a formidable force and indeed the team to beat.
It’s a championship for Kilcullen and fingers crossed the start of upturn in fortunes for the senior side of Kilcullen GAA. Give these lads the opportunity and they won’t let you down, after all haven’t they just gone and proven that!