When Ciaran Charlton knocked over his fifth point of the afternoon to put Kiltimagh two points ahead with just two minutes left in their All-Ireland junior club final against Castlegregory at Croke Park today, it looked as if this was the score that was going to seal a rare Mayo win over Kerry opposition on All-Ireland final day. Indeed, I even dared to tweet in such terms at that point but barely had I done so when a messy goal was conceded at the other end. Although Charlton did manage to take the game to extra-time with his sixth pointed free a few minutes later, the Mayo lads were nearly dead on their feet by then and Castlegregory’s stronger bench enabled them to pull clear and win by two points, 1-14 to 0-15, in the end.
This outcome was desperately hard luck on Kiltimagh, especially so for goalkeeper Peter Burke and top scorer Ciaran Charlton, for both of whom today’s loss marked a third defeat in an All-Ireland final. It was all the more so because the Mayo lads had led for most of the game and, for the bulk of normal time, they’d looked the likelier winners.
The first half was largely a point-swapping exercise, with Kiltimagh spending most of the period either one or two ahead and when they went in at the break with an 0-6 to 0-4 lead, they were looking very comfortable against a Kerry outfit that had beaten lumps out of every club they’d come up against since winning the junior Kerry crown.
When Tomas Morley smacked over Kiltimagh’s seventh point to put them three ahead eight minutes into the second half, it began to look like it might be their day but it was then that Castlegregory stirred themselves and three points on the trot put them in front for the first time in the contest with 15 minutes to go. A Charlton free levelled the match and the two sides then swapped points before Kiltimagh’s late two-point spurt seemed to have sealed the win for the lads from Raftery country. But then came that sickening Castlegregory goal and Charlton’s late, late point to take the match to extra-time.
Michael Schlingermann, who came on just before full-time and put a long-range free narrowly wide before Charlton’s leveller, drew first blood with a quick point right from the off in extra-time but this was cancelled out by Alan McNamara for Castlegregory and then Shane Hennessy boomed over a monster point from over 50 yards out to give the Kerry lads a lead they wouldn’t subsequently lose. Half-time in extra-time came with Kiltimagh two points down and with lads dropping from cramp and tiredness all over the place, it was clear that something special would now be required if the title was to be won.
Kiltimagh gave it absolutely everything in that second period of extra-time but although they managed to get within a point of their Kerry rivals, they never succeeded in getting back on terms. A late free from Ciaran Charlton fell short and Castlegregory swept downfield to claim the point that ensured yet another junior title would go to Kerry and that yet another All-Ireland final would be won by a Kerry side at the expense of a Mayo team.
Hard luck, lads – for a few tantalising moments, it looked like you were going to do it and you’ve given your home place much to be proud about, both on the way to today’s final and in the way you performed at HQ this afternoon. Ultimately, it wasn’t to be for Kiltimagh today but their brave quest to reach the summit will still go down in the club’s history as a campaign to remember.