27 February 2004
Its seldom that an All-Ireland Feile title comes Cavans way. Even more rare when a national hurling crown is scooped. Mullahorans Under 14 troupe in 2003 are entitled to take a bow.
Mullahorans achievement in winning an All-Ireland Feile Under 14 hurling title last June didnt exactly stop clocks in Breffni land.
Indeed, the young Dreadnoughs victory predictably just barely squeezed into the psyche of your commoner-garden Cavan GAA fan.
Given the traditional imbalance in support which is afforded to hurling and football by Cavan gaels, one could hardly expect anything different.
And, significantly, team-manager Sean Farrell is not inclined to get carried away and predict a great hurling revolution in Cavan as a consequence of the success of the Mullahoran under 14 hurlers.
"We can only do our best to promote hurling in Mullahoran. Its up to the other clubs in the county to get things moving at underage level but, certainly, we seem to be doing alright," Sean insists.
Mullahorans success at the Feile would be regarded by supporters and enthusiasts of the small ball game in football-mad Cavan as suggestive of a really healthy situation in Mullahoran hurling circles.
However with years of experience behind him, Sean is that wee bit more guarded about the possible spin-offs we can expect to emerge from Mullahorans heroics.
But given the time and effort put in by Sean in hurling circles in Cavan over the last number of years, one can readily understand his conservative assessment of his clubs national triumph
Sean understands, more than anyone, that Rome wasnt built in a day.
That said, along with fellow selectors Eamon Dalton and Vincie Dolan, Sean admits, in fact, that he wasnt overly surprised by the achievement of Mullahoran in scooping the Feile title in Westmeath last summer.
"It didnt take me by complete surprise because we have been knocking on the door at Feile level over the last four or five years.
"Ever since we took part in the competition in 1998, weve been winning at least one match every year and getting better every year.
"Getting competitive matches by playing in the Westmeath under 14 league has helped bring on the lads a lot too.
"The fact that the team has played at least eight competitive matches in Westmeath for the last two years has been of great benefit to the players, especially when it comes to taking part in the Feile.
"Those matches have helped give the team a competitive edge and the fact that the team only lost two matches in the Westmeath league in 2003 helped the players confidence too.
"Winning the tournament in Ringtown was another big boost," Sean explains.
The Mullahoran under 14 squad, under the aforementioned triumvirates guidance, began the year with their shoulders to the wheel and with their minds firmly focussed on embellishing their fine pedigree.
The years training schedule began in March with twice-weekly sessions serving to help the young enthusiasts hone their skills, improve their fitness and generate a good spirit within the camp.
One wonders did Sean believe that his charges were national champions in-waiting when the year kicked off?
"I wasnt totally convinced that they were going to win the Feile but we knew that they were a gritty bunch, determined and as good as any of the panels we have had since 98 when we acquitted ourselves fairly well among some strong opposition in Wexford.
"We felt that the teams based in Westmeath would be that bit weaker than those in Wexford from a few years ago and those in Cork in 2001.
"But we had confidence in our own lads too, regardless of the opposition.
"We felt we had a well-balanced team which had the potential to do very well in Westmeath."
As things panned out in the 2003 Feile competition, the Mullahoran schoolboys proved to be top of their class without a shadow of a doubt in Westmeath-hosted extravaganza of underage hurling.
Mullahorans opening outing saw them pitted against local team St. Brigids.
"We didnt play particularly well in the first game but the fact that we won while being poor enough was a good sign.
"We then played Southern Gaels from Athlone who were a very physical side. That turned out to be a nip and tuck match and was probably our best performance in the tournament," Sean recalls.
By dint of their early form in the tournament, it was obvious that Mullahoran had the bit between the teeth and their innate resolve shone through.
A couple of incidents in the game with Southern Gaels fairly reflected the steel and passion inherent in the Dreadnoughts line-out.
A tussle for possession near Mullahorans goal threatened danger but all of a sudden 12 year old Michael Brady came thundering out from the Mullahoran square through three or four attempted tackles from Southern Gaels attackers before promptly clearing the ball some 30 yards up the field.
Then in the dying minutes of the game, Southern Gaels threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Mullahoran in an attempt to pull the fat from the fire but goalkeeper Barry McArdle effected a terrific block to thwart the Athlone lads.
"Both the semi-final and the final itself were very hard matches but the players support of the man in possession and their sheer determination were key factors in us topping the group although the Southern Gaels match was one that could have went either way, in fairness."
Thereafter Mullahorans 5-4 to 2-3 victory over Cullion (Westmeath) in the Feile Under 14 decider capped a terrific run of form for the clubs outstanding young hurlers. Played in humid conditions at Cusack Park, Mullingar, the final proved to be an exciting affair with both teams displaying admirable levels of skill.
Indeed most observers of the games played on finals day in Mullingar were of the opinion that the Mullahoran/Cullion decider at least matched the quality of the fare served up in the division two final which was contested by the more vaunted De La Salle, Waterford and Ballyboden (Dublin) sides.
As for the match itself, Mullahoran found themselves on the backfoot early on and Barry McArdle, the Mullahoran keeper, had to make a number of telling saves to keep his goal intact. In front of him, the full-back line of Beglin, Thomas Reilly and Michael Reilly performed splendidly to repulse several Cullion attacks.
Indeed the fact that the Westmeath side failed to reap any reward from their early series of attacks was significant as it boosted Mullahorans morale and appeared to damage Cullions confidence and self-belief.
Gradually Mullahoran got on top in the vital midfield area and slowly but surely the workrate of players like team-captain Hugh Briody, John Sheridan and Patrick Rabbitt became more and more pronounced.
Elsewhere Conor Halton sparkled when he was on hand after great play by Sean Briody and Peter Sheridan to crack home a timely goal for the Dreadnoughts.
Then a few minutes later Hugh Briody and Jason Donohoe combined for another uplifting score.
And when John Sheridan added another brace of points to augment Mullahorans tally, Cullion looked in deep trouble.
However the home side hit back after a mix-up in the Mullahoran defence to bag a goal and then moments later the Westmeath side added a further point to cut Mullahorans lead further.
But the advent of the half-time break gave the Mullahoran think-tank the opportunity to gather their charges together and mentally charge them up for a renewed effort.
And didnt things go from strength to strength for Mullahoran!
The Dreadnoughts began the second half with great determination with Noel Brady and James Smith driving the team forward from the half-back line.
In time the Cavan champions engineered clear water between themselves and their Westmeath opponents with a long range effort from Coyle going all the way to the Cullion net for a great goal.
Mullahoran kept up the pressure and Jason Donohoe made space for Harten to notch another goal. Cadden then added a point before the Westmeath side struck again for a goal and a point to remind Mullahoran that nothing was settled at that juncture.
However Mullahoran stuck to their guns and in the dying minutes, team captain Hugh Briody produced a neat piece of skill helped lay on the final score of the game from Peter Sheridan after some neat interplay by Daniel King, Ray Fagan and Raymond Lynch.
"It was great to win it for the Mullahoran club as a whole because all the footballers have been 100% behind the hurler in the club.
"Hopefully winning the Feile will fuel the enthusiasm of the younger lads in the area for the game and also encourage others to take up hurling in the years ahead," Sean concludes.
And so say all of us.