Too good to struggle

December 31, 2002
Kilmainhamwood might have expected to challenge for senior honours in 2002, but instead they found themselves with relegation on their minds at a time when they would have hoped to be thinking in terms of possible silverware. The good news for the club's supporters was that they survived and later went on to turn in a superb showing at the All-Ireland Football Sevens when they became the first Meath club to reach the final, while, with the future in mind, their was success for the club's under-14 team. When the 'Wood led Cortown by five points near the end of the third quarter in their final Senior Football Championship Group B match at Kells, their prospects of earning a place in the knockout stages were very much alive. That was until the wheels came off and Cortown, as gutsy and committed as ever, battled back to beat them by a point as Glen Loughran fired over the winner 10 seconds from the end of normal time. Instead of dreaming of a first Keegan Cup annexation since their memorable breakthrough triumph in 1996, Kilmainhamwood found themselves in relegation trouble - surely something a club with so many talented players couldn't have envisaged at the start of the campaign. But just how much talent they possess was very apparent next time out in the championship. Losing to Cortown meant the teams finished level at the bottom of the table and that meant they had to come face to face again, this time in a preliminary relegation play-off at Moynalty. The 'Wood had managed their only win of the group stages when defeating Trim by a point at Athboy in May, but they lost to Skryne by eight and the failure against Cortown meant they finished with only two points - the same as Cortown. But how different the outcome was in the second meeting as the 'Wood won the preliminary relegation play-off between the sides with ease by 12 points on a 3-9 to 0-6 scoreline, thus avoiding the very slippery slope that can be a one-off relegation tussle. The reality is that Kilmainhamwood have far too many good players, particularly in a potentially lethal attack, to be spoken of in terms of intermediate football and some of that talent was on show at the All-Ireland Football Sevens staged by the Kilmacud Crokes club in Dublin on the eve of the All-Ireland football finals on September 21. Kilmainhamwood's achievement in reaching the final in their third appearance in this highly popular seven-a-side tournament, which is contested by many of the top clubs in the country, deserves to be applauded and but for a gruelling semi-final against Bryansford from Down they would surely have run Derry's Bellaghy, the reigning All-Ireland Club champions, much closer in the final at Glenalbyn. Bellaghy, powered by Derry senior players Karl Diamond, Joe Cassidy and Fergal Doherty, built up a commanding 15-point (4-8 to 1-2) interval lead, but the 'Wood never gave up battling and scored three second half goals, two from Jonathan Corrigan and one from Raymond Cunningham. However, Bellaghy still proved too good on a 6-11 to 4-4 scoreline, but it was certainly a superb achievement by the 'Wood to advance to the final of a competition that takes a some winning. They had reached the semi-finals in 1997 when they lost to Castleblayney after eliminating Bellaghy at the quarter-final stage and are obviously going in the right direction in their endeavours to go all the way. In all, the 'Wood played seven matches in the 2002 competition, beating St. Laurence's (Kildare) by 6-1 to 4-5, Castleblayney (Monaghan) by 3-9 to 2-3 and Tir Chonaill Gaels (London) by 4-3 to 2-6 in the group stages, before defeating Kerry's Castleisland Desmonds in a preliminary quarter-final on a 5-4 to 1-10 scoreline. However, that victory was achieved at a very heavy price as Paul Shankey was red-carded and that ruled the county player out for the remainder of the tournament, which represented a huge blow to their prospects. Clan Na Gael from Tyrone provided the quarter-final opposition and even in the considerable absence of Shankey the 'Wood won by 5-6 to 3-6 to set up a semi-final meeting with Bryansford. That proved to be a gruelling struggle, with the Meath representatives trailing all the way until Francis Owens, who was actually playing in goal, pounced for a late goal which earned them a 3-5 to 1-10 victory and a final ticket. Unfortunately, that highly demanding and energy-sapping match, combined with five earlier outings, exhausted the 'Wood and Bellaghy proved superior in the final. A feature of Kilmainhamwood's highly commendable showing in the tournament was their ability to score goals as they netted no fewer than 30 times in their seven matches, with Ray Magee scoring eight of them. The Kilmainhamwood panel was made up of Francis Owens, Sean Mulligan, Paul Shankey, Michael Shankey, Liam Shankey, Alan Shankey, Ray Magee, Raymond Cunningham, Paddy Carolan and Jonathan Corrigan. If Kilmainhamwood do manage to win the All-Ireland Sevens at some stage in the future, perhaps some members of this year's triumphant under-14 side will be on show. The success by this dedicated bunch of youngsters was one of the highlights of the year for the club as Henry Corbally's team edged out a gallant Syddan side by 2-7 to 1-7 in the Div. 4 North final before a big crowd at Nobber, thanks largely to a late goal from the penalty spot by Stephen Kiernan who was the 'Wood's top scorer with 1-3. As the final drew to a close Syddan held a one-point advantage, but Kiernan calmly slotted home the penalty and a minute later Kevin Shields wrapped up the title with a point. The 'Wood had started the match well and a superb individual goal from team captain Alan Carolan midway through the opening half boosted them to a 1-5 to 0-5 interval lead, but Syddan, who had earlier beaten the 'Wood in the league, overtook them late in the second half after Dermot Kelleher had netted. However, that dramatic late rally gave Kilmainhamwood the title after Alan Morris, Harry Corbally, Shane McGrath, Phillip Moran, Shields and Kiernan had performed particularly well. It was Kilmainhamwood's first trophy at under-age level in over a decade, so it clearly represented a significant achievement, while the under-12 team also produced some impressive performances which augur well for the future before losing the Div. 4A final to Nobber. The victorious Kilmainhamwood under-14 team in the final was: J. Clarke; A. Bennett, A. Morris, P. Hanratty; M. Carolan, H. Corbally, S. McGrath; P. Owens, A. Carolan (1-1); C. Gilsenan (0-1), J. Carolan (0-1), P. Moran; K. Shields (0-1), P. Smith, S. Kiernan (1-3). Sub - D. Carolan for Smith.

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