AIB GAA Hurling All Ireland Intermediate Club Championship
Kilburn Gaels (London) 0-11
Cappataggle (Galway) 0-10
David Hennessy, Irish World sports editor, was there to see Kilburn Gaels of London ensure their place in an All-Ireland final
Tom Bergin’s Kilburn Gaels made sure of a narrow but deserved victory in their All-Ireland intermediate club championship semi-final at the weekend. Their 0-11 to 0-10 win over Cappataggle of Galway on Sunday puts them into a Croke Park decider against O’Donovan Rossa of Belfast on February 15.
Although Kilburn led for much of the match at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds, there was always very little between the teams. There were nervous moments at the end when the Galway team managed to narrow the gap to just one score and came tenaciously looking for the point that would force extra-time. However, the London champs defended with determination all day, with goalkeeper Kris Finnegan looking unflappable, and had the nerve to face everything Cappataggle threw at them, including a late James Skehill free from 20 yards.
The game was only moments old when Alan Dolan opened the scoring for Cappataggle from a free. Kilburn did go on to have the better of the opening ten minutes, threatening the Cappataggle goal early on through both Mark O’Dwyer and Henry Vaughan efforts.
Stephen Lambert, who was instrumental in Kilburn’s quarter-final victory over Mullinavat of Kilkenny, gave Kilburn their first score of the game from an 8th minute 65. James Egan quickly added to this with a score that gave Kilburn the advantage.
Although Cappataggle were well supported with much red and black to be seen, it was now clear that Kilburn also had a good support who were very vocal.
Cappataggle continued to press but found no joy due to the alertness of Kris Finnegan who would just not be beaten by any number of tricky high balls dropped in on top of him. The closing encounters of the first half saw some great end to end stuff. Cappataggle will perhaps rue not being more clinical with their finishing.
An excellent score by Keith Killilea, who controlled the ball on the run and made just enough room for a shot, put Kilburn back into the lead with a 0-5 to 0-4 advantage as the game approached half-time.
Kilburn’s lead was stretched to two by another Stephen Lambert free. Lambert could have stretched it to three only to see his second free of the game go wide. However, the last action of the half saw Lambert’s accurate free put three points between the team. Going in 0-7 to 0-4 up at half-time, Kilburn were comfortable but it was clear that a goal for either team would put a different complexion on this contest.
Whatever was said in the Cappataggle dressing room at half-time certainly had the desired effect as they came out for the second period like demons and chiselled Kilburn’s lead away completely in only a few short minutes.
Had Cappataggle’s goal been protected by anyone other than the former Galway custodian James Skehill, a green flag would have been raised after ten minutes of the second half. Skehill pulled off a great save from Peter Kennedy’s shot off the ground and was also equal to Peter Kennedy’s rebound although the referee blew up for a Kilburn penalty, having seen a trip in the square.
However, Keith Killilea’s penalty was tame and bouncing off the ground before it reached the goalkeeper, it lost a lot of its sting before Skehill collected it.
James Egan stretched the lead to three with the game heading towards it’s final five minutes.
Kris Finnegan saved from Daniel Nevin’s powerful sideline cut before Paul Claffey’s long range shot looked to be over but just fell short to be collected by Finnegan.
Cappataggle were not finished yet and would be presented with their best chance of the afternoon when Henry Vaughan and Conor Hickey of Kilburn were judged to have illegally combined to stop Darragh Dolan. James Skehill came up from his own goal to hit the 20 yard free which was struck with ferocity at goal but deflected over the bar by a Kilburn stick.
An Alan Dolan shot from long range looked like to have gone just wide as goalkeeper Kris Finnegan waved but the umpire disagreed and the gap was now just one.
With just a puck of the ball in it, the officials announced that there was just one additional minute to play. This was it for Cappataggle. Time was running out and their supporters roared with the real belief that they could do it and force extra-time.
There was relief and joy for all associated with Kilburn Gaels when the referee’s final blast confirmed that they had held on. They had made it to Croke Park.
Although Kilburn Gaels led for the majority of this match and deserve their victory, this was an extremely close contest. Cappataggle showed for periods they are a quality side and made sure Kilburn worked for everything they got.
Kilburn’s victory makes them just the third London club to reach an intermediate final at Croke Park, joining St Gabriel’s (2013) and Robert Emmetts (2007). It also completed a great day for British GAA as they join both Fullen Gaels and John Mitchel’s in All-Ireland finals.
After the match, Kilburn Gaels manager Tom Bergin told The Irish World: “Everybody worked their socks off. I suppose the hard training we’re doing in Greenford is paying off now because the Mullinavat game was tough and the last minutes, it really stood to us because we had the fitness and I suppose the heart and everything else to keep going. It worked out today as well.
“We’ll have to go back to the drawing board, see if we can get some information on them (O’Donovan Rossa) . We’re just delighted to be there (Croke Park), we’ll be back to training next week.
“It’s a brilliant feeling. It’s great for the club and the players and the committee and every member of the club, that we’re heading for Croke Park in an All-Ireland final. You couldn’t beat that feeling.”
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Asked if he was proud of how his team how held their nerve to see out the victory in the face of a late Cappataggle onslaught, captain Keith Kennedy said: “How could you not be? I said it after the county final: What these lads have is something special. They’re never beaten. They keep going to the very end. They’re a pleasure to play with.
“It’s every hurler’s dream to get to Croke Park. We’re there now and we’re looking forward to taking the challenge on.”
For the full report of the match, see the January 31 Irish World