Michael Malone enjoys moment with daughter Aoibheann (7 months) after the Leinster final
History was made and missed, but ultimately Kilkenny scored a victory.
If that all sounds confusing or even contradictory, let us explain.
Mullinavat made history by become the first Kilkenny team to contest a Leinster club football final since these great championships were introduced.
Defeat was their lot against a fine Mattock Rangers (Louth) side in the intermediate decider in Drogheda on Saturday.
As the ’Vat were the first Kilkenny team in such a final, it automatically follows that they would have made history had they won.
They didn’t. They were beaten by 1-14 to 0-11 after putting in a magnificent effort.
The gap was six points at the finish. That made a mockery of the real division in class between two teams who came to play and who produced a fine, open and free flowing game.
This was football entertainment on a grand scale. And as a Kilkenny team was a part of it all, it was a win or sorts for the big ball game in the county.
“You did your county proud,” insisted ’Rangers captain Adrian Reid, during his victory speech afterwards.
“Few would have expected a Kilkenny team to play to the level you did. You were great and we had to dig deep to find the effort to beat you.”
A fair and decent man!
Reid captured the essence of the occasion splendidly. This wasn’t a ‘kick and rush, run around until you drop and then die a death in the finishing straight’ effort from a Kilkenny team.
It was Mullinavat who were pressing, pressing, pressing at the finish. The winners felt the heat and they had a man black carded nearing the end when he buckled under the pressure.
Jamie Fennelly was only deprived of a goal by a great save from ’Rangers ’keeper, Mike Englishby, in the 55th minute when the score was 1-12 to 0-11.
Mattock Rangers produced their best when the needed was greatest. Two points in time added on from David Reid and Shane Hickey took them into uncatchable territory.
The Mullinavat effort wasn’t at all about giving your all and see where you end up.
There was real method to their football, to their game plan.
Manager Michael Aylward had the vision to bring former Wexford football manager, Aidan O’Brien in as coach before the adventure began.
Mullinavat caught a break at the start when the Wexford representatives they were due to play in the first round were out because their home championship wasn’t completed.
Mullinavat used the free weeks to get some solid training done.
O’Brien worked his magic. The players fitness level improved. They learned. They got a new insight into how to play football, how to think differently about the game and to feel comfortable with ball in hand.
“The way we play the ball around and retain possession has improved greatly,” insisted Mullinavat giant midfielder, Michael Malone, who had an unreal influence on proceedings.
The 6’ 2” giant drives and drives as if he is driven by high energy Duracell batteries. He could field, probe, charge through tackles and deliver telling passes better than anyone else on the field.
As a footballer in Kilkenny he is a freak of nature, a magnificent specimen built for a tough game.
Kilkenny hurling manager, Brian Cody, had Malone involved in his squad before. A big man with such a range of skills and who can move might bring something different to the hurling party.
Malone enjoyed a fine hurling season with Mullinavat. We felt he was one to watch. We await developments in this area with interest.
The player enjoyed the journey that brought Mullinavat victories over two other county champions - Ballyboughal (Dublin) and Rosenallis (Laois).
“At the start of November we would have taken this, an appearance in the final,” Michael conceded.
“But when you get this far your want more. It is disappointing the way we went out.”
The Rod Iron men travelled to Drogheda with belief and without fear.
“It is unbelievable how we have come on under Aidan’s guidance. The first Saturday morning we trained under him I'd say he was wondering what he had gotten himself into.
“Then three training sessions later I thought it was brilliant how lads came on and picked up what he was trying to get us to do.”
O’Brien appreciated the talent he was working with.
“They are a very easy bunch to coach in the sense you are working with a group of very fine athletes; lads who are used to competing at senior level in hurling; who are very willing and who have a wonderful attitude,” he said of the ’Vat squad.
“There was plenty to work with,” he assured.
He was disappointed at the finish, but his disappointment was like his coaching, concise and precise.
“My disappointment is in the sense that the opportunities to do something like this only come around very seldom,” he explained.
“It was an opportunity. We weren’t just happy to be part of the final. We wanted to win.”
Michael Aylward, who has guided Mullinavat to three senior championship wins in-a-row in Kilkenny, embraced the challenge from the off.
“No one expected much from us,” he said when he recalled the start of the journey. “The respect Mattock Rangers showed us, and the determined way they approached the match, told a fair story.”
He insisted the players put in the effort on the training field and the results showed on the pitch.
“I was so, so proud of them,” he said.
“They didn’t let themselves down. We were beaten playing football. The whole championship was a great experience.”
Mr Aylward thanked the people of Mullinavat for getting behind the squad and turning the whole thing into an uplifting community effort.
What about the Kilkenny championship next season?
Now that Mullinavat got a taste of the good life, wouldn’t they like more?
“We will have a target on our backs next season,” Michael joked. “Everyone will be out to beat us.
“Let’s see! The players can have a bit of time to themselves now, but the new season will roll around quickly.”
Mattock Rangers - David Reid (0-7, six frees); Brian Corcoran (1-0); Adrian Reid, Shane Hickey, Aaron O’Brien (0-2 each); Brendan Leacy (0-1). Mullinavat - Ian Duggan (0-4, two frees); Jamie Fennelly (0-2); Ger Malone, John Walsh, Michael Malone, Oisin Knox, Adam Mansfield (0-1 each).
Mullinavat - Killian Dunphy; Shane Kelly, Joe Fennelly, Mikey Jones (capt); Mark Mansfield, Ger Malone, John Walsh; Tom Aylward, Michael Malone; Conor Duggan, Ian Duggan, Adam Mansfield; Oisin Knox, Jamie Fennelly, Brian Phelan.
Subs - Pádraig Dempsey for A. Mansfield 48th min; Liam Fennelly for B. Phelan 48th min; Simon Aylward for J. Fennelly 50th min; Darren Kenneally for C. Duggan 58th min.
Referee - Patrick Maguire.
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.