Aughawillan stun favourites to land first Senior crown in 20 years

John Connolly


John Connolly

Aughawillan players celebrate with the Fenagh Cup after winning the Connacht Gold Leitrim Senior Championship Final in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Defying the odds, defying their inexperience, just plainly defying everything, Aughawillan produced a seismic shock as they stunned defending champions St. Mary’s Kiltoghert to deservedly lift the Fenagh Cup on Sunday.

Defying the odds, defying their inexperience, just plainly defying everything, Aughawillan produced a seismic shock as they stunned defending champions St. Mary’s Kiltoghert to deservedly lift the Fenagh Cup on Sunday.

Aughawillan 1-13 St. Mary’s Kiltoghert 1-10

In one of the most stunning break-throughs in Leitrim club football since Allen Gaels shocked Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s in 1991, Aughawillan produced a display with all the classic hallmarks of their vaunted tradition to stun the holders and climb back to the pinnacle of Leitrim club football.

Inspired by man of the match Gary Plunkett in full-forward, driven forward by captain Noel Plunkett and, it seemed, every single person from the parish of Aughawillan, the Willies regained the title they last held in 1994, 20 long years ago.

A fantastic first 40 minutes saw Aughawillan completely dominate against their more experienced rivals and if they were hanging on somewhat for the last quarter, their resilience and spirit shone through as the ran themselves to a standstill to hold out against a charging St. Mary’s.

Man of the Match Gary Plunkett was a real handful for the Mary’s defence and his ability to win possession when isolated along with the non-stop endeavour of midfielders Sean Fox and Sean Flanagan meant that St. Mary’s never could get the foot-hold at they desired.

At times, Mary’s looked as if they were about to cut loose during the first half but poor finishing, wrong options and intense, intense Aughawillan pressure meant that it was the outsiders who led by five points at the break.

That lead was up to seven points before Robbie Lowe, a surprise non-starter in a move that may have back-fired for St. Mary’s, found the net but Aughawillan’s response was impressive with two good points to reopen a six point gap.

But from then on, it was St. Mary’s who dominated, driving forward and finding the space they had been denied beforehand, the immense effort obviously taking its toll on the young Aughawillan men.

Some may feel that the game turned on the shot of sub Joe O’Rourke crashed a shot off the base of the Aughawillan post with less than four minutes to go and it was a huge turning point, particularly as the next score was Sean Flanagan’s fantastic penalty.

A Mary’s goal would have put them a point in front with all the momentum but in truth, over the course of the hour, Aughawillan were by far the better team, the hungrier team and fully deserving champions.

The penalty did lead to a situation that could have caused untold trouble for officials had St. Mary’s rescued a draw as James Glancy, already on a yellow from the first half, received a black card, meaning instant dismissal and no replacement.

Somehow St. Mary’s were allowed by match officials to send Daniel Lowe back on as a black card replacement as referee James McCaffrey did not brandish the automatic red card, a situation that could have caused mayhem had the Carrick men pulled off a miracle comeback.

However, all’s well that ends well and few in Aughawillan seemed to notice in those frantic, and it has to be said, somewhat short added minutes before an explosion of joy rarely equalled for some years in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.

After Ray Mulvey put a free wide, Mark Plunkett opened the scoring as he held off Conor Farrell and shot over in style on two minutes for the first score of a stunning first half. St. Mary’s missed two chances to one from Aughawillan before James McGrail intercepted a loose Morgan Quinn pass and fired over the bar.

St. Mary’s looked as if they were starting to control the game when Clement Cunniffe intercepted and set off a passing move that ended with Jack De Lacy pointing in style on nine minutes.

However, an off-the-ball foul saw Daire Farrell yellow carded for St. Mary’s and a harsh call against his brother Conor saw Ciaran Gilheany convert the free on 11 minutes. St. Mary’s went back in front when McGrail won a big challenge and set up Daire Farrell for a point two minutes later.

St. Mary’s should have taken control of the game on 14 minutes when Daire Farrell and Micheal McWeeney combined to send Ray Mulvey through on goal but he blasted wide as the goal opened up before him.

Aughawillan took note of their close shave and by the time Ray Mulvey hit a poor wide and St. Mary’s took the decision to introduce Robbie Lowe five minutes later, the Willies hit three unanswered points with a well taken Gary Plunkett score getting them off the mark.

A terrible free from St. Mary’s went straight to Ciaran Gilheany who showed no hesitation in pointing while Noel Plunkett’s run ended up with his brother Gary pointing.

Robbie Lowe was brought on for Conor Farrell but a foul on Sean Flanagan, moved in some 15 yards for dissent, was tapped over by Gilheany.

St. Mary’s stemmed the tide somewhat with a Micheal McWeeney point after the ball seemed to be clearly picked off the ground but Aughawillan were on a roll as another Noel Plunkett run and pass ended with Morgan Quinn pointing.

Ciaran Gilheany added another free after a foul on Sean Flanagan but Aughawillan had a narrow escape when Robbie Lowe was inches away from connecting with a wayward Mulvey shot on 27 minutes.

James Glancy received a yellow card with Gilheany tapping over the free while Robbie Lowe had a terrible wide when it seemed easier to score as Aughawillan held a commanding 0-9 to 0-4 halftime lead.

Both sides made changes at halftime with Stephen Gilheany replacing an injured Declan McGovern and Alan Doherty taking the place of Daire Farrell but it was Aughawillan who continued on from where they had left off when Gary Plunkett gathered a long ball into the corner and scored in loads of space after just 47 seconds.

St. Mary’s missed two chances but had a major let-off themselves when a Mark Plunkett free was almost scrambled into the net, despite a clear square infringement, Daniel Lowe stopping the ball on the line after six minutes.

Morgan Quinn thumped over a huge point from the corner as Aughawillan now led by an imposing seven points and seemingly home and dry.

That all changes a minute later - Colm O’Reilly’s crossed ball was somehow won by Micheal McWeeney who scrambled the ball to Robbie Lowe who drove the ball to the Aughawillan net from close range.

However, Aughawillan’s response was impressive - Gary and Mark Plunkett both landed huge points, although it must be said that Mark Plunkett’s score looked as if it had gone wide from the vantage point of the press-box.

But the young Willies were beginning to find space and Ray Mulvey’s long run ended with a point before Nicholas McWeeney with Mulvey to set up the wing-forward for a 13th minute point.

Aughawillan keeper Colin Maguire did very well to fist out a high ball under pressure from Robbie Lowe but an Alan Doherty free, for a foul on Micheal McWeeney, closed the gap to three points after 16 minutes.

Suddenly the tone of the game had changed and a typically charging Ray Mulvey point, although clearly over the bar but ruled wide by an umpire but changed after an intervention from linesman Brendan Sammon.

Momentum was with St. Mary’s but it stalled badly as nerves seemed to get to both sides with some uncharacteristic misses. St. Mary’s were the most guilty with four bad wides before the most costly miss of the all with Niall Comerton, Joe O’Rourke and Conor McWeeney all coming on as the Carrick men chased the game.

St. Mary’s sub Joe O’Rourke got on the end of another surging move and his low shot seemed destined for the net only to cannon off the butt of the post and rebound clear.

To make the most of the escape, Aughawillan went straight down the field where a high ball over the top was brilliantly caught by Gary Plunkett, the man of the match bearing down on goal only to be taken down by James Glancy.

Glancy, already on a yellow, was shown a black card and under rules, this amounted to a red and a dismissal with no replacement. Incredibly, Daniel Lowe was sent back on instead of St. Mary’s being down to 14 men.

It didn’t look as if it would matter as, after an almost two minute delay, Sean Flanagan held his nerve to brilliantly put the spot-kick in the bottom right corner of the St. Mary’s net, giving them a seemingly insurmountable five point lead.

But St. Mary’s fought back - Joe O’Rourke blasted high over the bar and Robbie Lowe scored from distance as St. Mary’s reduced the gap back to a goal with time still left.

Aughawillan had a chance to safeguard the lead but Stephen Gilheany’s shot went wide. However, it didn’t matter as, with a little over three minutes added time played, the final whistle sounded to spark off wild Aughawillan celebrations.

• For in-depth analysis and post-match reaction, see this week’s Leitrim Observer.

Aughawillan: Colin Maguire, Declan McGovern, Michael Quinn, Gerard McGovern, Niall Beirne, Noel Plunkett, Sean Quinn, Sean Fox, Sean Flanagan (1-0), Rory McTague, Mark Plunkett (0-2), Pearce Dolan, Ciaran Gilheany (0-5), Gary Plunkett (0-4), Morgan Quinn (0-2). Subs: Stephen Gilheany for D. McGovern (HT), Ryan Creamer for R. McTague (58).

St. Mary’s Kiltoghert: Conor Glancy, Barry Butler, James Glancy, Jonathan Cassidy, Jack De Lacy (0-1), Conor Farrell, Nicholas McWeeney, James McGrail (0-1), Daniel Lowe, Clement Cunniffe, Brian O’Donnell, Daire Farrell (0-1), Ray Mulvey (0-3), Michael McWeeney (0-1), Colm O’Reilly. Sub: Robbie Lowe (1-1) for C. Farrell (19), Alan Doherty (0-1) for D. Farrell (HT), Niall Comerton & Conor McWeeney for O’Reilly & D. Lowe (51), Joe O’Rourke (0-1) for M. McWeeney (56).

Referee: James McCaffrey.