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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 29 November 2020

'This is going to be one hell of a party over in Mullinalaghta for the next week'

Mickey Graham led his team to the promised land yesterday.

Kevin O’Brien reports from Bord na Mona O’Connor Park 

WHEN GARY ROGERS stood over his penalty in the 59th minute of yesterday’s Leinster final, he was well aware that Kilmacud Crokes goalkeeper David Nestor saved a Portlaoise spot-kick in the last minute of the semi-final.

Gary Rogers scores a penalty late in the game Gary Rogers slots home the all-important penalty late in the game. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Craig Rogers’ strike was confidently palmed away by Nestor a fortnight ago, but his namesake Gary coolly sent the keeper the wrong way and slotted his chance into the bottom corner of the net. 

“I hit it as hard as possibly could,” Rogers said after the game. “I saw the lad for Portlaoise, in fairness it was a great save. 

“I always pick a different side anyway so it didn’t really matter. I just said I’ll hit it as hard as I can and if he saves it, fair play to him. Just delighted that it went in.

“In fairness, they were trying to put you off but I’d be doing the same if it was the other side. It’s just to zone out and hit it as hard as you can. We got the rub of the green today so we’ll be celebrating for a while after this.”

It put Mullinalghta in front for the first time in the game. Aidan McElligott, who was taken down for the penalty, stretched the lead to two moments later to round off the spectacular victory.

“It just hasn’t sunk in,” said manager Mickey Graham. “My heart is still racing. When we got the goal, the dream became a reality at that stage. I think the boys realised that and they just seemed to find energy from somewhere in the last five to six minutes.

Mickey Graham celebrates at the final whistle. Mickey Graham celebrates at the final whistle. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“That goal, I felt, just was the catapult that we needed if we were going to win the game. And when you’re against the big teams like this, it’s a great time to get a goal, let me tell you.

“You need a wee bit of luck on the way – but it was a great move for the goal, I think if he wasn’t pulled down he was going to score it anyway. As I said, I’m just lost for words at this time.

“It’s astonishing what they’re after achieving, and every club that watched this game on telly today will say, ‘You know what, maybe we could do that someday.’ Because there’s still hope in the underdog yet and the smaller clubs.” 

Rogers admitted that it was only during a video session on Saturday night when the players actually started to believe they could do it. 

“We looked at a few videos of Kilmacud, it was only (Saturday) night we kind of realised we might actually give them a go,” the former Longford forward said. “Man on man, when we went 15 on 15 it just worked for us.

“We were just watching them last night and they actually play similar to ourselves. They play a nice running and play football. So we knew our forwards would get lots of time on the ball and it was low-scoring but that was the day that was in it.

“When we went in at half-time we said if we minimise our mistakes in the second half we might nick it at the end. So we kept it tight.

“In fairness they missed a bit, we missed a bit in the first half but we got the rub of the green then and got the penalty and look, I put it away. It’s just great for the parish and you can see all the people here today. We’re the first team from Longford to do it, it’s just fantastic.

“It’s massive. Even for myself, I haven’t played county football for a couple of years now and even for other lads, we’ll never probably play in a bigger game than this. It just shows we can compete when we put our minds to it.

Rian Brady finished with four points for the victors while Shane Mulligan held the defence brilliantly and Patrick Fox kept Paul Mannion underwraps throughout. 

“There were lots of turnovers,” said Graham. “We got really up to pace early on and got hands on them early on. I thought Paddy Fox at full back was outstanding.
“People were talking about the marquee forwards they’d have but I’ve seen Paddy Fox the last three years and he is one of the top full backs you’ll see in the country and he showed that today against one of the most marquee forwards in the country.

“Look, we knew the one thing coming into the final is that there was absolutely no pressure on us. Nobody really gave us a chance. The bookies are very seldom wrong, we were big outsiders – but it’s a great way to be coming into a match.

“And we said whatever happens, we were going to give it one hell of a go, we’d have no regrets, that we weren’t going to come and play within ourselves and go into a defensive shell and invite teams onto us.”

Graham has his duties as Cavan manager to balance with Mullinalaghta’s run at the All-Ireland series to manage over the coming weeks and months, but he’ll take it all in his stride.

“The show goes on but I’m not going to worry about that now at this moment in time. I just have to sit down and gather all my thoughts and let this settle in, because this is going to be one hell of a party over in Mullinalaghta for the next week, and up to Christmas because this, for this club to do, is fairytale.”

Next up is the small matter of Munster kingpins and 2017 champions Dr Crokes in the semi-final. 

“Is it, yeah?” asks Rogers.  “I didn’t even look at that to be honest with you. It will be great to grace the field with Gooch.

“Even with Paul Mannion and Cian O’Sullivan today, they’re great footballers and best of luck to them next year. We’ll sit down, I don’t know when the Crokes game is or where it is or anything but it’ll be great just to have a look at them. Sure we’ll give it a go anyways that’s the main thing.”

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne preview a big weekend of Heineken Cup action and dissect the week’s main talking points.

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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Kevin O'Brien

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