Five years on from their devastating All-Ireland final defeat to Mayfield, Mooncoin have finally buried half a decade of hurt and regret as they eventually got the better of Ballygiblin in an entertaining All-Ireland Junior final in Croke Park on Saturday afternoon.
There was a rip-roaring start to the game as Ballygiblin’s Darragh Flynn and Mooncoin’s John Fitzgerald exchanged early scores from play as the teams, cheered on by their boisterous supporters, began the game with intensity levels worthy of such an occasion.
Centre-forward Fitzgerald edged Mooncoin ahead for the first time in the fifth minute but the sides were level less than 30 seconds later as Tipperary native Colin English opened his account for the club founded in 1955, Mooncoin 0-02 to 0-02 Ballygiblin.
Both teams could not be separated in the early stages with scores hard to come by in a wet and windy Croke Park. A long-range free from half-back Martin O’Neill followed up by two points from star forward Patrick Walsh (one free, one from play) including a snapshot from the middle of the pitch made it 0-06 to 0-02 in favour of the Kilkenny junior champions.
Two much-needed frees from Joseph O’Sullivan against a strong breeze halved the deficit for the Cork club. Those two scores sparked Ballygiblin into life as Michael Walsh made it a one-point game with an excellent point from underneath the Cusack Stand as a large support made their voices heard once more.
A Patrick Walsh free stemmed the tide and a superb score from over his shoulder by corner-forward Adam Croke from an improbabale angle allowed Mooncoin some breathing space midway through an exasperating first half, Mooncoin 0-08 to 0-05 Ballygiblin.
The pacey Darragh Flynn continued to remain a handful for a Mooncoin full-back line who looked concerned by the vibrancy and movement of the men they were marking. A second score from their standout player along with two fantastic saves from goalkeeper Christopher Noonan kept Ballygiblin in touch with their opponents.
The game entered a lull period soon after Flynn’s point and it took almost five minutes for the next score to come through Ballygiblin sharpshooter Sean O’Sullivan. That point left the smallest possible margin between two evenly matched sides, Mooncoin 0-08 to 0-07 Ballygiblin.
An outstanding solo run from Colin English right through the heart of the Mooncoin defence seemed to open up an opportunity for the first goal of the game but he decided to take his point and level the decider.
Martin O’Neill and Sean O’Sullivan exchanged the best two scores of the tie as half-time loomed but there was just enough time for the Cork side to head into the interval with the smallest of advantages thanks to a third point from Joseph O’Sullivan, this time from a ’65, Mooncoin 0-09 to 0-10 Ballygiblin.
A tactical change from Mooncoin manager Willie Coogan gave the south Kilkenny side an extra man in the midfield area and that proved crucial early in the second half as Ciaran Quilty and Patrick Walsh both pointed to make it Mooncoin 0-11 to 0-10 Ballygiblin.
A great move through the lines from deep within their own half eventually finished with Cillian Hogan splitting the posts with his effort. Hogan’s score meant that all of Mooncoin’s starting forwards had got on the scoresheet and gave them a deserved 0-12 to 0-10 lead.
Despite completely dominating the opening seven minutes of the second half, Ballygiblin’s Dean Barry gathered possession and raced away from Aidan Doyle before making no mistake with the finish to get the first goal of the game and move his side into the lead for the first time since half-time.
The lead lasted a mere fifteen seconds as Hogan doubled his personal tally before winning a free soon after that was easily dispatched by Patrick Walsh to make it Mooncoin 0-14 to 1-10 Ballygiblin.
Hogan, who was wisely moved to centre-forward after a relatively quiet opening thirty minutes, got his third point of the second half immediately after Walsh’s free as the hard-working forward proved to be a game changer for Mooncoin.
The men in red and white could not be shrugged off, however, as Joseph O’Sullivan and Darragh Flynn got their first points of the half to equalise, Mooncoin 0-15 to 1-12 Ballygiblin.
The to-and-fro nature of the game continued throughout the clash as Fitzgerald (x2), O’Neill and Walsh pushed Mooncoin ahead once more.
Dead ball situations increasingly looked like the Munster outfit’s best avenue to victory and O’Sullivan responded to the Mooncoin onslaught with three consecutive frees as Ballygiblin continued to do their upmost to remain in the contest despite being second best for much of the second half, Mooncoin 0-19 to 1-15 Ballygiblin.
Patrick Walsh replied with a free of his own with three minutes of normal time remaining as the tension could be seen on the faces of both management teams.
O’Sullivan made it a one-point game with yet another free in front of the posts but Mooncoin grabbed a pivotal score through Adam Croke at the beginning of the three minutes of additional time to make it 0-21 to 1-16.
O’Sullivan struck another free to further amplify the nerves of both parishes that ascended on Croke Park.
The score that will go down in history for Mooncoin came right at the death as man of the match Martin O’Neill somehow put the ball between the posts from a sideline cut in what proved to be the winning point as Ballygiblin got one last score that would ultimately prove to be inconsequential.
The final whistle from referee Brian Keon brought with it an array of emotions from everyone involved as Mooncoin’s players, management and supporters alike were filled with endless amounts of relief, ecstasy and unbridled joy while their Ballygiblin counterparts were forced to come to terms with the most heartbreaking of defeats.
Mooncoin captain Niall Madden, forced to watch on from the sideline due to injury, concluded a memorable day for the parish of Mooncoin with the lifting of the cup and a emotional speech followed by a tear-jerking rendition of ‘The Rose of Mooncoin’ from everyone associated with the club as they avenged their 2017 defeat.