By Niall McCoy
YOU would have to go a long way to find a team who saw their season altered as much by a single point as Killanny in 2020.
Alan O’Neill’s side were frustrated after a narrow Monaghan Intermediate League semi-final replay loss to Donaghmoyne in 2019, but things would get a lot worse in last year’s championship.
After a slow start in Group Two, a fine win in Doohamlet set up an apparent ‘winner takes all’ clash with Tyholland.
Win and they looked set for the knock-out stages, lose and it would be the relegation play-offs.
A two-point victory seemed to secure a quarter-final spot, but, 12 miles away, Barry McBennett would swing over an equalising free for Doohamlet seven minutes into additional time against Emyvale. The draw had ruined Killlanny’s ambitions.
Interestingly that score also meant that Monaghan Harps avoided the regelation play-off, and they would go on to win the competition outright.
The news filtered through to a gutted Killanny dressing room, but they responded by winning their relegation play-off against Currin.
Former Armagh player O’Neill, now in his third season with the Geraldine’s, has asked his players to do one thing from those two tough finales – learn.
“In fairness we were slow getting off the mark,” O’Neill said of last year’s campaign.
“We lost our first two games (against Emyvale and the Harps) albeit by a small margin.
“It took us a while to build up the momentum because, to be honest, I didn’t think there would be any football last year.
“The age-group of the boys, they’re at that sort of age, 18 to 21, and it took us a while to get back up and going again.
“Intermediate football in Monaghan is highly competitive and that slow start was punished, but we finished up with a fine win against Tyholland and we thought that would have been enough.
“That other game going to a draw was incredible though, it was eight minutes on injury time or something when that score went over. It meant that we lost out on head-to-head rather than scoring difference.
“It was a hard experience for us, it’s been a tough couple of years for the lads.
“We have no one to blame but ourselves though because we didn’t perform in that first game.
“There’s that saying about experiences being the hardest teacher and to be fair these lads have been very close over the last two or three years. They have been falling just a tiny wee bit short but they are a young group and these experiences will stand to them. Eventually they will get over the line.”
O’Neill has witnessed intermediate football in Armagh with his native Culloville and also in Down with Glenn – and he feels that the second tier in the Oriel county is particularly strong.
“It’s incredible because every team can beat any team or lose to any team,” said O’Neill, who isn’t expecting any retirements from last season.
“It’s a very, very level league and whoever comes out of it generally goes quite deep into Ulster.
“A lot of teams who go up into senior tend to come back, so it’s always tough.
“Club football in Monaghan is very strong and very even.
“The league games too only have a few points between them. It’s very competitive but it’s very enjoyable as well.”