They came a long way to be there. The sons and daughters of Erris converged on Croke Park from all corners of the globe and all corners of their rugged and beautiful outpost on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. While their family, friends and supporters travelled great distances to be in Croke Park last Sunday, the distance the men who togged out in blue and gold traveled was further. From the despair and desolation of their dressing room after losing their prized senior status, to the confines of Croke Park last Sunday, it has been some journey.
Getting relegated could spell the end for some teams and a tumble down the levels, especially for a club with a relatively small pick of players in times of recession. But not for Kiltane, when the question was asked in the winter of 2012 would they give it their all, the answer was to the positive. They were able to name 43 players for their intermediate county final victory over Kilmaine. That was the level of commitment they gave, with men flying in from London and Scotland to do their bit for their home parish. It brought them all the way to Croke Park on Sunday and within an hour of winning an All Ireland title. Something that seemed hardly imaginable in late October way back in 2012. But that's where they got themselves. When the final whistle was blown and the Kiltane players crumpled to their knees, they didn't have any complaints. The better team won on they day.
Not long after the muffled sound of applause could be heard from inside their dressing room in the concrete jungle under the Cusack Stand. A visibly saddened, yet proud Martin Barrett made his way out through the swinging door to face the assembled press pack. He's been an impressive performer on the sideline all year and those impressive performances continued right after a heartbreaking defeat. “Those guys are gutted in there now” were his first words, with a tremble in the timbre of his voice. “We didn't play our best football, especially in the first half, but in the second I couldn't have asked any more of them.” It was a brilliant battling, yet ultimately fruitless effort by Kiltane in the second half, as they tried to close down the four point advantage built up by Truagh Gaels at the end of a frantic first half that saw four goals and some sweeping, end-to-end moves.
He went on to speak of the pride he had in each and everyone of the players who had given so much over the past 14 months that lead to this day saying. “I'm just after speaking to them in there and they're absolutely gutted. But I've told them that they have lost nothing in defeat. They've grown as a team this year. They've gone on to do something that maybe even those in our own club may have doubted was possible. They've gone on to win a county intermediate title, a Connacht intermediate title and played in an All Ireland final. I'd just reiterate, they've lost nothing in defeat.”
Barrett's praise wasn't just for his own warriors, he was also fulsome in his praise for the victors on the day. “I will say this, we've spoken about it in there and we'll take nothing away from Truagh. They were a fine football team, who played football the way it should be played. They kicked a scroeline that we just couldn't match today.”
Kiltane bust into an early four point lead thanks to two goals inside a minute from Darragh Carey from the penalty spot and driven effort from distance by Mikie Sweeney. But they were also dealt a major blow in the opening exchanges when Darragh Carey had to be stretchered off with potential ligament damage and that caused a reshuffle at the back by Kiltane. “It broke up the unit we had back there in defence and we had to reorganise quickly, we weren't expecting to lose a man so early in the game. It took us a bit of time to get settle in the first half, we were slower to settle than Truagh. They came out of the blocks quick, like we knew they would. But we fought back, we got a lead with two goals. It was a cracking game of football for any neutral or genuine football supporter” said Barrett.
The dressing room at half time saw nothing being held back said Barrett as they tried to reverse the advantage Truagh had built up. “We told them a few hard truths at half-time, the hard facts that we just weren't playing. We asked them to play football like we know they can play, and like the know themselves they can play. Like I said, they lost nothing in defeat. They played football in the second half that matched Truagh, but we just couldn't get those couple of points ahead that may have made the difference.”
The pain of disappointment may take a while to subside, but when Martin Barrett and his players look back on what they have achieved, they can be very, very proud of their adventure and the joy and excitement, they brought to their own enclave on the coast.