GAA: All Ireland U21 final Ten years is a long time in football

Kicking for glory: Ten years on Aidan Kilcoyne looks back on Mayo's win over Cork in the U21 final. 
Photo: Sportsfile

Kicking for glory: Ten years on Aidan Kilcoyne looks back on Mayo's win over Cork in the U21 final. Photo: Sportsfile

There are not too many people who will have kicked 1-6 in an All Ireland final, won the man-of-the-match award and a winner's medal, and has not even watched the game back over the past decade, but that is the case for Mayo's star man in their last U21 All Ireland final win, Aidan Kilcoyne.

We caught up with the Knockmore man this week to look back on his memories of the 2006 All Ireland U21 winning campaign. "You know it's mad, I've never actually watched it back fully, it was only this week I was thinking about it. I've seen clips and bits and pieces, but I've never actually sat down and watched the 60 minutes of it since. I think there might have been a tape of it at home, but my interview at the end was so bad and cringy."

When we asked him what his memories of the final itself were, surprisingly there were not too many initially, but they came back to him pretty quickly, "I hadn't even really thought about it, even though you'd do the maths in simply that 2006 and 2016 and it was 10 years on, but it was only when they beat Dublin and then they were playing Cork and it was going to be in Ennis that people were saying it, and I just thought 'Oh my God that's 10 years ago, where has it gone.' It's nice to look back and think about it now.

"I can remember bits of it, I remember full time whistle going and the feeling of that joy, it's mad because I can remember a lot more detail from 2004 when we lost the U21 final to Armagh, that's probably the difference between winning and losing those games, you remember more from the losses, because you play it so much over and over in your head again and again. I can remember missing the penalty, I get reminded of that quite a bit despite the fact they'll never remind you that I scored the rebound and I still scored the goal in the All Ireland final."

Putting in the performance

Despite saying that he did not have many memories from the day at the start, once we started talking about the game Kilcoyne had an almost eidetic memory for how the game played out, and the men who stood up on the day and were counted when they were needed most. "I can remember us being a bit lucky, because Cork came out of the blocks really quickly, hit the post, and had us under a bit of pressure. We missed a very good goal chance too early on, I can remember who it was, but I'm not going to be naming names.

"The thing I took in the first half is that we were under a good bit of pressure and we kind of just did enough to stay in the game. I think Mark Ronaldson won every ball that went into him in the first half, and himself and Barry Moran were probably our two best players in the first half and kept us in it.

"We got in at half time and we realised that we hadn't started to play, yet we were still in this game even though we'd played with the wind, it didn't look great for us. But we didn't think about the result or the score, we were more annoyed that we hadn't even played, apart for one or two guys who were keeping us in the game.

"In the second half as a unit we just performed much better, we dominated midfield and breaking ball, Aidan Campbell won three of four breaks and Seamie and Barry just completely took over in the middle. Chrissy Barrett, Tom Cunniffe, and Sean Ryder came into the game massively and dove on at every opportuntity. We got what some might say was a lucky penalty, I think at the time I remember being kind of surprised that we got it, but I think on replays it shows Seamie did get a tug or a push."

Making champions

The backbone of that team was made up of a group of players who had lost the U21 final in 2004 to Armagh and then failed to perform the next year in the championship, and this was their last cut at the grade, and the 2005 minor side who had lost the All Ireland final the year before. "We'd five lads who had come straight in from the minor side from the year before which was a lot, and they all went straight into the team, and we'd also five in the senior squad at the time, it was some mix of guys to have in there, but everyone just gelled together. 2004 was my first year U21 and we got to a final. Then in 2005 we have five of the forwards who'd been in the previous year's team, and we were as a panel expecting to do well and win Connacht and give the All Ireland a good whip, but got hockied by Galway in Pearse Stadium, they cruised then to the All Ireland title with Meehan and Armstrong tearing it up for them that year.

"It was such a disappointment, then in 2006 there was no real expectation, no one really talking about us. Galway were in the opposite position to the previous year, they had X amount of players who played the year before and were expected to go on and win it handy. We did OK against Leitrim and got over the line, struggled against Roscommon had a good second half to push on, then it all kicked off in the Connacht final. I think the second the Roscommon game was over, the one thing that you could see in the group and it was led from the lads who'd been there the previous year, we were not going to lose to Galway and we weren't thinking about All Irelands, it was just that we were not going to lose to Galway. We took a good clipping the year before and there was revenge in the air, it was a massive motivator for us.

"After we won that we thought we're one game away from the final, let's re-group here and re-evaluate, there was such a good camaraderie in the team and camp, we really enjoyed it. It was a championship and a campaign you enjoyed from start to finish, a great group of lads, everyone got on and gelled really well. We saw a lot of the lads who were in the senior set up, they weren't just showing up for games and gone again.

"We got over the line against Tyrone after starting really well and they came back at us really strong, it went to extra time and Justin McMahon had a free at the end and he missed it, I was never as relieved to see a free missed in all my life."

Everyone played their part

Along with Kilcoyne a good number of that team went on to have long and successful careers with the senior team, but there were plenty more who might not be household names but without their contributions Mayo would not have won that game 10 years ago, as Aidan explains. "I suppose when you look back, a lot of lads in that squad played for the seniors at different times. If you look at Colm Boyle, he was in with the seniors then out and came back, and has been one of the best half backs in the game. Then you've the likes of Sean Ryder who came on for Colm at half time and was outstanding, and completely nullified Fintan Goold in the second half of that All Ireland final. He played an understated but such an important role, you think about Sean and Kevin Costello who came on and kicked a point and played really well. Joe Dillon and Marcus Hannick played very central roles for us all through that campaign at 11 and 14, they are probably two that stand out when you think who didn't get a crack with the seniors. We'd a good panel too, Enda Varley came on and kicked a great score and won a free for another. We'd guys that didn't get on the final that had done great jobs for us earlier on in the year, the likes of Henry McLoughlin only played five minutes in the whole year and he came on against Tyrone and he turned over three balls that completely turned the game in our favour in extra time, if he didn't get those balls you don't know what happens.

"Aidan Campbell stands out as someone who got in with Mayo and 2011, and got a really bad injury and it didn't really go for him. We had a squad of solid players, but when you see how many of them have come through now, at the time you didn't really think about it, but when you look at it now 10 years on, look at what they've all achieved.

Marking history

As for celebrating the anniversary of this win, there are no plans to mark it yet, but Kilcoyne is not opposed at all to the idea of them all meeting up again later this year. "We might, maybe we'll do a double celebration and the current crop can give us the trophy for a loan for a night, we might have to wait till November time till the lads who are still with the seniors are done. It would be really nice to meet up, maybe we can watch the game and I'd finally catch up on watching it back."

The celebrations back then were memorable ones, but Aidan has one clear memory. He got back in touch with us after we had spoken and said he forgot to mention "one other stand out memory of that win was going to Ballina the next day with Trevor Howley and he celebrated the win by buying a tractor lawn mower as a treat for himself. True story!"

Playing his way back

This year has seen Aidan make his return to the football field for the first time since 2013 when he got a serious knee injury, while he is not back to his flying best, just being out there again and playing football means the world to him. "I'd use the term playing ball very liberally, I'm back on the pitch but in terms of playing out the field I don't know yet. But it's great to be back involved. It's wait and see for now, I'm hoping the decision to go back and play in goal will maybe help speed along the process, and it might just allow me to bend the knee that bit more I'd need to get back outfield, but I don't know how it will go. I maybe hoping against hope but I'm enjoying it in a perverse way, because just being back in that kind of environment with the lads, and training and in the dressing room, and enjoying the craic with the lads is great. It's amazing you can give out about things like training so much at times, but then when you can't do it you really miss it. It's great to be back with the club and we'll hopefully have a decent year."


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