21 May 2022

O'Neill says title is a just rewards for players' efforts

Desertmartin boss happy his side stuck to the plan

Desertmartin taste championship glory after pulsating finale

Desertmartin celebrate winning their first championship in 53 years.

Desertmartin manager Kevin O'Neill paid tribute to how his team stuck to the task and pulled through to win the club's first championship in 53 years.

Their energetic running game had brought them joy in the lead up to the final. After electing to play against the wind in the first-half, the plan was to sit tight and keep themselves in contention.

Minor winning captain Martin Mackle tucked back as the sweeper and helped orchestrate their moves from deep.

“We planned the best we could for Craigbane. We had a good idea how they'd line out,” O'Neill said.

“We tried to limit the impact of Lee Moore and Fergal Mortimer. You can see the quality those boys have. We worked on a lot of things, like our running game.”

For all Desertmartin's best laid plans, Craigbane had the ball in the net after just four minutes. O'Neill feels there were some nerves lingering among his team early on.

“We spoke about it before the game, these things can happen, but the boys stuck at it,” he said.

“Our ball handling wasn't great. They kept to the system of play they were asked to do. We tried to get our runners on the ball.

“We made a few bad decisions at our scoring end, but I don't think any game ever pans out the way you want it to pan out.”

O'Neill came in along with Chrissy McKaigue at the start of the 2020 season and stayed on this season after his Slaughtneil club-mate stepped away to focus on Derry's promotion hopes.

The Desertmartin boss acknowledged his team's 'slice of luck' in the frantic last ten minutes and referenced the club losing seven intermediate finals since their last junior success in 1968.

“You need that at times to get over the line. It is great for that bunch of players, because of the work they have put in,” he continued. “To get over the line was the most important thing today.

“Craigbane had chances to get goals and on another day they hit the net and they're away with the cup.”

During the first half, the winners settled into their effective kick-out strategy of finding a runner before conceding two points in a row when Brian Rainey and Oisin O'Donnell turned over possession to give Craigbane a 1-2 to 0-2 lead after 17 minutes.

O'Neill didn't feel it was Craigbane pushing up that cost them scores in that first quarter and there was no temptation to opt for an alternative plan.

“We play to a system and we try to keep to it as much as we can,” O'Neill stressed. “I think players who could've shown for a ball in a one on one situation weren't doing that. Craigbane capitalised on it, got two in a row, but we kept at it.”

When Paul McCrystal picked up a second booking after 36 minutes, the message was to just keep sticking to the plan, but they'd no longer have the luxury of having a sweeper. It left Mackle on Fergal Mortimer and Dermot Breen playing as a half-forward in a five-man attacking unit.

“It put a bit more onus on Marty Breen, Ryan McGuckin and Connor Monaghan in there, who I thought were excellent. We just had to go man for man,” O'Neill said.

“Thankfully pushing Dermot (Breen) up worked in the end. He was booked and we made a decision to take him off Fergal Mortimer who is very dangerous.”

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