They might have taken their time about it but John Mitchels preserved their Division Three status for 2018 on Saturday evening, as Louth minor star John Gallagher hit 0-05 as the Ballybailie men beat Cooley Kickhams by 2-09 to 0-08 in Dowdallshill.
Second half goals from Ben O’Brien and Stevie Coyle helped make the difference in Dundalk this evening, with Gallagher’s class in forward areas there for all to see too. At club level, he has well and truly arrived. Captain Emmett Farrell and James Clarke were among the star performers on a memorable night.
At the end of a forgettable season, in which the Mitchels flirtation with the relegation places turned into a more long-term, and utterly loveless, struggle, Hugh Diamond’s side proved too good for Cooley’s junior outfit.
They did so without the experienced forward Robert Coyle, who was the most notable absentee in the visitors starting XV. Their top scorer across all competitions in 2017, his absence meant teenager Gallagher and the other forwards selected had to shoulder that particular burden.
They did just that, in fairness. Gallagher, who hit 0-05 when the Mitchels last played against the Westerns 27 days ago, opened the scoring from open play, via the post. His older brother Kevin doubled that advantage with just over 20 minutes on the clock.
It was a low scoring affair, due in much part to some superb work being done in the Mitchels back line. Cooley were being restricted to efforts from range and when they did get point attempts away, they were sailing left and right of the posts. They hit five wides inside the opening 20 minutes.
Eventually, two successive scores had the Division 4 side briefly level before the younger Gallagher put over a routine free to leave the scores at 0-03 to 0-02.
He repeated the trick twice more and Alan Mackin also split the posts as the away team opened up a four point half time lead. Mackin could have found the back of the net too but after the ball broke to Stevie Coyle, Mackin sliced wide.
James Clarke was impressive in midfield, dominating aerially. Whilst Cooley started the second half in sprightly fashion, scoring two points in the opening minutes – including a fine effort from 40 yards out on the left – their bubble was soon burst.
Within ten minutes of the restart, the Mitchels put real daylight between themselves and their hosts. Coyle played in Ben O’Brien and the 20-year-old finished from close range, making use of all the time and space he was afforded to steady himself before netting.
That came just minutes after O’Brien put wide, having received John Gallagher’s pass in front of goal. In fairness to the youngster, he showed his nerve to get his shot on target and beat the goalkeeper the second time around.
Gallagher’s Kevin and John added further frees while Coyle got himself a point as the Mitchels managed to keep Cooley at a distance in the latter stages. It would have mattered little anyway. In injury time, Coyle produced a stunning finish to make it 2-09 to 0-08 – confirming a win and the John Mitchels’ Division 3 status for another year.
For Cooley, their task was made all the more difficult with one of their men receiving a red card at half time as words were exchanged and perhaps that meant any chances of them coming back into the game had receded. Still, the Mitchels had to win the game and that’s what they did. Job done for them. All of the players on display tonight deserve the plaudits that will come their way this weekend.
JOHN MITCHELS: David Anderson, Mitchell Keenan, Emmett Farrell, Conall Keenan, Ryan Carroll, Rory Durnin, Aaron Kane, James Clarke, Aaron Keely, Kevin Gallagher (0-02), Steven Coyle (1-01), Ben O’Brien (1-00), Barry Kirk, John Gallagher (0-05), Alan Mackin (0-01).