Beating ‘greatest’ only worth it if Brigid’s win final too, insists McStay

St Brigid’s (Roscommon) 2-07 Crossmaglen (Armagh) 1-09
When Maurice Deegan called for the ball in Mullingar on Saturday afternoon he set in motion a frenzy of jubilation rarely witnessed beyond the confines of title encounters.

Supporters hopped, skipped and danced onto the turf, like we used to see in Croke Park on days of yore, before making for the tunnel area to pat their heroes on the back as they made for the sanctuary and relative calm of their dressing room.

Such emotion was understandable.

Twice before St Brigid’s had fallen to the South Armagh side by a single score and they had no more than the bare minimum to spare on this occasion after a game of fire and some brimstone in which the sides had returned to stalemate on four separate occasions.

Kevin McStay surveyed the scenes of celebration as they unfolded and was astute enough to realise the sense of breakthrough carried with it an inherent danger.

After all, Crossmaglen had been beaten at this semi-final stage twice before but only one of their conquerors had gone on to claim the ribbons on Paddy’s Day.

That honour fell to St Vincent’s in 2008 when they overcame Nemo Rangers in the decider but McStay’s job now is to ensure that Brigid’s don’t do what Portlaoise did three years before when they fell to his club, Ballina Stephenites.

No one needed to say as much to The Sunday Game analyst for it was one of the first topics of conversation once he had ushered the media into one of the rare corners of calm in Cusack Park, a spare room under the main stand.

“We said to them ‘get off the field’. You can’t help it when you take a massive scalp like that. We’ll have them down to earth fairly quick. To win this and not perform in the final would be shocking. It wouldn’t do the champions we have beaten. They have wished us well and we’ll certainly go about that as best we can.”

McStay has four weeks to programme his troops for the decider against Ballymun Kickhams and will surely spend a portion of it railing against any sense of fulfilment that would be a natural bedfellow for players and supporters who have longed for the ultimate prize for so long.

Brigid’s have won six of the last eight Roscommon senior titles, three-in-a-row in Connacht and were pipped to the All-Ireland title by Crossmaglen two years ago and it is all they can think of to do what even the great Clann na nGael team of the 1980s failed to do and bring a national title back to Roscommon.

And yet, whatever happens, McStay is adamant this Brigid’s team has already proven it’s worth.

“I said to them before we went out, ‘if we can put away these greatest of champions there is no question about you boys’. Okay they might ask about your medals but in terms of character, no.”

It would be impossible to argue otherwise.

Crossmaglen were far from their best. They lost Oisín McConville and Paul Kernan to injury either side of half time and never really discovered their groove in a game thanks in no small part to their opponents’ in-your-face and at times cynical attitude, which extended to wanton obstruction of free-takers.

If that was hard to stomach then so too was the sight of Shane Curran kicking his heels in delight after Kyle Carragher was shown red for an off-the-ball confrontation three minutes from time and one which had prompted the apparent victim to lie motionless until the referee had dealt with the full-forward.

By then, Brigid’s had finally done enough, thanks to a tap-in from substitute Conor McHugh.

“We’ve beaten them and we’re delighted to beat them but it’s only another step on the journey that we [started] maybe three years ago,” said Curran. “They are one of the greatest club sides of all time, maybe the greatest, but that’s no good unless we win the All-Ireland and we know that.”

Scorers for St Brigid’s: F Dolan 1-3 (2fs), Conor McHugh 1-0, Cathal McHugh, S Kilbride (2fs) 0-2 each.

Scorers for Crossmaglen: P Hughes 1-0, J Clarke 0-3, K Carragher, A Kernan (1f) 0-2 each, D McKenna, K Brennan 0-1 each.

ST BRIGID’S: S Curran; G Aherne, G Cunniffe, N Grehan; R Stack, D Donnelly, P Domican; I Kilbride, K Mannion; G Dolan, R Blaine, D Dolan; F Dolan, S Kilbride, Cathal McHugh.

Subs: E Sheehy for G Dolan (30); D Kelleher for Grehan (46); Conor McHugh for Cathal McHugh (54); G Dolan for Dolan (59).

CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; P McKeown, J Morgan, P Kernan; A Kernan, D O’Callaghan, p Hughes; J Hanratty, D McKenna; D O’Callaghan, S Kernan, M Aherne; J Clarke, K Carragher, O McConville.

Subs: K Brennan for McConville (22); A Cunningham for P Kernan (35); C Cumiskey for Cunningham (59); M Boyce for O’Callaghan (60).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois).

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