Where do we go from here? It’s an inevitable question for a club that has reached the peak. After St Brigid’s made the summit theirs in 2013, it was obvious there would be a few players recognised the only way was down.
“Some people in the panel saw this was the top of the mountain,” admits midfielder Karol Mannion. “’This was what I had played for the last 10 years we were contesting Connacht. We have lost players since then, people have gone travelling or drifted away. The core lads that have driven this team for so long have always been ambitious and wanted to win. Winning the All-Ireland was fantastic but a lot of them still wanted to keep winning and play at this level. With people drifting away and some people not having the same drive, we had tailed off in the years after. Losing to Castlebar the year after was a tough one and then Ballintubber beat us quite easily and losing in Roscommon last year was another sign of our decline.”
The graph has changed this year, though, as the Kiltoom outfit has experienced a rebirth of sorts under player/manager Frankie Dolan. “In fairness to Frankie he’s realised that for a team to come back and replenish itself with more energy, that we had to change it up a bit.
“Frankie made some decisions during the year with certain players, put heat on a lot of the older lads that we can’t keep going the way we’re going, or we’re not even going to get out of Roscommon anymore. He brought in some younger lads who have proven that they are good enough to start in the team. There are two lads in the half-forward line, Conor Murray and Brian Stack, who are good enough to start. Some of the senior lads who have started All-Ireland have lost their place. That kind of move by Frankie has been well received in one way because players with ambition who want to win understand if they lose their place to a better younger lad.
“Niall Grehan, who was the man that intercepted the ball for Frankie’s winner in the All-Ireland, lost his place this year, but Niall is such a good club man... he is happy as anyone to see them (younger players) come into the team.”
So long a peer of Dolan’s, Mannion has watched with interest as much as responded to his friend’s transition into management. “I think it’s been a learning exercise for him. Through the year, he has adapted to it. He has been very good to speak to the older guys in the team and to take some lead from us. You can see that our performances have improved toward the end of the year as well but it is a learning exercise for him.
“He can lose the rag the odd time, no more than when he was playing. Frankie was a bit of a character but the next game is going to be a test for us players, a test for management as well and Frankie will have to show that he has it for the sideline as well.”
Brigid’s aren’t fancied to upset Corofin tomorrow. Mannion understands why the odds are against them. “You can’t really say the All-Ireland winning team of 2013 with St Brigid’s will be playing Sunday. From what the team might line up as, you might only have seven starting. Our success at All-Ireland level was a lot further back than Corofin. Corofin, now, have had a year off and generally speaking in the first couple of years after you win the All-Ireland, the momentum and the bunch of players sticking together will be enough to get you back to that level. We’re not back at that level yet, while Corofin are. We have to prove the next day that we’re at that level.”
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