Great teams win games the hard way and reigning All-Ireland champions Corofin came through another struggle to earn their place in the Connacht final.
Ballintubber, inspired by Mayo all-time leading scorer Cillian O’Connor, came with a late surge that could have downed the north Galway men in Tuam Stadium.
But just like they did against Tuam Stars in their county final, Corofin dug deep and it was youngster Darragh Silke who delivered the final blow in a gruelling contest.
Kevin O’Brien’s men will aim for their fourth successive provincial crown when they clash with Roscommon’s Pádraig Pearses on November 24. But the Corofin manager knows how close his side came to being dumped out.
“In the first half we created a good few goal chances. They just didn’t come off for us,” said O’Brien.
“We were sitting too deep. It is definitely an area of concern for us. We probably did that in the Galway championship as well.
“And with a player like Cillian O’Connor around you definitely have to keep your head in the game.”
Corofin started well in both halves but they only held a 0-5 to 0-4 lead at half-time and it wasn’t until Liam Silke found the net that they started to pull clear.
That goal came three minutes after half-time and they took a 1-9 to 0-6 lead by the 45th minute. However, Cillian O’Connor chipped away at that before substitute Darragh Silke sent Corofin into their sixth straight Connacht final.
“Gary Sice normally takes those frees but Darragh practises them a lot and he had great composure to do that,” said O’Brien.
It was a rematch of last year’s Connacht final, where Connacht had triumphed on a 2-10 to 1-9 scoreline at MacHale Park in Castlebar.
Ballintubber had never won a provincial title but fresh off back-to-back Mayo successes, and a win against Glencar/Manorhamilton, confidence was high.
Corofin needed a replay to see off Tuam Stars in Galway but seven days on from that seventh straight Frank Fox Cup, they hit the ground running at the same venue.
Michael Farragher and Kieran Molloy scored inside two minutes. They wouldn’t score again until the 14th minute. And the teams were level for the first time when Michael Plunkett fired over from long range in the 17th minute.
Corofin looked more dangerous in front of goal but Liam Silke should have done better when goalkeeper Brendan Walsh got down well to save from him, and Molloy couldn’t finish off the rebound.
Ballintubber hung on in there and it wasn’t until Jason Leonard scored his first free that Corofin had their lead for half-time.
Then in the 33rd minute Liam Silke ghosted in behind the defence and Michael Farragher found him, before the Galway defender finished low to the net.
When Martin Farragher doubled his tally Corofin were six points clear and heading towards another Connacht final.
But Ballintubber weren’t done yet, and they launched an onslaught with five points in-a-row. Cillian O’Connor scored first in the 47th minute and when he tapped over his fifth free 14 minutes later a shock looked likely. That never materialised.
“I can’t fault the character of this group of players,” said Ballintubber manager Kevin Johnson.
“We are awful disappointed. We felt very confident coming into the game. We thought we had a really good chance and preparation went really well.
“It comes down to a few small things in the end. We wanted to be in the game coming into the last few minutes and we were. I felt the hunger probably would have brought us over the line.
“Corofin are just some team. Massive credit to them.
“They are not All-Ireland champions for nothing.”
Scorers for Corofin: J Leonard (0-4 f), L Silke (1-1); Martin Farragher (0-2); Michael Farragher, K Molloy, D Silke (free) (0-1 each).
Scorers for Ballintubber: C O’Connor (0-5 frees); B Murphy, D O’Connor, S O’Malley, M Plunkett, C Gavin (free), A Plunkett (0-1 each).
COROFIN: B Power; C Silke, K Fitzgerald, L Silke; D McHugh, D Wall, D Burke; K Molloy, R Steede; G Sice, Michael Farragher, J Leonard; M Lundy, Martin Farragher, I Burke.
Subs: C Brady for McHugh (46), D Silke for Lundy (52), G Burke for Sice (59), C Cunningham for Wall (60), C McGrath for Fitzgerald (65).
BALLINTUBBER: Brendan Walsh; B Murphy, G Loftus, M Kelly; D Coleman, M Plunkett, R O’Connor; J Gibbons, D O’Connor; C Gavin, A Dillon, Bryan Walsh; A Plunkett, C O’Connor, S O’Malley.
Subs: K McDonnell for Bryan Walsh (52), P O’Connor for Gavin (52), J Geraghty for Kelly (55).
Referee: Eamonn O’Grady (Leitrim).