There was lots of spectacular action in an absorbing game in Hyde Park yesterday, before Castlebar Mitchels managed by the experienced Pat Holmes, saw off St. Brigids, and denied the Roscommon men a four-in-a-row.
At half time the 2013 All-Ireland champions looked in control as they led by 1-6 to 1-1 and were bossing many of the key positions.
However, the outstanding player on the field for Castlebar, Tom King, had other ideas and he had a superb second half.
King who also plays soccer for Mervue United in Galway scored three quick-fire points to give his side belief.
Two of those came from frees after two bad mistakes from Shane Curran in the Brigid’s goal.
Curran, who had been exemplary in the first half — should have been more composed with his team in such a good position.
Instead, the vastly experienced and exuberant keeper — fumbled one ball, before picking it off the ground, and then clattered an opposition forward for a second free.
Suddenly it was 1-6 to 1-4 and the tide turned.
King destroyed the St. Brigid’s full-back line throughout the entire second half and the diminutive corner forward used his pace and excellent close ball control to give a torrid time to a succession of markers.
Following a good run he set up Richie Feeney for a punched goal, and it looked all over for the home side who were five in arrears and had conceded 2-5 in quick succession.
As is often the case in dramatic GAA games — the referee became centre-stage.
Marty Duffy (Sligo) gave a straight red card to Barry Moran for an ugly full-frontal challenge and St. Brigid’s took over.
They rattled off 1-4 without reply with the highlight being a sublime pointed effort from distance from veteran Frankie Dolan.
There looked to be no way back for Castlebar, but to their credit they rallied well and Neil Douglas hit a good point to leave the minimum between them.
The most bizarre incident of the day then occurred — referee Duffy appeared to blow for full-time after a foul on a Castlebar player, his outstretched arms were plain to see — and then he changed his mind.
Instead of blowing for what would have been a Brigid’s win, — he flashed an incredibly harsh red card to their captain Ian Kilbride, and allowed Castlebar to take the equalising free sending the game to extra-time.
There, only one team looked likely winners once a Senan Kilbride effort came back off the butt of Ciarán Naughton’s post and was cleared.
The younger and fitter Castlebar lads started running at Benny O’Brien’s men and St. Brigid’s ran out of steam. They also suffered a huge blow when full-back Darragh Donnelly was sent off for a second yellow card.
Nobody seemed sure as to what that card was issued for, however, and once he was out of the equation, Castlebar took charge and shot four unanswered points, two from James Durcan, to run out very convincing winners.
Castlebar had very strong displays from impressive corner backs Alan Feeney and Ray O’ Malley, wing back and captain Donal Newcome, the outstanding Tom Cunniffe and Richie Feeney and man-of-the-match King.
St. Brigid’s could have won the match in normal time, but the losses of the likes of Peter Domican and Conor McHugh (both emigrated) and Damien Kelleher and Darren Dolan (injuries) from their All-Ireland winning squad made yesterday a bridge too far for them.
Their supporters and some of the players were livid after the game with match referee Duffy, and he had to be given protection by match stewards as he walked off the pitch.
And after giving out three dubious red cards to St. Brigid’s — Ian Kilbride, Darragh Donnelly and Richie Blaine — and after signalling the game was over, and then rapidly changing his mind — even the official would probably admit, he has had better days inside the whitewash.
That said, Castlebar deserve this win. They showed terrific character to sneak the two points to level the tie and they pushed on well from there.
They last won the Connacht title in 1993, and went on to contest the All-Ireland final, when they were hammered by Nemo Rangers.
Few will give them much chance next February either — but they won’t mind that.
They are getting to enjoy being the underdogs.
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