On Saturday afternoon that sight was replicated as another army clad in green and red raced onto the pitch to acclaim their playing heroes. St Brigid’s struck a significant blow for Roscommon football here as they ensured they will become the first club from the county to sample the grandeur of the St Patrick’s Day final since Clann na Gael in 1990.
In the process, St Brigid’s dumped Nemo Rangers out of the competition. This was a serious setback for the Cork champions who looked to have accrued major momentum when defeating Dr Crokes four weeks ago. They finished this game with 13 men but defender Aidan O’Reilly saw red for a high challenge in the dying stages when St Brigid’s were already assured of success.
However the other dismissal was the critical moment in deciding this tie. Midfielder David Niblock received his second yellow card in the 36th minute and the loss of his aerial prowess and ball-carrying abilities hit Nemo Rangers hard. There was also a tinge of controversy to referee Eddie Kinsella’s decision. Early in the first-half he brandished yellow cards to Niblock and St Brigid’s midfielder Garvan Dolan when they clashed. Then before half-time Dolan was guilty of a foul on Sean O’Brien yet Kinsella did not book him. Yet when Niblock committed a similar offence on Frankie Dolan after the break, Kinsella flashed yellow, and then red.
But Nemo manager Eddie Kirwin was not in a mood to gripe over the sending-off.
“It happened. Whether I agree or disagree with it, is irrelevant. I deal in facts. They beat us by two points. I’m not going to moan, we weren’t good enough and we were beaten. We just couldn’t get going and get up to speed.”
Niblock’s dismissal occurred at a stage when Nemo had edged ahead by 1-4 to 0-6. In his absence, St Brigid’s thrived. Big names like Peter Domican and Karol Mannion thundered into the game. But the crucial aspect of St Brigid’s improved play was the stellar marksmanship of full-forward Senan Kilbride. In the first-half Kilbride displayed flashes of potential but after the break he cut loose to claim five points. Three of those were from open play and saw him assume responsibility to demand possession before curling shots over from tricky angles with his left foot.
“We’ve always known what a class player Senan Kilbride is”, remarked midfielder Karol Mannion afterwards. “He might not have been seen on the national scale as much and injuries caused him a problem. But Senan was full-forward for Roscommon two years ago and he showed the talent he has out there.”
Mannion agreed that Niblock’s departure was hugely significant. He said: “The sending-off was probably a turning point as we seemed to enjoy more possession after that. We worked the ball upfield and started kicking the scores.”
The vivid impact that Kilbride made was in stark contrast to the struggles that Nemo Rangers had in front of goal. Their dazzling scoring performance against Dr Crokes had seen four of their starting forwards kick 0-3 apiece. On this occasion Sean O’Brien’s first-half goal was the only flag raised by an attacker other than James Masters.
St Brigid’s had an array of suppliers to their scoring effort with seven players kicking points including four members of their offensive unit.
And yet despite their below-par play, Nemo Rangers persistence still saw them on the brink of an improbable success with five minutes remaining. Centre-back Brian O’Regan and sub Alan Morgan banged over inspirational points from distance to see their team steal into a 1-8 to 0-10 lead.
But the extra legs that St Brigid’s possessed told as they surged forward in the finale. In the first-half St Brigid’s shooting had betrayed their approach work as they belted seven balls wide and trailed 1-4 to 0-5 at the interval.
The loss of centre-forward Cathal McHugh through injury in the 18th minute was another blow they had to take. However their hunger to atone for the semi-final loss to Crossmaglen four years ago was evident as Darren Dolan, Gearóid Cunniffe and Senan Kilbride notched points in a powerful burst.
“It’s a fantastic feeling”, said an elated St Brigid’s manager Noel O’Brien. “It’s fantastic for the club, fantastic for the supporters, right throughout Roscommon and even beyond the borders and we appreciate that great support. Experience counts. If you go back and look at the Roscommon championship, there were games when we were struggling in that and we dug deep. We had guys who played in 2007 and you saw that desire towards the end.”
Scorers for St Brigid’s: S Kilbride 0-6 (three frees); F Dolan 0-2 (one free); K Mannion, E Sheehy, G Cunniffe, I Kilbride, D Dolan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Nemo Rangers: J Masters 0-6 (five frees); S O’Brien 1-0; B O’Regan, A Morgan 0-1 each.
ST BRIGID’S: P Martin; R Kelly, D Donnelly, D Sheehy; I Kilbride, P Domican, G Cunniffe; G Dolan, K Mannion; D Dolan, Cathal McHugh, E Sheehy; D O’Connor, S Kilbride, F Dolan.
Subs: Conor McHugh for McHugh (inj) (18), D Kelleher for O’Connor (28).
NEMO RANGERS: B Morgan; C O’Shea, D Kavanagh, A O’Reilly; C O’Brien, B O’Regan, D Breen; D Niblock, P Morgan; A Cronin, P Kerrigan, B O’Driscoll; J Masters, S O’Brien, D Kearney.
Subs: D Mehigan for Kearney (38), W Morgan for O’Brien (46), A Morgan for O’Driscoll (54).
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois).