In front of a 4,324 Gaelic Grounds crowd on a dreary Saturday, Galway sparkled to win their second Clarke Cup in three years as they held out in a hugely entertaining affair.
They did so having led Cork by nine points on one occasion and despite failing to score for the final 18 minutes of the game.
For the inspirational Ó Curraoin, this was a second U21 medal and the senior midfielder senses big things from those who are already in Alan Mulholland’s plans or will be in the next year or two.
He reasoned: “We have two weeks to look forward to Mayo and hopefully this success will start translating into senior. It’s a boost for the seniors to see the U21 side win the All-Ireland.
“But for myself and the rest of the lads who will be involved, it’s about time now we started to push on.
“There’s a real sense in this team that we are able to do that and hopefully we will see it in the next couple of years.
“Mayo have set the standard in Connacht for the last few years, it’s up to us to push up to that standard. It’s going to be a full house in Pearse Stadium and we are looking forward to it now.”
Having been a part of Mulholland’s team that beat Cavan in the final two years ago, Ó Curraoin revealed he had taken down a collage from his bedroom wall made by his mother to celebrate that achievement.
“I took it down at the start of the year, just to focus on this year. It was a new team with a new identity.”
Ó Curraoin was a force throughout the 60-plus minutes and behind him Mark Loughnane was terrific in keeping Cork at bay in the first half when, despite Cork’s dominance of possession, they trailed 0-9 to 0-5 at half-time.
As exciting as this game was, Galway led from start to finish and some of their first half points were outrageously good, three of them pearls from a sharp Ian Burke.
Cathal Mulryan’s kicking was almost as good whereas Cork’s build-up play against the wind was relatively laborious although a couple of Dan Mac Eoin points towards the end of the half settled them somewhat.
Cork had been superb in the third quarter against Tipperary and Cavan and began the second half positively with two Brian Hurley points. But the gap had returned to four by the 37th minute before Damien Comer’s goal threatened to kill the game off as a contest.
On the back of it, Varley’s twin brother Paul and another defender David Cunnane pointed and Cork looked all at sea.
With little foothold at midfield and no shape to their half-back line, they were struggling badly.
Cunnane’s point turned out to be Galway’s last, though, and an Alan Cadogan point was followed by a wonderful Hurley goal as he fired past Thomas Healy. Points from sub Cathal Vaughan and a Mac Eoin free reduced the margin to three by the 47th minute but the final 14 minutes of action were scoreless as Galway held their heads above the tide.
They may have gained a little fortune too with David Gough’s allocation of just one minute of injury-time but it was Alan Flynn’s team who were the more impressive.
“Cork threw everything at us and there was a tendency to look after the lead. These guys were involved in a scenario three years when they were nine points up. A couple of goals went in that day and they came out the wrong side of it. Maybe that was coming back into them a little bit.”
Flynn said there could be more to come from several of this Galway panel. “Nineteen of the 33 are underage next year, another challenge. That’s the beauty of this competition. It’s nearly a brand new group every year.”
Scorers for Galway: S Walsh (frees),I Burke 0-4 each; D Comer 1-0; C Mulryan 0-3; A Varley, P Varley, D Cunnane 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: B Hurley (1f) 1-4; D MacEoin 0-3; D Cahalane (45), E Cadogan, J Wall, C Vaughan 0-1 each.
GALWAY: T Healy (Corofin); D Cunnane (St Michael’s), J Shaughnessy (Ballinasloe), M Loughnane (St Gabriel’s); P Varley (Cortoon), D Burke (Corofin), E Walsh (Moycullen); F Ó Curraoin (Micheal Breathnach), T Flynn (Athenry); C Mulryan (Cortoon), S Moran (Claregalway), D Comer (Annaghdown); S Walsh (Kilkerrin-Clonberne), A Varley (Cortoon), I Burke (Corofin).
Subs for Galway: C Rabbitte (Kilkerrin-Clonberne) for Moran (47); J Healy (Annaghdown) for Healy (inj 50); P Ezergailis (Moycullen) for Cunnane (54); G Kelly (Williamstown) for Burke, S Maughan (St Michael’s) for A Varley (both 59).
CORK: D Hanrahan (Douglas); C Dorman (Bishopstown), D Cahalane (Castlehaven), A Cronin (Nemo Rangers); B O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), T Clancy (Clonakilty), J Wall (Kilbrittain); S Kiely (Ballincollig), I Maguire (St Finbarr’s); A Cadogan (Douglas), J O’Rourke (Carbery Rgs), M Sugrue (Bandon); D MacEoin (Ilen Rovers), B Hurley (Castlehaven), L Connolly (Nemo Rangers).
Subs for Cork: J Burns (St Finbarr’s) for Kiely (36); C Vaughan (Iveleary) for Sugrue (39); TJ Brosnan (Newmarket) for Wall (43); K Hallisey (Eire Og) for Cadogan (57).
Referee: D Gough (Meath).