To think, they could have been playing for mere pride but for Ciaran Naughton denying St Brigid’s a second goal in the 16th minute. Had Cathal McHugh’s palmed attempt beaten him and they gone seven points down, the game might well have been beyond the underdogs.
At half-time, the Mayo champions had registered just two scores, Danny Kirby’s goal the only one coming from play, and trailed by five points, 1-6 to 1-1.
But their transformation thereafter was extraordinary. By the time Adrian Gleeson knocked over St Brigid’s next score, their first in 14 minutes, Castlebar had scored 1-5 without reply. Impressively, 1-2 of that tally came after their inter-county midfielder Barry Moran was given his marching orders for a high tackle on Karol Mannion.
The goal came from an emphatic Neil Douglas penalty after man of the match Tom King was tripped as he set himself to strike for the net.
Castlebar’s rally was temporarily stunned by that Gleeson point but then King worked wonders to square the ball to a on-rushing Richie Feeney who palmed to the corner away from Shane Curran.
The score marked a remarkable 10-point turnaround for Mitchels but St Brigid’s eventually found their feet to make their numerical advantage work in their favour.
A dubious Frankie Dolan free set them on their way. Niall Grehan kicked over one from play and then Senan Kilbride’s free sliced the difference to two points.
Last year’s All-Ireland champions then put together a marvellously-worked team goal through the hands, which had originated from a sideline in their own half. Substitute Richie Blaine combined with Ian Kilbride in a neat one-two to finish low to the net and push Brigid’s one ahead.
With seven minutes of normal time left, the initiative appeared to have shifted once more. Frankie Dolan’s long-range bullet, with the merest of a backswing, looked to have rubberstamped that in the 55th minute.
Douglas, though, found his range to put one between them. Curran then was equal to a Donal Newcombe point-blank shot, only for King to be awarded a free for a foul by Ian Kilbride. It was an obvious infringment but there was surprise when referee Marty Duffy showed a red card to the St Brigid’s player for what appeared to be a yellow card offence.
Duffy also appeared to signal for full time after the foul but play was allowed to go on and Douglas duly glided over the free to level matters.
The first additional period wasn’t significant for the scoreboard — the teams couldn’t be separated — as it was for Darragh Donnelly’s bizarre sending off. It came after his shot had hit the post after he was put through by Senan Kilbride.
Down to 14, it wasn’t until the second half that the extra burden on St Brigid’s legs told. Their difficulty was augmented as Castlebar’s subs got on the scoresheet, with James Durcan (twice) and Cian Costello splitting the posts. Kirby added another while St Brigid’s frustrations manifested themselves in a red card dismissal of Blaine close to the end.
There were further heated scenes after the final whistle as Duffy was confronted by members of the losing team. But this was a day St Brigid’s can only look back on with regret, not rage. They were the better team in the first half of normal time. They indicated that as early as the second minute when they were two points to the good. Senan Kilbride had opened the scoring after just 11 seconds and his rifling strike past Naughton in the seventh minute pushed them five ahead. He was teed up by Garvan Dolan who had managed to upset the Castlebar goalkeeper as he tried to negotiate a long delivery in.
King’s eighth-minute free was Castlebar’s only point of the first half and while Brigid’s could have gone seven ahead but for Naughton’s denial of McHugh, Frankie Dolan converted the resultant 45.
Senan Kilbride also had a goal chance in the 18th minute when he punched wide but Kirby was much more accurate at the other end three minutes later when he finished off a web of passes involving Ray O’Malley and Douglas.
Brigid’s restored what they thought was order with the last three points of the half to give them a deserved five-point lead at the break. It wasn’t enough, though. Not by a long shot.
Scorers for St Brigid’s: S Kilbride (1-3, 0-2 frees); F Dolan 0-5 (0-3 frees, 0-1 45); R Blaine (1-0); C McHugh, P Kelly, A Gleeson, N Grehan (0-1 each) Scorers for Castlebar Mitchels: T King (0-6, 0-4 frees); N Douglas (1-2, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free); D Kirby (1-1); R Feeney (1-0); J Durcan (0-2); N Lydon, C Costello (0-1 each).
ST BRIGID’S: S Curran; R Stack, D Donnelly, J Murray; N McInerney, G Cunniffe, N Grehan; K Mannion, G Ahern; I Kilbride, G Dolan, P Kelly; F Dolan, S Kilbride, C McHugh. Subs: A Gleeson for C McHugh (29); R Blaine for G Dolan (half-time); G Dolan for N McInerney (47); D O’Connor for P Kelly (59); R Kelly for I Kilbride (extra-time); P Kelly for N Grehan (66); M O’Carroll for K Mannion (70); S Mannion for S Curran (inj 73).
CASTLEBAR MITCHELS: C Naughton; A Feeney, E O’Reilly, R O’Malley; D Newcombe, T Cunniffe, P Durcan; G McDonagh, B Moran; N Lydon, A Walsh, R Feeney; D Kirby, N Douglas, T King. Subs: F Durkan for G McDonagh (54); S Hopkins for A Walsh (56); D Joyce for B Moran (extra-time); J Durcan for R O’Malley (extra-time half-time); C Costello for N Lydon (77).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).