Galway kingpins Corofin came through an endurance test in Castlebar yesterday to set up a Connacht club final clash against St Brigid’s of Roscommon.
Holders Castlebar Mitchels surrendered their title after 90 gruelling minutes as the 2015 All-Ireland club champions swept into their sixth provincial final in nine seasons.
Lining out in their sixth championship match in as many weeks, Mitchels were worn out in the end as Corofin came good after extra-time.
Points from Michael Farragher, Micheál Lundy and Gary Sice (free) in the second period of extra-time proved decisive as Castlebar’s exertions finally took their toll.
“There is obviously a sense of relief when you go through extra-time with a team like Castlebar,” said Corofin manager Kevin O’Brien.
“They’ve been on the road for the last six weeks and they had a lot of players who had a long run in the All-Ireland series with Mayo, so the extra-time suited us a bit more than them.”
O’Brien’s charges had set the early pace and also finished the stronger; but in between Castlebar gave every bit as good as they got.
That sequence of events led to a good old-fashioned club championship game that crackled and sparked from pillar to post, without ever threatening to become a classic.
Man of the match Ian Burke, Michael Farragher, and Jason Leonard finished with 10 points between them for the North Galway men.
However, Castlebar relied far too heavily on their leading scorer, Neil Douglas, for scores and inspiration.
The diminuitive attacker shot 10 points (all but one from placed balls) but only one of Mitchels’ other starting forwards managed to score from play.
The two evenly-matched sides had finished deadlocked at 0-11 each after more than 60 attritional minutes.
Castlebar hit the front twice in the final quarter through Neil Douglas and David Stenson only to be pegged back each time by scores from Daithí Burke and Ian Burke.
The Galway champions then looked set to snatch victory when Ronan Steede landed the lead point in injury-time, but Mitchels substitute David Stenson grabbed an equaliser in the dying moments.
Corofin’s stylish attacker Ian Burke turned on the style in extra-time with two neat points to help the pre-match favourites into a 0-14 to 0-12 lead at the break.
All Castlebar could muster up in response in the final fourteen minutes were two frees from Neil Douglas.
Their devastated joint manager Declan O’Reilly conceded that fatigue had been an issue.
“It was at the end, but I won’t be using it as an excuse. But extra-time against a top class team like Corofin, [after] six weeks in a row, it had some impact. We tried to freshen it up by bringing on as many fresh legs as we could but bodies were tired and sore out there.”
The eventual winners had come flying out of the blocks and were leading by 0-5 to 0-1 after 18 minutes as Mitchels struggled to get their second wind.
But by half-time Corofin only led by 0-6 to 0-4 and they had to pull out all the stops to set up a repeat of the 2011 decider against St Brigid’s on Sunday, November 27.
B Power; C Silke, K Fitzgerald, L Silke; K Molloy (0-1), C McGrath, C Cunningham; D Burke (0-1), R Steede (0-1); G Sice (0-3, 3fs), D Wall, J Leonard (0-4, 2fs); M Lundy (0-1), Michael Farragher (0-2), I Burke (0-4).
Ciaran Brady for R Steede (BS 14, 26, 31); Colin Brady for Ciaran Brady (34); B O’Donovan for Colin Brady (54); R Steede for Wall (58); A Burke for C Cunningham (65); G Higgins for R Steede (BS 65)
R Byrne; S Irwin, G McDonagh, D Newcombe; R O’Malley, E O’Reilly, P Durcan (0-1); B Moran, A Walsh; F Durkan, C Costello (0-1), J Durcan; N Lydon, N Douglas (0-10, 8fs, ‘45), S Hopkins.
J Maughan for Irwin (40); D Kirby for Lydon (40); D Stenson (0-2) for Durkan (54); D Joyce for J Durcan (61); C Kyne for Hopkins (71); R Burke for O’Reilly (78, inj).
P Neilan (Roscommon)