Yesterday’s clash was the deciding set of five between the dominant forces of Galway and Mayo. Castlebar Mitchels had taken the 2013 and ‘15 provincial crowns, overcoming Corofin at Tuam Stadium en route to both wins. Corofin had been first to the mountaintop in 2014 and ‘16, shading last year’s semi-final meeting of the pair.
Extra-time was needed then, extra-time was needed here. Well, not so much needed as Corofin tossed away a winning hand when all that was required was to steady the wheel during the final quarter.
Having landed five unaswered points to force two extra 10-minute periods, momentum lay with the men from Mayo when Marty Duffy restarted proceedings, the light fading above the spiritual home of Galway football. So too faded Castlebar’s charge, Corofin outscoring their opponents by 0-6 to 0-2. They could even afford a saved penalty.
The four-point triumph delivered the club back-to-back Connacht crowns, a third in four years. After the class of 2009, of which five featured here, they are the second Corofin team to successfully defend their Connacht title.
Most pertinent is their feat in nudging the club to the top of the provincial roll of honour. Back in 1991, when Corofin scored their first piece of silverware outside the county, Roscommon’s Clann na nGael had annexed the Shane McGettigan Cup on seven occasions. They were overtaken yesterday and with St Brigid’s and Castlebar Mitchels, both with four wins each, next on the list, it’ll be quite a while before the new leaders are reeled in.
Title number eight should have been wrapped up before 3.30pm. The Corofin support shouldn’t have been made wait the extra half an hour.
Colin Brady, after a fine Liam Silke run, registered Corofin’s opening major to put them 1-1 to 1-0 ahead in the 10th minute. They were led on only one occasion, thereafter.
Ahead by 2-4 to 1-3 at the break, the crucial score arriving three minutes shy of the interval. Ian Burke, having been fouled by Paddy Durkan, spotted Michael Lundy hurtling towards the Castlebar goal. The free was quickly taken, Lundy was found and the half-forward rounded Byrne for their second goal.
The Galway champions went five clear thanks to Jason Leonard’s third free. They’d not score for another 14 minutes. Not that their opponents made much headway in the interim, Eoghan O’Reilly and Neil Douglas splitting the posts to make it a one-score game, 2-5 to 1-5.
Leonard and Martin Farragher cancelled these out, the former a superbly worked move involving Colin Brady, Liam Silke, and Ian Burke.
Indeed, the score went some distance to summing up the difference between the teams. Corofin, so comfortable when in possession, moved the ball through the hands with ease. Their running off the shoulder was constant, their passing slick, intricate and yet so well executed.
Even on a heavy pitch in late November, their brand of football shone through.
There was a fallow period, mind. The closing 14 minutes of normal time passed without a Corofin score.
Two apiece from David Stenson and Neil Douglas (one free) cut the margin to the minimum, 2-7 to 1-9, with two of the three additional minutes of second-half stoppages played. Off went Corofin captain Ciaran McGrath through injury. Extra-time now seemed as inevitable as a general election.
The Mayo champions turned over their opponents from the ensuing kick-out and had their equalising chance when Douglas was adjudged to have been fouled. Stenson held his nerve. Another queue for the tea.
The shift in supremacy had swung on the midfield battle, with Castlebar managing to find either Douglas or Stenson each time a decent scoring opportunity presented itself. Of course, Declan Shaw’s side were far too reliant on the pair. Leave aside Adian Walsh’s third minute goal, which Douglas started, and all but one of their dozen white flags were provided by the aforementioned duo.
The concern from a Corofin viewpoint, similar to a fortnight ago when St Brigid’s were temporarily let off the hook, was that they had missed the boat. A mistake by Eoghan O’Reilly allowed Gary Sice end their 16-minute barren spell. Leonard and Ronan Steede added two more.
2-10 to 1-10 now read the scoreboard.
Kevin O’Brien’s charges could have sealed matters thereafter, Sice winning a penalty after being hauled down by O’Reilly. Rory Byrne proved equal to Justin Burke’s effort. Stenson’s fourth free provided further hope of a second Castlebar coming.
Sice, sub Barry O’Donovan, and Martin Farragher settled the issue upon the quick turnaround. Job done, eventually.
Their day, their year.
J Leonard (0-5, 0-3 frees); Colin Brady (1-1); G Sice (0-3, 0-2 frees); M Lundy (1-0); Martin Farragher (0-2); R Steede, B O’Donovan (0-1 each).
D Stenson (0-6, 0-4 frees); N Douglas (0-5, 0-2 frees); A Walsh (1-0); E O’Reilly (0-1 each).
B Power; C McGrath, K Fitzgerald, D Wall; K Molloy, C Cunningham, L Silke; Michael Farragher, R Steede; M Lundy, G Sice, J Leonard; Colin Brady, Martin Farragher, I Burke.
C Silke for Fitzgerald (21 mins, blood); D Burke for Brady (54); J Burke for Martin Farragher, D McHugh for Molloy (both 57); B O’Donovan for Lundy (61); Ciaran Brady for Wall (62); K Murphy for McGrath (62, inj); K Molloy for Cunningham (73, inj); Martin Farragher for Justin Burke (70).
R Byrne; D Newcombe, G McDonagh, R O’Malley; J Maughan, E O’Reilly, P Durkan; A Walsh, B Moran; S Hopkins, D Kirby, C Costello; J Durkan, N Douglas, D Stenson.
S Irwin for Maughan (33 mins); N McCarney for Hopkins (47); M Towey for Walsh (73); C Kyne for Costello (74); M McCormack for McCarney (77, bc).
M Duffy (Sligo).