St Brigid’s 1-12 Ballaghaderreen 0-06
St Brigid’s emulated the great Clann na nGael side by claiming a Connacht three in a row yesterday but the priority now is to ensure they avoid the fate that befell their Roscommon cousins on the national stage.
Clann won six provincial titles in a row back in the 1980s but never converted that regional dominance into an All-Ireland and this latest feather in the cap will count for far less if Brigid’s cannot ultimately go all the way.
No-one is hiding from that fact: not the players or the supporters. Two of the latter held aloft a giant green and red banner here with the legend March 17 is St Brigid’s Day as the Shane McGettigan Cup was being raised.
Reclaiming that particular piece of silverware occupied their minds for longer than it probably should here. Though dominant throughout, they failed to profit from such a state of affairs until the second half.
The reason for their improved performance was laid out plainly afterwards — a verbal bombardment from selector Liam McHale. Whatever was said, it worked and the job was done but it might have never begun.
Last February, Mayo’s league game with Dublin was called off by referee Marty Duffy after 35 minutes of play due to heavy fog and a similar blanket threatened to envelop proceedings here throughout the day.
A pre-match inspection by the same official deemed the conditions playable this time but there were serious concerns as the second half progressed that the thickening mist would scupper everyone’s best-laid plans.
Ballaghaderreen would surely have welcomed such an intervention by then after what had been a praiseworthy but ultimately doomed backs-to-the-wall performance by the Mayo champions.
Without star turn Andy Moran and a handful of other key men due to injuries and emigration, their hopes were pinned to a defensive blockade, which Brigid’s admitted afterwards was frustratingly difficult to penetrate.
For one brief moment in the first half, all 15 Mayo men found themselves baling water in their own half of the field and there was another three-minute siege when they blocked three shots before conceding from a free.
It was rope-a-dope stuff. Like a put-upon boxer, Ballagh emerged from behind their raised gloves only occasionally to launch a counter jab and it was the fact that a good few landed that kept them in touch.
Four of their five points in the opening half were long-range efforts which were manna from the heavens for a side that consistently failed to make any inroads in and around the last third of the field.
For the most part, St Brigid’s had more ball than they knew what to do with and, as the opening period wore on, their scoring returns dwindled and dwindled to the point that they were arguably more in need of the hiatus at half-time.
Even so, they would have suspected they possessed the armoury and the expertise required and they knew too that centre-back Darragh Donnelly could have had a penalty after being foot-blocked 19 minutes in.
That they led by just a point at 0-6 to 0-5 seemed an aberration.
Senan Kilbride and Frankie Dolan clearly had their markers in difficulty, Ian Kilbride was growing in influence around the middle and their defence was so solid that it would not concede a scoreable free until the 50th minute.
With McHale’s words ringing in their ears, they picked off five points in the third quarter and restrained Ballagh to such an extent that the underdogs could manage only one failed point attempt in that time.
Then came the score that erased any lingering doubt.
Ballagh captain Stephen Drake attempted a pass out of defence that never reached its intended destination and within seconds Karol Mannion and Richard Blaine engineered a one-on-one for Senan Kilbride.
The 27-year old’s finish was as emphatic as his side’s overall display in that crucial spell and the remainder of the game was all but academic with as many eyes on the soupy fog than the events on the pitch.
As the gap widened, thoughts turned to events next week in Ulster where Crossmaglen Rangers — who saw off Brigid’s on St Patrick’s Day two years ago — and Kilcoo of Down will go at it for the honour of facing the Connacht champs.
It is hard to see beyond Cross there and, though Brigid’s have calibre in men such as Curran, Peter Domican, Mannion, the Kilbrides and Dolan, the smart money will be on the men from South Armagh next February, too.
Scorers for St Brigid’s: S Kilbride 1-5 (4fs), F Dolan 0-3 (1f), R Blaine, I Kilbride, D Dolan, N Grehan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Ballaghaderreen: B Regan 0-2 (1f), D Drake, B Kelly, O Jordan, M Tyrell 0-1 each.
Subs for St Brigid’s: Darren Doplan for Sheehy (30), Cathal McHugh for Kelleher (45), Conor McHugh for Blaine (55), G Aherne for Donnelly (58), C Sheehy for Grehan (58).
Subs for Ballaghaderreen: R Conway for Doohan (30), B Solan for Tyrell (54), M Towey for Fin (52).
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).
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