Diarmuid Connolly lights the fire for St Vincent’s third All-Ireland
Castlebar recover from early Richie Feeney black card but can’t keep pace with Dublin champions
Castlebar’s Tom Cunniffe is tackled by Tomás Quinn and man-of-the-match Diarmuid Connolly during yesterday’s All-Ireland club football final. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
St Vincent’s 4-12, Castlebar Mitchels 2-11
It’s hard to think of any final that has been as dominated by an individual as yesterday’s AIB football final was by Diarmuid Connolly. The bare statistics tell the story in outline and don’t require a whole lot of supplementary detail. The St Vincent’s centre forward helped himself to 2-5 from play – 2-3 of it unanswered in a devastating nine-minute spell midway through the second half.
Connolly also provided the final-ball assist for a further 2-3 and it was impossible to detect his fingerprints on only three of the winners’ 16-score total.
The profound damage done to Castlebar by this display is self-evident but it shouldn’t trivialise the seriousness of the challenge they put up, having had to recover from the loss of one their field generals, Richie Feeney, who picked up a black card for a late hit on Kevin Bonnie and had to give way to Fergal Duncan.
This setback came as early as the sixth minute and with their opponents striking for the first goal just minutes later – wing back Michael Concarr who was a constant threat breaking forward taking a pass from Connolly and driving in the goal – the manner in which the Mayo champions responded to all of this tumbling adversity was a credit to them.
Trailing 0-2 to 1-2 in the ninth minute, Castlebar found a way back. They took on Vincent’s in the arena where they had excelled against Ballinderry in the semi-final – breaking ball around the middle – and began to exert pressure and forcing turnovers. Their fluid movement in the forwards appeared to bewilder the Dubliners and tracts of space opened up, which they systematically exploited.
Stemmed the threat
Aidan Walsh, Neil Lydon and Neil Douglas, Fergal and Patrick Durcan all popped over well-taken points and they stemmed the threat at the back.
Tom Cunniffe did particularly well to restrict Tomás Quinn who had consistently been the Dubliners’ most influential forward during the campaign as a whole and the Connacht champions kept their opponents scoreless for most of the second half, between the ninth and 26th minutes.
That was, however, slightly misleading in that Vincent’s continued to menace and Connolly’s ability to freeze time on the ball and pick his passes created opportunities. On top of the two goals they scored in the first half, a further five opportunities were created.
Castlebar ‘keeper Ciarán Naughton was the primary reason that more green flags weren’t raised. His one-on-one saves from Connolly, twice from Dorney and then Ruairí Trainor kept the winners at bay. In the second half he smothered a chance for Concarr after Cameron Diamond had hit the post.
Michael Savage got in on the act in the 10th minute at the other end, bringing off a flying save from Danny Kirby who burst in and let fly at goal.
Dorney, however, wasn’t to be permanently denied – he had missed a couple of shots as well as the saves – and fisted in the second goal in the 26th minute after Concarr and Connolly combined to open up the goal.
Barry Moran tied up the match at the break and the breathless conjecture centred on whether a team that had missed that volume of chances could reasonably hope not to regret them or whether the dam would continue to hold for Castlebar.
A burst of four points in the 10 minutes after Tom King had kicked the Mayo side in front after the re-start put some daylight between the teams. Shane Carthy, Quinn from both play and a free and Connolly – a right-footed jab over the bar as he bobbed around the attendant defenders – got the scores.
Still Castlebar wouldn’t go away. Within a minute or so from the 41st, they reclaimed the lead. A composed and swift move through the middle set up Lydon for a point from just under 45 metres and when the same player hit the post with another long-range attempt Kirby was on hand to finish the ball into the net. Maybe in retrospect it’s easy to say but there appeared to be too much going for Vincent’s at that stage even though they now trailed.
Their defence had got more on top and Dáithí Murphy was raising his game at centrefield. But the key was Connolly who after the frustrations of missed opportunity in the early stages suddenly locked on to the target. Within two minutes – the 44th – a free from Cameron Diamond bounced over Dorney and Alan Feeney for Connolly to rise and flick the ball into the net. A further 1-3 followed quickly – the goal from Connolly after he had been momentarily dispossessed by the hard working Eoghan O’Reilly. In the bravura flourish of his man-of-the-match display he dinked the ball up with his right foot and hammered it into the net with his left.
With five minutes to go, the match was settled, 4-10 to 1-11. Kirby got a second goal, as Castlebar dug in but resistance if not futile was by now irrelevant to the outcome and two late points from Carthy and replacement Kevin Golden eased them home for a third Andy Merrigan Cup, to follow 1976 and 2008.
ST VINCENT’S: M Savage; K Bonnie, J Curley, H Gill; B Egan, G Brennan (capt), M Concarr (1-0); D Murphy, E Fennell; G Burke, D Connolly (2-5), S Carthy (0-3); R Trainor (0-1), C Dorney (1-0), T Quinn (0-2, one free). Subs: Tiernan Diamond for Burke (36 mins), C Diamond for Fennell (43 mins), K Golden (0-1, free) for Trainor (51 mins), A Baxter for Dorney (59 mins), N Mullins for Carthy (61 mins)
CASTLEBAR MITCHELS: C Naughton; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, D Newcombe (capt); P Durcan (0-2), E O’Reilly, R O’Malley; A Walsh (0-1), G McDonagh; N Douglas (0-1), R Feeney, D Kirby (2-0); N Lydon (0-3), B Moran (0-1), T King (0-2, both frees). Subs: J Durcan for Douglas (50 mins), D Joyce for O’Malley (55 mins), S Hopkins for McDonagh (58 mins), K Filan for F Durcan (62 mins). Black card: F Duncan (0-1) for R Feeney (6 mins).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).