Tenacious Castlebar battle back to end St Brigid’s reign
Mayo champions victorious after exta-time in a compelling provincial final
Castlebar Mitchels capatin Donal Newcombe, Kevin Filan and Gerard McDonagh celebrate their provincial final victory. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy/Inpho
Castlebar Mitchels 3-13 St Brigid’s 2-12
This may just have been the Gaelic football game of the year. By four o’clock we were squinting at our match programmes in the poor November light trying to make sense of the bedlam.
Men had been sent off, replaced, others returned as substitutes and one or two performed late heroics after being dropped from the 15 named on the programme.
The radio commentators were having a meltdown. St Brigid’s, All-Ireland champions and one of the best club sides of recent years, were on the verge of defeat in front of a disbelieving crowd.
In the end St Brigid’s were dispatched the way so many champions are, falling to time and exhaustion as much as the irrepressible nature of a younger team. Castlebar Mitchels are a club team who are developing a talent for making fools of the bookies.
They just had too much gas for St Brigid’s over 80 absorbing and draining minutes and Pat Holmes picked a perfect moment (minute 68) to send in James Durcan, a wonderfully languid if light young attacker not long out of minors who kicked a fabulous point which broke St Brigid’s.
By the time the excellent Danny Kirby and Cian Costello added two more, the All-Ireland champions were cramping up, limping and had nothing more left to give. Durcan closed the day with a late point.
For the opening 15 minutes, St Brigids’ were in sumptuous form. In less than ten minutes, their full forward line hit 1-2 and but for a terrific instinctive save by Castlebar’s Ciaran Naughton on Cathal McHugh in the 16th minute, they might have been out of sight.
In flow, they are a wonderful sight and the driving runs of Pádraig Kelly and Darragh Donnelly caught the eye. At 1-6 to 1-1 up at half time, the regime looked secure even if Danny Kirby’s well-placed 21st minute goal gave the Castlebar men reason to hope.
“The message in the dressing room was that we were five points down against Corofin and it didn’t stop us,” said manager Holmes.
Castlebar’s performance after half-time was sensational. They caught fire to such an extent that even the loss of Barry Moran, who was red-carded for clattering into Karol Mannion, did not stop them.
The marauding runs of Alan Feeney along the right wing were the engine for the revival but Ray O’Malley, Tom Cunniffe and the tireless Tom King played central roles as Castlebar quickly hit Brigid’s for two goals. Neil Douglas beat Shane Curran with a ferocious 41st minute penalty after King was dragged down and then Richie Feeney was on hand to tap the ball home after another slick exchange between King and Alan Feeney.
Just like that it was 3-6 to 1-7. But Brigid’s dug deep and men reeled off 1-3 without reply, the goal a scything effort from Richie Blaine.
In the 55th minute, Frankie Dolan struck a monstrous point. But Castlebar replied again: a clipped point from Neil Douglas and then, with the seconds ticking, a sideline ball that was called wrongly for Castlebar and a nerveless free from Douglas to carry this final into extra time.
St Brigid’s defender Darragh Donnelly stormed upfield, struck a shot against the post and was then red-carded for following up on the Castlebar goalkeeper. Brigid’s could only manage a solitary free in extra time. The All-Ireland champions had been caught and Castlebar, the outsiders throughout this Connacht winter, claimed the big prize.
CASTLEBAR: C Naughton, A Feeney, T Cunniffe, E O’Malley; D Newcombe, D Donnelly, P Durcan; A Walsh, B Moran; N Douglas (1-3, pen, free), T King. (0-5, 4 frees), C McDonagh; D Kirby (1-1), R Feeney (1-0), N Lydon (0-1). Subs: F Durkan for G McDonagh (54 mins), D Joyce for B Moran (sent-off 37 mins), C Costello (0-1) for N Lydon (76 mins), J Durcan (0-2) for R O’Malley (68 mins), A Walsh for E O’Reilly (79 mins).
ST BRIGID’S: S Curran R Stack, D Donnelly, J Murray; N McInerney, G Cuniffe, N Grehan; K Mannion, G Ahern; I Kilbride (0-1), G Dolan, P Kelly (0-1); F Dolan (0-6, 2 frees), S Kilbride (1-3, 2 frees), C McHugh. Subs: A Gleeson (0-1) for C McHugh (31 mins), R Blaine (1-0) for G Dolan (half time), G Dolan for N McInerney (51 mins), R Kelly for I Kilbride (sent off 60 (+2) mins), S Mannion for S Curran (74 mins inj),
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo)