St Brigid's emerge victorious from the fog
St Brigid's 1-12 Ballaghderreen 0-6By mid afternoon, only a thick blanket of fog stood between St Brigid’s and a third successive Connacht championship. The modern day heavyweights of the western province drew comparison with Clann naGael, the last truly great Roscommon club team, as they reclaimed the Shane McGettigan Cup with an imperious second-half performance.A smartly-taken goal by the excellent Senan Kilbride was enough to shatter the admirable defensive structure which Ballaghaderreen had unveiled. But in the last quarter, St Brigid’s fell into a comfortable rhythm which illuminated their status as a classy and exceptional club team.
If form and expectation follows suite in Ulster, then St Brigid’s are in line for a tantalising All-Ireland semi-final against Crossmaglen or Down champions Kilcoo in February. But yesterday, as the fog shrouded McHale Park, manager Kevin McStay was both delighted and looking forward to the break.
“The three in a row is fantastic for this group. Clan na Gael are the only team who have ever done it in the province and they were an incredible team. But these guys put in a huge effort and anything they got they sweated for it. We hadn’t come up against that defensive arrangement all year. But we figured it out at half-time. Midfield was the key . . . Liam fairly rose the roof in there at half-time. It was great. We thought once we got the goal we would be comfortable. It is great. We are tired but after Christmas we will look at it again.”
As the teams huddled in the dressingroom, one of those winter shocks did seem possible. Before the match, it was confirmed Andy Hanley, Ballaghaderreen’s centre-forward, had indeed taken up a job offer in the Unites States, deepening the sense this might be as far as the Mayo champions could take their roadshow. Hanley’s absence meant Ballaghaderreen were down three forwards who would have been automatic selections, including captain Andy Moran. But Ballagh’ have shown considerable moral substance throughout their long campaign and that shone through the foggy afternoon.
Their cover on the St Brigid’s attack was relentlessly aggressive and disciplined and although the Roscommon champions are exceptionally poised on the ball, they manufactured necklace after necklace of eye-catching passes without really going anywhere. More often than not, they were reduced to the high ball of last resort and relied on the athleticism of Kilbride to make the best of those.
Stephen Drake was the man in the cockpit for Ballagh’, sweeping up at centre-back. In addition, the Mayo midfield pair of Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen began to overshadow their senior opponents as Ballagh’ came storming back into contention after two howitzer points scored by David Drake and Barry Regan. Just like that, it was 0-6 to 0-5 and as they cradled tea and coffee mugs in the refrigerated afternoon, the Mayo fans must have felt good.
“Maybe at half-time it would have been a good thing if it was called off because we were playing so poorly,” said St Brigid’s coach Liam McHale afterwards. “But we gave them a roasting at half-time that we weren’t happy with their level of effort or concentration or how they were maintaining the ball – we had our entry pass into the forwards blocked down six times. But thankfully their attitude changed and they started supporting each other very well in the second half.”
The most telling statistic was that the champions confined Ballagh’ to a single pointed free in the second half. St Brigid’s dominated every sector, with Ronan Stack assuming a play-making role from corner back and Frankie Dolan reminding everyone that he remains one of the most audacious score-getters on the scene.
Darren Dolan, a half time substitute, made an immediate impact with a big point under pressure and Kilbride’s 46th minute goal, after a swift transfer from the busy Richard Blaine left the contest beyond doubt.
These late November games are gruelling and both teams had already put in a tough, clean shift by then. St Brigid’s thrived as the gaps suddenly appeared and the most pressing concern for their sideline was that the fog might force Marty Duffy to cancel the game.
It was a special day for Shane “Cake” Curran, the veteran goalkeeper who at the age of 41 earned his first Connacht medal on the field of play here. He still has the sharpness too, dropping to a snap shot from James Kilcullen to deny Ballagh their only goal chance.
Afterwards, Curran made a beeline for Liam McHale and explained that he foresaw bigger days for St Brigid’s. “We’re going to win the All-Ireland,” he declared.“We are very professional in what we do; we have a great management and have put a lot into what we do.”
And while that also sounds like a scouting report for the men from Ulster, there is no doubt that St Brigid’s are real live contenders.
McHale knows the dangers of prophesising about All-Irelands and for now will be content for his players just to take a breath. “The break is critical now- we will give them a couple of weeks because they have being going hard now at this time of year for four years. It is not easy.”
And it won’t be from here on in.
ST BRIGID’S: S Curran; R Stack (0-1), P Domican, J Murray; D Kelleher, D Donnelly, N Grehan; K Mannion, I Kilbride (0-1); E Sheehy, G Dolan, G Cunniffe; S Kilbride (1-5, four frees), F Dolan (0-3, one free), R Blaine (0-1). Subs: D Dolan (0-1) for E Sheehy (half-time), C McHugh for D Keller (44 mins), C McHugh for R Blaine (54 mins), G Aherne for D Donnelly (57 mins), C Sheehy for N Grehan (58 mins). BALLAGHDERREEN: O Flanagan; P Rogers, K Rogers, T Regan; P Kelly, S Drake, D Drake (0-1); B Kelly (0-1), J Kilcullen; O Jordan (0-1), C Doohan, S Finn; M Tyrell (0-1), B Regan (0-2, one free), J Dillon. Subs: R Conway for C Doohan (half-time), B Solan for S Finn (51 mins), M Towey for M Tyrell (51 mins). Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).