Reigning provincial and All-Ireland club champions St Brigid’s will be more than comfortable in their surrounds when they take on Mayo champions Castlebar in the Connacht club football final in Dr Hyde Park this Sunday at 2pm. The Kiltoom men are bidding for a remarkable four-in-a-row of provincial titles but will get nothing easy from the men from Castlebar who caused a major surprise by accounting for a fancied Corofin in their semi-final.
Experience counts for a lot in the provincial competition and St Brigid’s hold a definite advantage in this regard. Castlebar won the Mayo title for the first time in 20 years. While many of their side have county experience with Mayo, Sunday’s game is still a step into the unknown for them as a club.
Brigid’s on the other hand have contested six of the last eight Connacht finals, winning four and losing two (Salthill and Ballina ) so they certainly know what it’s all about. Home advantage, albeit in The Hyde is also a plus.
With that said any Mayo champions will not fear Roscommon champions. Castlebar will have grown in confidence since their battling win over Corofin. They will relish the opportunity to knock St Brigid’s off their perch and book their place in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Yet things have fallen nicely for St Brigid’s this year and they have been gradually improving in recent months. Their two outings so far in the provincial campaign resulted in facile wins over the Sligo and Leitrim champs. While it is normally better preparation for a final if you have had a tough quarter- and semi-final, given all the injuries St Brigid’s had, Benny O’Brien will have been glad to take the easier route. These games allowed him to blood the likes of Adrian Gleeson and reintroduce the likes of Richie Blaine, Mark O’Carroll, and Ian Kilbride.
With the exception of Darren Dolan (quad ), St Brigid’s have a full hand to pick from. The management have plenty to ponder with the substitutes having contributed 2-5 in the semi-final.
Cathal McHugh is likely to return to the corner forward position alongside Senan and Frankie. Mark O’Carroll could well make a return to midfield while team captain Ian Kilbride could make his first start since damaging his ankle a number of months ago. Recently returned Richie Blaine is sure to see action at some stage in attack.
Players like Barry Moran, Tom Cunniffe, and Richie Feeney will need no introduction and they will be key players for a very mobile Castlebar side. Yet Brigid’s look well equipped to at least break even in these individual battles and would certainly appear stronger up front.
Castlebar stung Corofin for two early goals and the Saints will have to guard against the counter-attack.
Luck is always an important ingredient in winning anything, especially in what promises to be a closely fought encounter but I’m convinced the men from south Roscommon will be celebrating a fourth Connacht title in a row come Sunday evening.