Corofin are through to their sixth Connacht final in a row after a controlled, yet underwhelming 1-10 to 0-11 win over a defensive Ballintubber side.
Without ever fully hitting top gear, Corofin are in yet another Connacht final under the guidance of Kevin O’Brien, the fourth in his four years of management, while their sixth in his seven years of involvement with the club’s senior set-up.
Corner back Liam Silke’s goal was ultimately the difference, but Corofin could, and should have, closed this game out much earlier than substitute Darragh Silke’s injury-time free.
Despite squandering multiple chances in the first half and almost throwing away a six-point lead in the second, Corofin never really looked in danger of losing this game. With Kieran Fitzgerald imperious as ever in defence, his presence helps set the tone in most, if not all, the championship matches in which he plays.
Leading by just the solitary point at half time, thanks to a Jason Leonard free, Corofin came out for the second half with much more intent. Silke’s goal in the third minute of the second half came from great team play, allied with some dreadful Ballintubber defending. The Ballintubber defenders and sweepers were so overly occupied with Sice, Farragher and Burke that Silke found himself with 20 yards of space right in front of the goal before rolling the ball into the bottom corner.
Leonard then kicked three super frees for his side to open up a six-point lead. Yet, Corofin then failed to register a score for the next 18 minutes, happy to play the ball around in defence showing little or no urgency to kick on. After playing the county final just one week previously, fatigue could be a factor.
Five successive scores from Ballintubber, including three Cillian O’Connor frees, put Corofin on the back foot, but when it was needed most Ian Burke was able to win an easy free for his side well into stoppage time, ending Ballintubber's hopes of a dramatic come-back.
Starting without Colin Brady, Conor Cunningham and four of this year's Galway U20 side in Ross Mahon, Gavin Burke, Darragh Silke and Conor Newell, along with all the other players who have been involved throughout the last seven years, Corofin’s strength in depth is evident.
The Corofin machine now marches on to play Roscommon champions Padraig Pearses.
Pearses are the opposite end of the spectrum to this Corofin side. Having won the Roscommon championship for the first time in October of this year, they defeated Tourlestrane of Sligo in the quarter-final before travelling to London to play Tir Chonaill Gaels, winning on a score line of 2-10 to 0-8.
The reigning champions go into the Connacht final already raging hot favourites to retain the Andy MerriganCup in the new January slot. However, the players and management will not be looking past November 24 and Padraig Pearses in Tuam Stadium at 2pm.
Scorers for Corofin: Jason Leonard 0-4 (0-4f ), Liam Silke 1-0, Martin Farragher 0-2, Michael Farragher 0-1, Kieran Molloy 0-1, Liam Silke 0-1, Darragh Silke 0-1 (0-1f ).
Scorers for Ballintubber: Cillian O’Connor 0-5 (0-5f ), Brian Murphy 0-2, Diarmuid O’Connor 0-1, Stephen O’Malley 0-1, Michael Plunkett 0-1, Ciaran Gavin 0-1 (0-1f ).
Corofin: B Power; C Silke, K Fitzgerald, L Silke (1-1 ); D Burke, D McHugh, D Wall; K Molloy (0-1 ), R Steede; G Sice, Michael Farragher (0-1 ), J Leonard (0-4, 4fs ); I Burke, Martin Farragher (0-2 ), M Lundy. Subs: C Brady for McHugh; D Silke (0-1, 1f ) for Lundy; G Burke for Sice; C Cunningham for Wall; C McGrath for Fitzgerald.
Ballintubber: B Walsh; G Loftus, B Murphy (0-2 ), R O’Connor; D Coleman, M Plunkett (0-1 ), M Kelly; J Gibbons, D O’Connor (0-1 ); C Gavin (0-1, 1f ), C O’Connor (0-5, 5fs ), B Walsh; A Plunkett (0-1 ), A Dillon, S O’Malley (0-1 ). Subs: K McDonnell for Walsh; P O’Connor for Gavin; J Geraghty for Kelly.
Referee: E O’Grady (Leitrim ).