The first player we met when entering the pitch at Tuam Stadium last Sunday after a flurry of late Corofin points had blown away Mountbellew’s dream of collecting their first senior title in more than two decades was young Stephen Boyle.
The Mullaghmore man had worn his black and amber number 12 with courage all season for Cyril Ryan and had run his guts out for the cause again last Sunday afternoon. Indeed Stephen was one of Mountbellew’s better players over the two games.
Despite their courageous efforts, he and his teammates had come up short in the last furlong after leading for most of the race.
Beaten by three late points was hard to take, especially when they must have really believed it was going to be their day. As the clock ticked towards injury time, they were one point to the good.
Stinging tears of disappointment, regret, frustrationm and sheer disbelief ran down Boyle’s face freely. The anguish of defeat was etched in every line of his youthful features.
I have known Stephen from his time as a student in St Jarlath’s. He is a good guy. Committed. Genuine. Honest.
Watching his footballing world crumble gave nobody any pleasure. Only one team can win though. Sport has always been thus.
We shook hands, nodded at each other, and walked on. There was nothing to say.
As we walked away towards the presentation, my three-years-old daughter Neasa kept looking back at Stephen. Then she turned to me and asked with genuine concern:“Why is that boy crying Daddy?”
Corofin collected their 10th county title since 1991 last Sunday and they did so showing the steel and bloody-mindedness of an experienced assassin in the last five minutes. With just two minutes left on the clock, the game was in the balance. Corofin were pressing. but Mountbellew were still one up.
Alan Burke stood up, showed some real leadership, and kicked the equaliser. It was like he spiked a balloon and all Mountbellew’s hopes and belief gushed out. They were on the ropes.
Three rapid points by Aidan Donnellan, Joe Canney, and Shane Monaghan in as many minutes followed and Mountbellew’s season was over.
They had fought the good fight, but a very early second yellow card for their centre-back Mark Geraghty for a pointless stamp on Kieran Comer left them with a serious uphill battle.
As Cyril Ryan pointed out after the game: “Beating Corofin any time is tough, but to try to do it with14 men made our job a lot harder.”
Mountbellew had enjoyed the proverbial flyer to start, and led by 1-02 to 0-0 in the first quarter. That they could only muster another three points in 45 minutes and did not score for the last 19 was to prove their real downfall.
The likes of Joe Bergin - whose second-half point was a glorious effort – team captain Patrick Gardiner, Gary Sweeney, Joe Meehan, Stephen Boyle, and Colm Colleran gave their all for the cause, but they lacked real penetration up front. Corofin started to run at them in the last quarter, they looked in serious trouble.
Ronan Steede made a big difference for Corofin
Two things turned the game in the last 20 minutes in Corofin’s favour and created the scores that won the game for Ger Keane’s men.
Firstly, young Ronan Steede, who is still in the minor ranks and will face St James in the county minor final, came off the bench with startling effect.
His point at the start of the second half quelled any panic in the Corofin forward line and his second was a glorious effort too. He is a real ball player and is a terrific prospect. His height, mobility, balance, and the fact that he can shoot with both feet makes him very difficult to curtail.
Secondly, the Corofin forwards upped their workrate enormously and did not allow Mountbellew to clean their lines effectively. That pressure told and a few turnovers turned the tide Corofin’s way.
It was a big win for Corofin and the fact that Mountbellew had beaten the club in county finals in 1964 and 1974 made it sweeter for some of their more seasoned supporters.
Mountbellew will feel this is one that got away, but they need to try to build on the progress they made this season. Corofin is a very experienced outfit and when a side has four current county senior players on show and a few others who have worn the county jersey at minor, u-21, and senior level in the past, it will be hard to beat.
Aidan Donnellan collected his ninth county senior last Sunday and Trevor Burke, who won his first in 1991, annexed his 10th. Burke also lost two county finals in 1990 and 1994.
Stephen Boyle only played in his first final this year. He will have learnt a lot and the secret for him and his young teammates is to store that knowledge and come back better players and a better team in 2010 and beyond.
Corofin: D Morris; G Delaney, K Fitzgerald, C Silke; G Sice, D Burke, T Goggins; G Higgins (0-1 ), A Donnellan (0-1 ) ; C McGrath, C Comer (0-2 ), A Burke (0-1 ) ; D Hanley, J Burke, J Canney (0-3, 1 free ). Subs: R Steede (0-2 ) for J Burke (35 ), M Farragher for D Hanley (47 ), S Monaghan (0-1 ) for C McGrath (60 ).
Mountbellew-Moylough: B Donnellan; G Sweeney, P Gardiner, D McHugh; J Moore, M Geraghty, C Gardiner; J Bergin (0-1 ) , C Colleran; J Meehan (0-1 ), E Wall (0-1 ) , S Boyle; S Sweeney, C Kenny (1-2 frees ) , C Duffy. Subs: D Donnellan for S Sweeney (27 ), D Neary for G Sweeney (49 ), A Sweeney for D Donnellan (53 ).