The curtain came down on the senior football season on Saturday afternoon when Corofin overcame neighbours Caherlistrane to retain the 'A' league title and round off a hugely successful 2008 in the process. Only a solitary point separated the sides after two thrilling championship semi-final clashes in September - the drawn encounter widely regarded as the game of the season - and although this final fell short of those lofty heights, it was another gripping encounter in which the outcome was in doubt right up until the final moments of extra time.
Whereas Corofin had built on their county final victory and shown gradual improvement through a successful Connacht campaign, Caherlistrane's championship season ended three months ago. Given that background, there was a view that a marked difference in sharpness would exist between the sides. However, that theory proved misguided and with Shane Bohan, Rory Glynn and Cillian Bane solid in defence, and the breaks being mopped up at midfield, Caherlistrane gained the upper hand early on.
After Alan O'Donovan and Damien Burke had struck the opening scores for Corofin, Pete Warren's side began to dominate and hit 2-2 without reply. Both goals were finished by the predatory Eric Monahan, whose performances this season suggest a bright future. The first arrived on seven minutes when the Caherlistrane corner-forward pounced on a handling error by Corofin 'keeper Bernard Power to strike to the net. Cormac Bane added two frees before Monahan, likely to be one of Galway minors' most potent attacking weapons next season, struck his second. It was almost a carbon copy of his goal in the championship semi-final replay as he rose on the edge of the small square to flick a dropping delivery to the Corofin net.
Having been outplayed up to that point, Corofin needed a spark to ignite their performance and it duly arrived from Alan O'Donovan. The move began with impressive wing-back Kieran McGrath cutting out a Caherlistrane attack and eventually found Corofin's ace marksman on the right wing. After evading the challenge of Ciaran Murphy, O'Donovan drove hard towards goal and finished low past Philip Skelly with a powerful right-footed strike.
The county champions had now grabbed the momentum and, after Joe Canney tagged on a point, struck for their second goal. A superb six-man move that began in defence ended with David Morris setting up the raiding Kieran McGrath to crash to Caherlistrane's net.
In the space of only four minutes, Corofin had wiped out a six-point deficit and edged ahead by a point. Caherlistrane's response was instant and in the dying moments of what was a breathless opening half, they struck for a third goal. Eric Monahan's pass released full-forward Oisín O'Brien who was illegally felled inside the Corofin square; Cormac Bane converted the penalty with authority to leave Caherlistrane 3-2 to 2-3 ahead at the interval.
The action didn't let up at the start of the second half when Caherlistrane defender Rory Glynn executed consecutive goal-line blocks to deny both Aidan Donnellan and, from the rebound, Alan Burke. At the other end, Bane extended Caherlistrane's advantage to three after Cathal Kyne had created the opening.
Gradually, Corofin then started to take over. Alan O'Donovan pointed twice before Alan Burke equalised. Tomás Costello, whose introduction proved to be a major factor in deciding the outcome, then put Corofin in front at the three-quarter mark. Jimmy Sice's side were making their dominance pay on the scoreboard and after David Hanly fired over his side's fifth unanswered point, the match looked to be slipping away from Caherlistrane.
The second half also turned into a fractious affair. Referee Denis Ryder issued a flurry of yellow cards - five in the space of five minutes - as tensions regularly boiled over. When order was restored, Caherlistrane dug deep and rallied once more. Cormac Bane, whose free-taking from the hand was nothing short of outstanding throughout, kept his nerve to strike twice and send the game into extra time.
Despite the bitterly cold conditions in Tuam Stadium, both sets of supporters were being treated to a hugely entertaining and full-blooded final. The game looked to have taken a decisive turn in Corofin's favour on the resumption when Caherlistrane's Rory Glynn received a straight red card following an off-the-ball incident with Alan O'Donovan. With numerical advantage, Corofin went 2-10 to 3-5 ahead at the end of the first 10-minute period following an O'Donovan free and a quality individual score from Tomás Costello.
As they showed in the championship this season, Caherlistrane lack nothing in terms of spirit and character and battled back once more. A superb left-footed Oisín O'Brien point was followed by Bane's fifth free of the day, to leave the sides deadlocked with only two minutes of extra-time remaining. It was now anyone's game. The final action was high on intensity as both sides desperately went in search of a winner. It fell to Corofin when a determined Tony Goggins run into the heart of the Caherlistrane defence drew a free that O'Donovan converted. The victory, and the double for Jimmy Sice's side, was sealed deep in injury time when Tomás Costello showed his class by pointing a sideline kick from the shadows of the stand.
Corofin: B Power; G Delaney, K Fitzgerald, M Comer; K McGrath (1-0 ), D Burke (0-1 ), T Goggins; G Higgins, A Donnellan; D Hanly (0-1 ), T Burke, A Burke (0-1 ); J Canney (0-1 ), D Morris, A O'Donovan (1-5, 0-3f ). Subs: T Costello (0-3, 0-1f, 0-1 sl, for Morris, 39 mins ); P Hanly (for T Burke, 40 mins ); S Monaghan (for D Hanly, 59 mins ); J Burke (for A Burke inj., 70 mins ); K Murphy (for Monaghan, 78 mins ).
Caherlistrane: P Skelly; C Murphy, S Bohan, C Bane; R Glynn, C Monahan, E Glynn; B Murphy, L O'Brien; C Kyne, C Bane (1-6, 1-0 pen, 0-5f ), E Heneghan; E Monahan (2-0 ), O O'Brien (0-1 ), A Murphy. Subs: P Madden (for C Murphy, 48 mins ); B McCabe (for Heneghan, 48 mins ); T Monahan (for A Murphy, 62 mins ); R Conneely (for B Murphy, 74 mins ); A Murphy (for Kyne, 78 mins ).
Referee: D Ryder.