It was a glorious afternoon for football last Sunday at McHale Park with conditions absolutely perfect for football for this time of year. Those who turned up for the occasion were treated to two fantastic games of football. The big crowd didn’t arrive until minutes before the second match, but those who got in early enjoyed a superbly contested junior championship encounter between Islandeady and Clonbur.
Let me chat about the big game first, Corofin vs Ballintubber. This match had everything you could hope for and, right from the start, was played at a tempo that would have done justice to any occasion. There were some fantastic scores from both sides. In particular the two goals scored by Cillian O’Connor were sheer class. The goal scored by Gary Sice for Corofin in the first half was also superbly executed.
It was generally felt that Corofin were the heavyweights coming in to this encounter and the bookies had installed them as favourites to win. Corofin are a team with a huge reputation within the province. However, after 15 minutes of this match it looked as though Corofin were in the ‘also ran’ category. The Ballintubber lads were quick out of the stalls and, during a breakneck start in which they were the surprise aggressors, they raced into a six-point lead by throwing down the gauntlet to their more illustrious opponents. Cillian O’Connor scored a wonder goal in the opening minutes and was generally creating havoc in the inside forward line.
It looked as though Ballintubber were going to stroll to victory such was their dominance in the opening quarter. Corofin looked punch drunk and were wobbling all over the place and one began to question whether they had celebrated their county final victory the previous Sunday a tad too much. However, it was only a question of time before they shook themselves from their slumber. They did that quite brilliantly when they realised the game could be slipping out of their grasp and practically every one of them upped their performance before half time.
The second quarter of this match was where the game was won and lost. In that 15-minute burst before half time, Corofin revealed themselves and went into overdrive, kicking 1-6 without reply. They were dominating around the middle third and Ballintubber were now the ones hanging on for dear life before the break. Corofin really maximised their period of dominance and went for the jugular, hoping to take the sting out of Ballintubber before the break. In hindsight that 15/20 minute spell before half time was a disaster for Ballintubber. However Ballintubber do deserve enormous credit for their second-half performance as, realising they had little to lose, they tore into Corofin to place themselves in a winning position with minutes remaining. However they just didn’t have the little bit of luck that can so often be the difference between success and failure. In fact there were a couple of decisions that favoured the winners that could just as easily have gone in Ballintubber’s favour. Normally home advantage counts for something, but not on this occasion. But I do believe Corofin were the better team.
However, the Ballintubber boys left McHale Park with their reputations enhanced in defeat. They got through their customary truckload of honest toil in another quality performance. Of course it is tough to lose a Connacht championship match for the second year in a row by a single point. Many of them will look back on this match over the coming weeks and understandably will discuss the ‘what ifs’, of which there were many. On the other hand they should, and will, reflect on a fantastic year in which they have landed the double of league and championship for the first time in their history. They are a young side with ambition and are a formidable force on the local scene. The big question is, can they replicate the heroics of other club sides within the county who, in recent times, have played on a bigger stage? They have provided sufficient entertainment over the last two years for their loyal supporters. But now is the time to drive on and prove that they are a side of real substance by at least winning a provincial title. That is their next challenge.
Close but not close enough for Islandeady
Islandeady suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the earlier game on Sunday. I spoke to a few of them since and understandably they are gutted as they feel they left a glorious opportunity behind them. It was an excellent open game of football, too, and there was very little separating these two teams. Had Islandeady shown a little more composure in the last quarter they undoubtedly would have won the match. They had lots of possession in the right area of the field, but their shot selection was poor in the closing minutes. Sport can be cruel at times and the Islandeady lads will take little comfort from the fact that they came so close to winning a Connacht final.
Delight for Davitts again
Davitts ensured that a title came to the county by beating the Roscommon champions in some style last Saturday. I wasn’t at the match but I did hear that Michael Conroy was once again the main man for Davitts. No surprise there as this guy is back playing marvellous football. He has been added to the Mayo senior league panel for winter training, so I hope that, with more conditioning and quality training, he will get an opportunity to impress on a bigger stage once the inter-county seasons commences next January. This is a fairytale season for the Ballindine club and, notwithstanding the fact that they have an excellent group of players, the new management team deserve huge plaudits for getting the best out of a side that have underachieved for so long. A new face with new ideas about the place can be refreshing and, clearly, Pete Warren from Tuam provided the inspiration that has seen them land two big titles so far.