SHOULDER TO SHOULDER Castlebar Mitchels’ James Durcan is tackled by Corofin’s Micheál Lundy during Sunday’s Connacht Club SFC Final in Tuam. Pic: Sportsfile
Castlebar Mitchels 1-12
ONE thing we’ve learned in the past number of seasons is that games between Castlebar Mitchels and Corofin never let you down. And on Sunday last, that belief was further solidified in a wet Tuam Stadium.
For the second year running, the reigning Connacht champions needed extra-time to overcome the heroic challenge of Declan O’Reilly’s and Declan Shaw’s Castlebar side. Truth be told, Kevin O’Brien’s Corofin looked the likely victors for larger parts of what was an epic contest, but every single inch of their mettle was tested by Castlebar, who very nearly stole victory.
With 13 minutes of normal time to go, Mitchels trailed by 2-7 to 1-5, and Corofin looked to be cruising. They kept possession for a long period of time, eventually working the ball into Colin Brady, whose intended shot for goal was blocked down.
Mitchels then found a new lease of life as scores from Neil Douglas and a David Stenson brace got them without two, with five minutes to go. Two poor Castlebar wides followed, and it looked like their luck was out, but in the five minutes of time added on by referee Marty Duffy, the superb Douglas nailed one from play, before Stenson displayed nerves of steel to fire over a last-minute free to force extra-time.
It was the first period in the game where Mitchels had gained real momentum, and as Corofin lost the likes of Micheál Lundy (who had only got his appendix removed ten days earlier) and captain Ciaran McGrath to injury, the Mayo champions looked the better placed.
But the fresh legs of six Corofin substitutes in the final ten minutes reaped instant rewards as the light began to fade over Tuam Stadium. In a five-minute period, Corofin rattled off three points courtesy of Gary Sice, Ronan Steede and the excellent Jason Leonard. Two of those scores came after Corofin won Mitchels kick-outs, and the third followed a breaking ball that should have been cleared.
Gary Sice was then dragged down for a penalty by Eoghan O’Reilly, but the resulting spot-kick by Corofin substitute Justin Burke was saved by Rory Byrne.
The damage appeared to have been done, however, as Corofin’s deeper squad depth kept Mitchels at arm’s length until the final whistle sounded.
In hindsight, Corofin looked that bit sharper, particularly in attack, where they moved the ball quicker and with more conviction than the Mayo champions who, at times, looked laboured going forward.
A Castlebar wide count of 14 tells its own story.
Mitchels hit the ground running with a goal inside two minutes courtesy of Aidan Walsh, who palmed home after some neat build-up play by the busy Cian Costello and Douglas.
Corofin replied seven minutes later with a goal of their own through Colin Brady after he was played in by Ian Burke, who caused Mitchels massive trouble.
Douglas and Stenson (two frees) exchanged scores with Sice (free), Leonard (free) and Brady, before the quick-thinking Burke caught Mitchels sleeping with a quick free and found Lundy, who rounded Byrne and slotted home. As the short whistle sounded, Corofin led by 2-4 to 1-3.
The third quarter continued as a tit-for-tat sparring match with Leonard (two frees) and Martin Farragher exchanging scores with centre-back Eoghan O’Reilly (a huge effort) and Douglas (a well-worked point).
It looked like Corofin’s day with 15 minutes left, and although that ultimately proved to be the case, little did anyone know the twists that were to come.
B Power; L Silke, K Fitzgerald, C Cunningham; K Molloy, C McGrath, D Wall; Michael Farragher, R Steede (0-1); M Lundy (1-0), G Sice (0-3, 2f), J Leonard (0-5, 3f); I Burke, Martin Farragher (0-2), C Brady (1-1).
Subs used: C Silke for Fitzgerald (17 mins, temp); D Burke for Brady (53 mins); J Burke for Martin Farragher (56 mins); D McHugh for Molloy (56 mins); B O’Donovan (0-1) for Lundy (60 mins); C Brady for Wall (62 mins); K Murphy for McGrath (64 mins, inj); K Molloy for Cunningham (71 mins); M Farragher for J Burke (80 mins).
R Byrne; R O’Malley, G McDonagh, D Newcombe; J Maughan, E O’Reilly (0-1), P Durcan; A Walsh (1-0), B Moran; S Hopkins, D Kirby, C Costello; J Durcan, N Douglas (0-5, 2f), D Stenson (0-6, 4f).
Subs used: S Irwin for Maughan (32 mins); N McCarney for Hopkins (37 mins); M Towey for Walsh (72 mins); C Kyne for Costello (73 mins); M McCormack for McCarney (77 mins, black card).
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo)