FACING THE FIRING SQUAD Most of the St Brigid’s team line the goal as Crossmolina’s Ciaran McDonald’s late free flashes over the bar at Dr Hyde Park last Sunday.
Cross’ just can’t get through
ALL good things must come to an end. A harsh – but very true – statement that sprung to mind last Sunday afternoon at Dr Hyde Park as Crossmolina bowed out of the Connacht Club Championship.
For three successive Sundays the Deel Rovers had togged out and torn into battle; their two games with Ballaghaderreen being the highlights of the domestic season.
But this was one game too far for the county champions. Their usual swagger was missing, their customary sharpness and cohesion was lacking, and their mental fortitude had been sapped by their two marathon struggles with Ballagh’.
St Brigid’s, a well-organised and very street-wise team from Kiltoom, had used their two-week break wisely. They had studied Crossmolina closely; their tactics, their likes and dislikes, and their reliance on Messrs Gardiner and McDonald, in particular.
John O’Mahony’s presence in their backroom team was also a decisive factor. He had seen Cross’ at close quarters recently and helped devise game-plans for Ballagh’ in an attempt to lower their colours. This was third time lucky for the wily coach.
The statistics of this game will not make for pleasant viewing for Thomas Jordan and his team of champions. They failed to score from play for 37 minutes, they kicked six wides in the first half when the outcome hung in the balance, only one of their forwards scored, and they conceded seven points from frees. Enough said.
On days like this a good start is – at least – half the battle. St Brigid’s got an excellent start; sprinting to the dressing-rooms at half-time with an 0-8 to 0-2 lead.
The Roscommon standard-bearers laid down markers early and often; checking the runs of Peadar Gardiner by doubling up and swarming around Ciaran McDonald in an effort to deny him the time and space to pick off defence-splitting passes.
Brigid’s also wrestled control of the midfield sector where midfielders Mark O’Carroll and Karol Mannion provided a platform that was also occupied by dynamic wing-backs Donal O’Connor and Niall Grehan.
Wing-forwards John Tiernan and Brendan O’Brien also worked the flanks relentlessly, dropping back to defend when required and also providing a competent inside line with a steady supply of ball.
Karol Mannion smacked over a point from long-range in the fifth minute to open the scoring before the influential David O’Connor clipped his first free moments later.
A string of Crossmolina wides from scoreable positions followed, before Ciaran McDonald opened their account with a free on 13 minutes that was cancelled out by David O’Connor. A pattern that was to persist was beginning to develop; St Brigid’s setting the pace and Cross’ trying to keep up.
McDonald drilled over another free on 20 minutes to leave matters finely-balanced at 0-2 to 0-3 but the eventual winners dominated the last 14 minutes of the half.
The effective David O’Connor pointed a free to get the scoreboard ticking before John Tiernan climbed highest to flick his first score of the day. A minute later the hard-working wing-forward landed an inspirational point from the right wing before O’Connor split the posts from close range after Crossmolina’s defence was left spread-eagled.
The half ended with Frankie Dolan chipping a point from a free in the 33rd minute and Crossmolina were left dazed and confused. It was 0-8 to 0-2 and the calm authority and telepathic understanding that characterises the Deel Rovers on big days was conspicuous by its absence.
They arrived for the second half with a look of determination and when Ciaran McDonald swung over a point inside three minutes, we assumed the best was yet to come.
Instead St Brigid’s reassumed control and reeled off three points without reply from Brendan O’Brien and Frankie Dolan (two frees) to ease into a 0-11 to 0-3 lead after 42 minutes. Dolan would also have claimed a spectacular goal were it for an acrobatic save from Paul O’Donnell.
The third quarter was supposed to herald the return of Crossmolina but instead they slipped further out of range. Their defence was being prised open, their usual areas of dominance had been eroded, and both Joe Keane and Brian Benson had been pushed to the margins.
A swarm of substitutes arrived from their bench – including the shock introduction of Michael Moyles who had announced his retirement from football last month due to a serious back injury. His arrival was the clearest indication that Cross’ were in dire straits.
Ciaran McDonald kept up his one-man rescue mission attempt with a pointed free on 46 minutes before Crossmolina mustered up their best move of the game ten minutes from the end.
It came when Peadar Gardiner broke the gain-line and drove forward before feeding sub’ Enda Lavelle. He then tunnelled his way into the scoring zone before finding wing-back Declan Keating who lashed the ball to the net from 21 yards for a magnificent goal. It was 0-11 to 1-4 and we wondered was there a way back for the Deel Rovers?
St Brigid’s gave us our answer swiftly, David O’Connor converting a free that was cancelled out by one from Ciaran McDonald. The status quo was maintained in the final five minutes – despite the best efforts of Tom Nallen, Damien Mulligan, James Nallen and the tireless Peadar Gardiner.
Brendan O’Brien galloped downfield to pop over a point on the run to push Brigid’s five clear again before McDonald ended the scoring with a free from 30 yards three minutes into injury-time. Going for a goal almost seemed pointless with 13 men standing on the Brigid’s goal-line.
The final whistle brought Crossmolina’s club championship aspirations to an end for another season. That is for another day. In the meantime they have earned their down-time.
J Martin; E Ruane, P Kilcommins, R Kelly; Donal O’Connor, G Aherne, N Grehan; M O’Carroll, K Mannion (0-1); J Tiernan (0-2), F Dolan (0-3, 3fs), B O’Brien (0-2); S Kilbride, David O’Connor (0-5, 4fs), Conor McHugh.
Subs used: I Kilbride for Conor McHugh; Cathal McHugh for S Kilbride.
P O’Donnell; N Hegarty, T Nallen, J O’Boyle; D Keating (1-0), D Mulligan, P Gardiner; J Nallen, D Syron; P McGuinness, C McDonald (0-6, 5fs), L Moffatt; S Rochford, J Keane, B Benson.
Subs used: M Leonard for Rochford; E Lavelle for Syron; M Moyles for Moffatt; J Leonard for McGuinness.
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo)