Big guns collide as Brigid’s look to extend reign in the west
Published 19/11/2011 | 05:00
AS FINALS go, tomorrow's AIB club football decider in Connacht is undoubtedly their 'Ali versus Frazier' equivalent.
St Brigid's full-back and captain Darragh Donnelly could only look on in frustration the last time they gloved up against Corofin.
"Unfortunately I was out with a shoulder injury when we met them in the 2006 final," he recalls.
"It was our first time to win it and we'd lost the final to Salthill the previous year so it was particularly special for the club and, of course, there was that famous Karol Mannion 'wonder goal' to win it."
Few around Kiltoom and Cam will ever forget that day in the Hyde, when Corofin, despite being reduced to 14 men early on, hit St Brigid's with two goals and looked destined for victory until Mannion's dramatic stoppage-time piledriver brought the title back to Roscommon for the first time since the legendary Clann na nGael's last victory in 1989.
St Brigid's have gone from strength to strength since, with a remarkable recent history in the competition.
They made the Connacht final the following year also, losing by two points to Ballina, and came from behind to beat Killererin in extra-time last year.
Now they're back as Connacht champions, chasing a two-in-a-row in Noel O'Brien's second year in charge, in what is their fifth final in seven years.
Only one club in Connacht has a better recent record and that's tomorrow's opponents, the winners of three titles in the 1990s, an All-Ireland medal in 1998 and a two-in-a-row in 2008 and '09.
No surprise then that the TG4 crew is rolling up for Connacht club football's heavyweight unification bout.
So how have St Brigid's become such a force to be reckoned with in such a short space of time?
"A lot of it has come on the back of our U-21 success," Donnelly explains.
"We've won seven or eight county U-21 titles in a row, which means we've been getting new players coming through ever year.
"There's also been massive development work done in the club -- we have fantastic facilities to work in, which really helps too."
Donnelly, still only 24 and facing his final accountancy exams also before Christmas, is part of that new wave.
This year's team includes its latest young senior graduates, brothers Eoin and Darragh Sheehy, who are both expected to start in defence.
But all the underage talent in the world is no good if it is not properly coached and assimilated, and St Brigid's are also blessed to have some of the county's most talented and experienced footballers.
Mannion is still their great midfield general and Frankie Dolan remains box-office gold, his current form underlining why his retirement from county service was all too premature.
His ability to deliver accurate ball to county senior full-forward Senan Kilbride is particularly vital.
St Brigid's lost John Tiernan to Australia this year, and Kilbride's brother Ian was last seen coming off the bench in the county final, but the army man returned from his tour of duty in the Lebanon yesterday and should be a big-impact sub.
Yet St Brigid's have experienced some dog days too.
Crossmaglen proved too much for them in the '06 All-Ireland semi-final, when Donnelly's effort to play was thwarted when he aggravated his shoulder injury during the warm-up.
And last year, when they shocked Cork's Nemo Rangers and went all the way to the All-Ireland final, Crossmaglen beat them again when a Jamie Clarke goal was ultimately all that separated the sides.
"Yeah, we have come up short on a few big occasions," Donnelly reflects, indicating that there will be no fear of complacency setting in tomorrow.
"Corofin are an amazing club, they're there year in, year out, and have great experience in the likes of Kieran Fitzgerald, Damien Burke and Gary Sice, so we know exactly what we're facing," he says.
"People are saying that playing at home will be a big help to us but that has the potential to put extra pressure on us too so we don't see that as any advantage and just have to be careful that we do the job out on the pitch ourselves."