Curran backs Brigid's to march into history
St Brigid's 1-12 B'ghaderreen 0-6
Connacht Club SFC final
With a twinkle in his eye, goalkeeper Shane Curran faced his inquisitors and boldly declared that St Brigid's will win the All-Ireland club title next March.
"I'm telling you. We're very professional in what we do, we have a great management team, we're a confident bunch of fellas and we've put a lot in it," Curran said, giving some substance to such a big statement of intent.
It was just minutes after their third successive Connacht club title, a feat last achieved by arguably the province's greatest club side since the inception of the competition – another Roscommon team, Clann na Gael, who reeled off six-in-a-row between 1984 and 1989 without an All-Ireland success – when Curran pitched in with his declaration.
With Crossmaglen Rangers or Kilcoo standing in their way in the semi-finals in February, others in the St Brigid's camp, who have had the experience of defeats in an All-Ireland semi-final and final over the last two years, tread a little more cautiously.
But the feeling abounds that they are very much heading in the right direction and that seemed to fuel Curran's enthusiasm.
Their defensive statistics alone point to significant improvement since Kevin McStay took over as manager and Liam McHale joined him in an assistant capacity. In eight championship games, six in Roscommon and three in Connacht, they have conceded just one goal and that was as a result of a deflection during the group stages in the county championship against St Faithleach's.
"We've worked really hard on defence, we thought we gave away too much last year," admitted McStay, who reminds those listening that Curran – brought out of retirement earlier this year at the age of 41 (the information was deemed classified in his pen pic in the match programme!) due to defections – still had to make a very smart save from James Kilcullen to preserve that impressive record late on.
By that stage all doubts about where the Shane McGettigan Cup was heading had long since been erased.
A third-quarter power surge by the champions made all the difference as they hit 1-5 without reply, culminating in Senan Kilbride's goal after Stephen Drake's hand-pass out of defence was seized upon by the increasingly influential Karol Mannion to set in motion a move that involved a deft final pass from Richard Blaine. A follow-up point from Ian Kilbride, kicked on the run off his left foot, brought certainty to matters.
McStay had been cognisant of Ballaghaderreen's form in the third quarter of most of their matches in their campaign and after an indifferent first half they were primed.
"The third quarter is their strong one. That's where they were going really hard. Liam (McHale) really went at it hard at half-time in the dressing-room. We felt we weren't getting the edge we should have got at midfield, then Karol really came into it, Ian was ploughing all the time, anyway.
"We needed the goal to settle us. It gave us a nice cushion (1-10 to 0-5)," he admitted.
McHale reiterated what the mood was at half-time. "We gave them a good bollicking, we told them we weren't happy with the level of effort and concentration. We got our entry pass into the full-forward line blocked down six times. But their attitude changed in the second half," he reflected.
Still, a 0-6 to 0-5 interval lead was hardly a measure of their first-half dominance. Moves may have broken down, but, in terms of territory, they were camped in Ballaghaderreen's half for long spells.
Already without four injured players, the Mayo champions' absentee list was added to when Andy Hanley's visa was cleared and he emigrated earlier this week.
But their captain Stephen Drake was offering no excuses afterwards.
"We were beaten by a better side today. At the end of the day, people need to work and we wouldn't blame Andy in any shape or form. There are no excuses. We could harp on about players we were missing, but we had personnel with whom we thought could win the game."
Apart from that late Kilcullen effort, they never really laid a glove on St Brigid's and were reduced to just one pointed free in the second half.
Peter Domican, Ronan Stack, Damien Kelleher and Niall Grehan all contributed wholesomely to a fine, composed defensive effort, while Mannion really dominated midfield in the second half.
Breaking down Ballaghderreen's defence at the other end took a little more time as they planted large numbers behind their 45m line in an attempt to frustrate. It was a determined effort.
But at this level skilful forwards like Frankie Dolan and Senan Kilbride will always find a way.
Kilbride's movement is effortless and his hands are every bit as good as his feet. For St Brigid's fifth point he came between two defenders to pluck a dropping ball from Kelleher and swing over a beautiful point.
They may have had a penalty on 18 minutes when centre back Darragh Donnelly appeared to be foot-blocked by Keith Rogers, but referee Marty Duffy may have been unsighted.
Ballaghaderreen got some traction near the end with two points from long range from Barry Regan and David Drake and, as fog descended, threatening the second abandonment in McHale Park this year, clouds of doubt may also have wafted over St Brigid's.
But the introduction of Darren Dolan, greater involvement from Frankie Dolan and Mannion's resurgence proved the catalyst for a collective improvement.
McStay revealed afterwards that St Brigid's had been trying to reserve some of their energy on the training ground with a view to stepping it up for the All-Ireland series. It was a gamble, but when you are two-time champions in previous years you can spin that particular wheel.
"We had read that they had trained physically very hard which we hadn't. We were trying to save something for the winter. We were a little bit anxious, that's why we never wanted them to get ahead. If they got a march on us or a foothold we would have been worried about that," he admitted.
Whatever happens now he knows his team will be competitive.
"I've been following this team for a lot of years. Nobody ever beats them up too much. We'll have it all to do, no matter who comes out of Ulster."
Scorers – St Brigid's: S Kilbride 1-5 (4f); F Dolan 0-3 (1f); R Blaine, N Grehan, D Dolan, I Kilbride 0-1 each. Ballaghderreen: B Regan 0-2 (1f); O Jordan, M Tyrell, B Kelly, D Drake 0-1 each.
St Brigid's – S Curran; R Stack, P Domican, J Murray; D Kelleher, D Donnelly, N Grehan; K Mannion, I Kilbride; E Sheehy, G Dolan, G Cunniffe; R Blaine, S Kilbride, F Dolan. Subs: D Dolan for Sheehy (ht), Cathal McHugh for Kelleher (44), Conor McHugh for Blaine (54), G Aherne for Donnelly (56), C Sheehy for Grehan (57).
Ballaghderreen – O Flanagan; P Rogers, K Rogers, T Regan; P Kelly, S Drake, D Drake; B Kelly, J Kilcullen; S Finn, C Doohan, O Jordan; M Tyrell, B Regan, J Dillon. Subs: R Conway for Doohan (ht), B Solan for Tyrell (50), M Towey for Finn (50).
Ref – M Duffy (Sligo).