Super Frankie lifts Brigid's to summit
ST BRIGID’S 2-11 BALLYMUN K 2-10
IT has been a long time coming for St Brigid's and indeed Roscommon, but deliverance day finally arrived in the most dramatic circumstances in Croke Park.
An All-Ireland club football final that appeared way beyond St Brigid's reach after just 10 minutes when they trailed by eight points was carefully retrieved, re-programmed and eventually won by a last-minute point from Frankie Dolan.
It crowned a remarkable day for St Brigid's, who became the first Roscommon club to win the All-Ireland senior club title after outscoring their rivals by 2-10 to 0-7 over the final 50 minutes.
They had trailed by 2-3 to 0-1 after 10 minutes, having conceded goals to Dean Rock (three minutes) and Philip McMahon (six minutes).
It left them facing a challenge that only the most resolute could possibly overcome.
But then St Brigid's are a flint-hard outfit these days and were always going to put heart and soul into a gritty revival attempt. Ultimately, their courage was rewarded as they gradually worked their way through the problems.
It was fitting that the chance to land the big prize should fall to 34-year-old Dolan, whose cool finish in the 61st minute promoted an eruption of emotion among the green-and-red supporters in the crowd of 29,928.
"It just crept over but it was enough," said a relieved Dolan, who also contributed three other points.
"If I wanted anyone with the ball in his hand in those final 20-30 seconds, it would be Frankie," added St Brigid's manager Kevin McStay.
Dolan could certainly be pleased with his contribution, but then so too could all of the St Brigid's players, whose response to the mountainous odds confronting them after 10 minutes yesterday was so determined that it quickly became clear they weren't going to take no for an answer this time.
It was an occasion which demanded collective endeavour and individual brilliance, qualities which St Brigid's had in glorious abundance.
Full-forward Senan Kilbride and midfielder Karol Mannion led the individual charge and provided the necessary inspiration to craft a return to stability before pushing on for a famous win.
The pair contributed 2-5 from open play between them, with their goals coming at crucial stages. Kilbride pounced in the 12th minute, calmly beating Ballymun 'keeper Sean Currie, while Mannion's goal came in the 38th minute with a fisted effort along the ground after a sideline kick caused panic in the Ballymun defence.
Kilbride's goal steadied St Brigid's and they continued to improve throughout the first half, eventually cutting the deficit to four points (2-6 to 1-5).
"After being hit so hard early on, we knew we had to have made a game of it by half-time or else we were goosed," said McStay.
St Brigid's experience as three-in-a-row Connacht champions and beaten All-Ireland finalists two years ago was probably a crucial factor in the revival as they didn't allow the early setbacks to derail them.
"We regrouped after the bad start and were back in it by half-time. That was vital but we always felt that if we worked hard we could get the scores that would bring us back," said Kilbride.
While the momentum was with St Brigid's at the start of the second half, they were still facing a four-point deficit, so the first 10 minutes were always going to be vital.
It was a huge test for both sides and St Brigid's reacted better, outscoring their increasingly fidgety rivals by 1-2 to 0-1 to draw level (2-7 each) after 38 minutes.
That launched a tight, tense phase during which both sides led at various stages before the game was levelled up by a point from Ballymun wing-forward Jason Whelan in the 55th minute.
Chances were missed at either end on the run-in before Dolan held his nerve to slot over the winner in stoppage-time.
It was a heartbreaking moment for Ballymun who, like St Brigid's, were also seeking their first All-Ireland title. Their debrief this week will centre on the failure to build on the perfect start, plus their wastefulness in good shooting positions off frees and open play.
They kicked 12 wides while also losing possession far more often than at any time in their impressive march to the final.
They won the Leinster title and All-Ireland semi-final without conceding a single goal but weren't nearly as secure yesterday.
Kilbride always looked capable of causing mischief in front of the Ballymun goal and once that became apparent, St Brigid's wisely opted for route-one deliveries every time the opportunity presented itself.
"We got a great start but lost our way a bit after that. Their first goal gave them a foothold and they built from there," said Ballymun manager Paul Curran.
"They had their confidence back by half-time and made it very hard on us from there on. Having said that, we made a couple or errors late on in the game which cost us."
All but one point ('45') of St Brigid's total came from open play on a day when they got no frees in the scoring range, which didn't endear Armagh referee Padraig Hughes to the Roscommon contingent.
McStay said that Hughes should not have been appointed for the game after St Brigid's beat Crossmaglen in the All-Ireland semi-final.
"I would have said nothing if we lost but I'll say it now – it was wrong to appoint a referee from Crossmaglen. It put him in a monstrous position. We felt we should have got some more frees," he said.
"Look, it's over now but it was wrong to put Padraig Hughes in that position. It was a bad call."
So then, after seven failures in All-Ireland finals, a Roscommon club has finally landed the Andy Merrigan Cup by winning a game which compares favourably with the top range of finals over the last four decades.
"We've been chasing it for a long time and we finally got there," said Kilbride.
They did it the hard way, displaying true fortitude in the most demanding of circumstances.
As for Ballymun, they discovered that while a good start may be half the battle, it's no guarantee of winning the war.
"We didn't play to our maximum for long enough," said Curran.
Scorers – St Brigid's: S Kilbride 1-3, K Mannion 1-2, F Dolan 0-4 (1 '45'), R Blaine, D Donnelly 0-1 each. Ballymun Kickhams: D Rock 1-3 (0-3f), P McMahon 1-0, T Furman, J Whelan, J Burke 0-2 each, K Connolly 0-1.
St Brigid's – S Curran; J Murray, D Donnelly, G Cunniffe; N Grehan, P Domican, R Stack; K Mannion, I Kilbride; D Kelleher, F Dolan, D Dolan; Cathal McHugh, S Kilbride, R Blaine. Subs: G Dolan for Kelleher (h-t), E Sheehy for McHugh (46), Conor McHugh for Blaine (52), Kelleher for D Dolan (59).
Ballymun Kickhams – S Currie; E Daly, S George, E Dolan; A Hubbard, K Connolly, J Burke; J McCarthy, Davy Byrne; E Reilly, K Leahy, J Whelan; T Furman, P McMahon, D Rock. Subs: Derek Byrne for Leahy (h-t), C Weir for George (41), J Small for Reilly (51).
Ref – P Hughes (Armagh).