Brigid's prevail as ref row boils over
Dolan swings it to leave Corofin raging at controversial calls
CLAIMS that Mayo referee Liam Devenney and one of his umpires were struck as they attempted to leave the pitch marred yesterday's AIB Connacht Club football final, which provided enough talking points to keep partisans and neutrals alike occupied for quite some time.
Devenney was surrounded by angry Corofin supporters and players as he made his way through chaotic scenes towards the dressing-rooms in Kiltoom, prompting stewards and various others to come to his assistance at the end of a game in which he made a number of controversial decisions.
The Connacht Council will now await his report and study video footage of the unruly scenes. Corofin were incensed by a number of the referee's decisions, including the one to disallow a goal just before half-time.
Full-forward Mike Farragher flicked the ball to the net off a diagonal delivery, but the referee adjudged him to have been in the square too soon. TV pictures suggested that the Galway club had every reason to be angry as Farragher appeared to have timed his run to perfection.
Corofin also felt that the free count, which was heavily skewed in St Brigid's favour, didn't reflect the trend of the game. They were annoyed, too, by an incident in the second half when one of their players was accidentally impeded by the referee, who allowed play to proceed, presenting the Roscommon champions with a scoring chance, which they missed.
Devenney booked 13 players -- five in the first 20 minutes -- which really wasn't in keeping with the mood of the game.
Suffice to say that some players were booked for tackles which probably wouldn't have merited a free in most of this year's All-Ireland championship games.
Corofin full-back Kieran Fitzgerald branded the referee's performance as disgraceful.
"I know this sounds like sour grapes but I was bitterly disappointed in the referee today," he said.
"When you are playing at this level and put in so much hard work, it's very hard to take losing like that."
All of which was utterly irrelevant to a jubilant St Brigid's, whose dogged persistence enabled them to grind out a victory which looked unlikely when they trailed by three points (0-7 to 0-4) at half-time.
Corofin had been the more cohesive force in the first half, with their lively attack stretching the St Brigid's defence to the limit.
Farragher and Kieran Comer were especially menacing, scoring two points each in the opening quarter, and while Senan Kilbride and Frankie Dolan were dangerous at the other end, they didn't enjoy as much possession as their Corofin counterparts.
All four of St Brigid's first-half points came from frees, whereas six of Corofin's seven were from open play.
Indeed, Corofin should have been further ahead, with the disallowed goal in 29th minute the biggest let-off for a St Brigid's defence which was re-shaped for the second half.
"We played terribly in the first half but there's great character in this team. We've come back in the past and we felt we could do it again," said St Brigid's midfielder Karol Mannion.
Mind you, their supporters must have been getting anxious when the first eight minutes of the second half were scoreless.
However, St Brigid's were winning more primary possession than in the first half and once Frankie Dolan slotted over a '45' in the 39th minute, the pattern changed dramatically.
St Brigid's added four more points in the next five minutes to go two clear and suddenly Corofin were facing a real test of their resolve.
Their response was brave and determined and when Alan O'Donovan pointed twice to bring the sides level after 50 minutes, it looked as if the initiative had swung back towards the Galway men.
Not so. St Brigid's, runners-up in last season's All-Ireland championship and one of the most experienced sides in the country, reasserted themselves and Frankie Dolan kicked two points, his second coming after the ball had been kicked off the Corofin line when a goal looked certain.
O'Donovan pared the deficit back to a single point in the 56th minute, raising the distinct possibility that the final would go to extra-time for a second successive year.
Corofin battled frantically in the remaining minutes of normal time and the four minutes of stoppage time, but the St Brigid's defence, superbly co-ordinated by Peter Domican, held solid.
It was the sweetest of victories for St Brigid's, who were creating their own piece of history by retaining the title, while Corofin were left to wonder if it would have been all so different had that first-half goal been allowed.
St Brigid's manager Noel O'Brien acknowledged that they were lucky to be only three points adrift at half-time which, in the end, proved hugely significant.
"They (Corofin) had some goal chances but instead of being six or seven points down, we were only three behind. There's huge spirit in this team and they showed it in the second half," he said.
Corofin manager Brian Silke questioned why the referee didn't consult his umpires before disallowing Farragher's goal and also remarked: "We never looked like getting a soft free."
However, he was magnanimous towards St Brigid's, praising them for their second-half performance.
"Once they got ahead it was always going to be difficult to get back," he said.
Corofin did manage to draw level after St Brigid's five-point burst, but the fact that the Galway champions didn't score for the first 20 minutes of the second half underlined the much-changed environment in which they were operating. "Once we got into our stride in the second half, we were confident enough to push on," said Mannion "There's great maturity and experience in this team and it told in the end."
Ultimately, it was to prove crucial in a game that never really reached the anticipated heights in what were perfect conditions.
Scorers -- St Brigid's: F Dolan 0-6 (4f, 1'45'), S Kilbride 0-4 (3f), C McHugh 0-1. Corofin: A O'Donovan 0-4 (3f), M Farragher, K Comer 0-2 each, J Burke , M Lundy 0-1 each.
St Brigid's -- J Martin; R Kelly, D Donnelly, D Sheehy; G Cunniffe, P Domican, N Grehan; K Mannion, G Dolan; E Sheehy, Darren Dolan, F Dolan; C McHugh, S Kilbride, D Kelleher. Subs: I Kilbride for Donnelly (h-t), P Kelly for Kelleher (h-t), R Blaine for McHugh (59), Kelleher for Darren Dolan (62).
Corofin -- D Morris; P Kelly, K Fitzgerald, K McGrath; A Burke, G Delaney, M Comer; Daithi Burke, G Higgins; G Sice, Damien Burke, A O'Donovan; M Lundy, M Farragher, K Comer. Subs: J Burke for Kelly (19), R Steede for Damien Burke (36), Damien Burke for K Comer (54), J Canney for Lundy (59).
Ref -- L Devenney (Mayo).