Panic not an option

Cool St Brigid's keep their heads again to fell 'Wood

Frank Roche

ST BRIGID'S, the play-all-day champions of Dublin, are now just one hour away from reaching their second AIB Leinster club football final.

They achieved this goal -- and with it the almost unique bonus of a weekend off -- by accumulating a headline-grabbing hurling score at Parnell Park yesterday.

There is a flip side, however, to their 1-20 tour de force. The Blanchardstown boys also conceded three first-half goals to a lively Horeswood attack that flourished off scraps -- an alarming rate of leakage that left them facing an improbable three-point deficit after dominating large swathes of the opening half-hour.


It was that kind of day in Donnycarney: brimful of attacking enterprise and quality scores, often facilitated by obligingly loose marking, with blanket defences nowhere to be seen.

Maybe that's what happens when Leinster club matches, so often played in trench warfare conditions plucked straight from the Somme, take place on a sun-kissed November Sunday.

No one took greater advantage than Dublin U21 Philly Ryan, who bobbed and weaved his way to a man of the match performance, scoring six points from play.

But he had a cast of best-supporting actors up front, including the two Kens, Kilmurray and Darcy, and the strong-finishing Paddy Andrews.

The good news for Brigid's is that, as happened frequently enough during their successful Dublin odyssey, the hard questions were eventually met with the right answers as they ultimately ran out convincing six-point winners.

That is a testament not just to their scoring prowess, but also to their character and eye-catching fitness.

Brigid's now have a two-week break before their mouth-watering semi-final date with Portlaoise, at the same venue on December 4. Yesterday was their sixth championship outing on consecutive weekends.

"Listen, it will feel like two months," enthused joint-manager Mark Byrne. "Mentally it's very draining. That's seven out of eight weeks. And none of them have been easy games -- even Summerhill last week wasn't an easy game."

The extra week will also offer more scope for Byrne and Gerry McEntee to tackle the surprising laxness that threatened to turn yesterday's universally anticipated victory into a wake.

Their unfancied rivals initially took full advantage, even as their middle-eight struggled for primary possession. Declan Murphy landed the first goal inside four minutes, capitalising on PJ Banville's well-timed lay-off after the Wexford forward had left Dublin panellist Seán Murray in his wake.

St Brigid's response was emphatic, and they led by 0-8 to 1-2 after 20 minutes. Cue another blow to the solar plexus, Banville again the creator as his goalward delivery from the right was well fielded and then finished by David Shannon.

Shannon would finish as top scorer with 1-7 (1-3 from play), marking him out as Horeswood's top performer. He could also claim an assist -- of sorts -- for their third goal after 29 minutes, when his speculative free was claimed, and then surprisingly fumbled, by the usually ultra-assured Shane Supple. Banville gratefully gobbled up the invite to establish a 3-2 to 0-8 interval lead.

"The three goals were real killers - and I suppose they're individual errors, something we'll have to cut out now for two weeks' time," reflected their midfield talisman, Barry Cahill.

"We knew coming out at the start of the second half that we were in a really bad position: we were playing against a bit of a breeze, up the hill, three points down. But in previous games -- the Kilmacud game, the Ballymun game -- we were down at half-time and we were able to regroup and put in a strong second-half performance, and it stood to us there."


Byrne addressed the same themes in his post-match summation. Conceding so many goals was "unusual", he said, compounded by a belief that "we gave away the three goals".

"I don't know whether that's mental fatigue, or credit to Horeswood. Maybe they exposed us," the joint-boss admitted.

"It is a worry going forward if we want to progress in it. If we give away three goals like that (again), we're gone."

And yet, you suspect, these resolute campaigners might still find an escape route. "We don't do panic," Byrne declared. "Nearly every big match this year we've been behind at half-time." This time, their second-half response was a supremely clinical 1-12.

Hindsight suggests that Horeswood's best and last chance evaporated within two minutes of the restart when Murphy's goalbound attempt at a fourth goal, his second, was blocked by a defender. Shannon pointed on the rebound but it meant they led by three, instead of five.

The out-of-sorts Murray was replaced after 38 minutes but, by then, the Brigid's fightback was already gathering steam.

Darcy led the charge with a towering third quarter, claiming three clean kickouts, pointing twice and teeing up Ryan for another score. The lung-busting John O'Loughlin continued to drive on relentlessly from midfield.

Ryan, whose quartet of first half points had included a surreal first-time drop kick, remained a livewire presence, and he finished with 1-3 in assists for good measure.

Moreover, his sweetly arrowed pass created the goal that eventually killed off Horeswood's flickering hopes after 55 mintues, although the confident manner in which Andrews gathered possession and finished to the net was better still.

Describing their semi-final station as "bonus territory", Byrne concluded: "We're under no illusions. We know what Portlaoise are and the tradition they have in Leinster and the experience they have ... but it will take a good team to beat us."