Brigid's not ready to relinquish throne
Roscommon kingpins feel they were written off too quickly after Corofin rout as they close on latest title
To an outsider, it looked like the beginning of the end.
When St Brigid's went down to Corofin in last year's Connacht club SFC final by 14 points, it felt like the great team they had built in Kiltoom had gone to the well once too often. Corofin were slick and mobile. Brigid's looked jaded.
After more than a decade of unprecedented success for the club that peaked with the side that had gone all the way on St Patrick's Day in 2013, the magic seemed to be fading.
"I never felt that," counters Brigid's manager and former star Frankie Dolan when it was put to him that that day in Carrick-on-Shannon felt like the end.
"We were blown out of the water that day, there's no doubt about it, but we had a lot of injuries too."
It turns out that key forward Senan Kilbride was sick in the build-up to the game, while Ian Kilbride was away on army duty. Garvan Dolan and Cathal McHugh probably shouldn't have played that day either. In total, four key men at half-mast. Against a Corofin side in top form, that was never going to be good enough.
Dolan insists he's not offering excuses, but instead points to those injuries as to why he felt he could head into the 2017 season with more than a little hope.
And his optimism has been proven to be well founded. On Sunday St Brigid's take on Roscommon Gaels in another county final as they go in search of their seventh title since 2010.
On paper, their run has been relatively straightforward.
They got off to a winning start by beating Padraig Pearses in the first round in what was a repeat of last year's county final and followed that up with a win over St Faithleach's back in May.
"Those wins were important because we knew after those games we wouldn't have any more (championship) games until August and at that stage there'd be fellas spending the summer in America," says Dolan.
"So winning those games took the pressure off. Between lads over there and lads with the county, we were working without maybe up to three-quarters of our panel at one stage."
They were stretched alright, stretched to the point where Dolan had to put himself in goals. He had played outfield for Brigid's as recently as last year but lining out between the posts was something totally new.
"I played about three games over the summer in goals. We had a fella away so I went in there. We did okay on the kickouts but just don't ask me to save anything!" he laughs.
The semi-final saw them see off Western Gaels, who had beaten Brigid's twice already this year in both league and championship. That victory helped them set up a rematch with Roscommon Gaels.
Brigid's have already beaten the Gaels by 25 points in the championship this year but Dolan explains that game was a dead-rubber of sorts.
"They had already qualified and I think they had a few injuries that day so I'm not sure how important it was for them, so I wouldn't be reading too much into it," he says.
"They have blooded a lot of younger players this last year or two and they have Cathal Dineen from Castlerea who played for the county in the past in with them too.
Then there's the likes of John McManus, Cian Connolly and others. They have a lot of lads who have played county at some level or another so there's no shortage of talent there.
"Alan Nolan who was with Castlebar Mitchells for a while is in with them and I'm sure he has brought a lot to the set-up too."
St Brigid's go into the game as warm favourites (4/6) to secure another county title but Dolan insists that winning more often that not for more than a decade hasn't diluted the club's ambition to be kings of Roscommon.
"We're just like everyone else. We start out at the beginning for the year and we want to win Roscommon," he insists.
"We don't go around the place thinking about Connacht or anything else. We just want to win our first game and take it from there.
"There's no point in even thinking about anything else."