Burke switch proves crucial as classy Corofin keep defence alive
Corofin 2-10 Ballintubber 1-9
For convenience you could loosely chart Corofin's strong second-half surge with the arrival of Ian Burke some seven minutes after the restart in this Connacht club SFC final.
Burke had been missing since picking up a rib injury in the Galway final and was held in reserve for their provincial semi-final win over Roscommon champions Clann na nGael and again for this renewal of the 2014 final in Castlebar.
But when they needed him most, Corofin got their timing right and the All-Star duly delivered with a goal from his first touch two minutes later to push them three points clear, 2-5 to 1-5.
It was a nice luxury to have but the truth is the Corofin revival, if that's what a three-point interval deficit (1-5 to 1-2) can be called, was up and running by then even without their elusive playmaker's deft touches.
Three points in the opening six minutes of the second half changed the dynamic of this game and set the champions on course for a first three-in-a-row that stretched their lead at the top of the province's roll of honour by two, to nine overall.
It was the response you would expect from a team that have won two of the last four All-Ireland titles, but summoning that response when you've had so much success can be challenging.
They looked in trouble at one stage in the first half and needed all of their craft and experience to negotiate this tricky challenge.
A dominant Ballintubber midfield of Jason Gibbons and Diarmuid O'Connor asked questions of Corofin while the organised and disciplined defence of the Mayo champions really put the squeeze on in the opening 20 minutes.
Corofin's love to exploit space requires some liberty from opponents and Ballintubber showed none of that as they summoned their entire team back to defend when they didn't have the ball. But that's a tough game to play and it eventually told in the second half.
It's something Corofin have got used to but they didn't adapt well here as their six-time Connacht title winner Kieran Fitzgerald, now 37, acknowledged afterwards.
"We did not perform in the first half. They were winning at midfield and were kicking good ball into Cillian (O'Connor). It looked like he was going to have a good day out," said Fitzgerald.
"We had to reset again at half-time; we had not been used to being in that position and in fairness to the boys, in the first 10 minutes of the second half we got a stranglehold in midfield and when Ian came on the forwards started to tick."
Burke is central to that, Fitzgerald admitted. "He has quick hands, he gets everyone into the game and that is our game."
But if there was an individual catalyst for this win, their sixth at provincial level in 11 years, it had to be Kieran Molloy whose industry and involvement was striking throughout.
Even when they were struggling it was Molloy who was nipping in to steal possession away from an opponent or getting forward to make a telling attacking intervention.
He was on the periphery of the Galway team this year but could be set for a bigger involvement in the months ahead on this basis.
Ballintubber did everything right in the opening 20 minutes to lead by 0-4 to 0-1.
Cillian O'Connor landed two long-range points, Gibbons and Alan Dillon chipped in with similar scores to take advantage of midfield supremacy.
At the back, they thwarted Corofin at every opportunity. At one stage Brian Murphy got in to make a telling interception while Cillian O'Connor was back on his goalmouth in the 18th minute to gather a Molloy shot that dropped short.
Corofin frustration was beginning to grow when Michael Farragher opened up the Ballintubber defence on 25 minutes with one of his trademark kick passes, putting Liam Silke behind the cover.
Silke's pass to Michael Lundy left the captain with plenty to do but he engineered a position to unleash a shot and beat goalkeeper Brendan Walsh from a tight angle to give his side an unlikely 1-2 to 0-4 lead.
The response from Ballintubber was swift, however. Alan Plunkett ended a good run with an equalising point before Diarmuid O'Connor and Brian Walsh combined to put in Jamesie Finnerty for a goal on 27 minutes that restored the three-point cushion.
Bernard Power's kick-out had been put under pressure by Ballintubber in the first half but Power provides one of the better deliveries at this level and for their second goal, after 39 minutes, he was instrumental, driving one over the top to send Gary Sice away.
Sice picked out Burke inside and he slipped a shot beneath Walsh for a three-point lead, 2-5 to 1-5.
It was all about control from that point on and while Diarmuid O'Connor continued to drive Ballintubber on, and Cillian O'Connor landed two frees to leave just a point between them in the 43rd minute, momentum was with the champions.
Ronan Steede and Michael Farragher grew in influence, Molloy and Liam Silke picked holes from deep positions and it was this pair who landed points, either side of a Sice free, to push the lead out to six points, 2-10 to 1-7 by the 51st minute.
Late points from Dillon and Michael Plunkett provided scant consolation for Ballintubber.
For Fitzgerald the cycle of year-round football can be tough and leaves them exposed to hungrier teams, he admitted.
"There is nothing mysterious about Corofin, it's just hard work and move the ball quickly. When we're not at that level we can be beaten by anyone really."
Scorers - Corofin: I Burke 1-1; G Sice 0-3 (3fs); M Lundy 1-0; J Leonard, L Silke, Michael Farragher, Martin Farragher, Colin Brady, K Molloy 0-1 each. Ballintubber: C O'Connor 0-4 (2fs); J Finnerty 1-0; A Dillon 0-2; M Plunkett, A Plunkett, J Gibbons 0-1 each.
Corofin - B Power; C Silke, K Fitzgerald, L Silke; K Molloy, Michael Farragher, D Wall; D Burke, R Steede; Ciaran Brady, J Leonard, Colin Brady; G Sice, M Lundy, Martin Farragher. Subs: D Silke for Ciaran Brady (28), I Burke for D Silke (37), D McHugh for C Silke (50), C Cunningham for Wall (56), D Canney for Colin Brady (58), B O'Donovan for D Burke (61).
Ballintubber - B Walsh; C Hallinan, G Loftus, R O'Connor; D Coleman, M Plunkett, B Murphy; J Gibbons, D O'Connor; C Galvin, A Plunkett, B Walsh; A Dillon, C O'Connor, J Finnerty. Subs: M Kelly for R O'Connor (47), P O'Connor for Gavin (52), J Geraghty for A Plunkett (57).
Ref - P Neilan (Roscommon).