Classy Corofin leave Gaoth Dobhair to reflect on 'massive achievement'
Corofin 2-13 Gaoth Dobhair 1-12
Thirty-eight-year-old Corofin full-back Kieran Fitzgerald banged his fist off the ground in frustration when Kevin Cassidy (37) outwitted him to bring his tally to 1-2 from play with nine minutes remaining in an absorbing clash in Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday.
Having been five points behind at half-time (2-7 to 1-5), this score reduced the deficit to two, but that was as good as it got for Gaoth Dobhair on their debut in the All-Ireland series.
Within five minutes the game was over as a contest as Corofin scored three points on the spin. Though Gaoth Dobhair substitute James Carroll did hit two late points, by then the defending champions were safely through to a fourth All-Ireland final.
While they have never lost in the St Patrick's Day decider, they will be mindful of the nine-point drubbing they endured against next month's opponent's Dr Crokes in the 2017 semi-final.
Corofin's ability to hit purple scoring patches at key moments ultimately proved the difference, though how much the tragic death of club member Micheál Roarty and three other young men from west Donegal in a car accident last month impacted on Gaoth Dobhair's performance is impossible to quantify.
As well as their three-point salvo in five minutes coming down the stretch; Corofin scored 1-3 without reply between the 12th and 18th minutes, and crucially, 1-1 in the dying minutes of the first half.
"That goal really stung them," said Corofin wing-back Kieran Molloy, who had a hectic 24 hours: he was also in action yesterday for NUIG in the Sigerson Cup semi-final against UCC.
Gaoth Dobhair boss Mervyn O'Donnell described its concession as "a real killer blow."
"They worked it well," he said. "Our decisions weren't good enough and that's basically what it came down to.
"Corofin were playing in their ninth (All-Ireland) semi-final. We were still on a learning curve. We are proud of where we have come from in the last two years.
"It was pretty bleak in Gaoth Dobhair. We hadn't been coming out of the group stages (of the Donegal championship). So to have got down to the last four clubs in the country is a massive achievement."
After a tentative opening ten minutes in which the teams shared four points, the game switched into a higher gear and the rest of the half produced 14 scores, including the game's three goals.
With Molloy and Liam Silke - who had a fascinating duel with play-maker Odhran MacNiallais - pouring forward, Corofin made the initial thrust, scoring 1-3 without reply to lead 1-4 to 0-2 after 18 minutes, with top scorer Gary Sice hitting the goal.
Cassidy exhibited his predatory instincts to haul his side back into contention with a 19th-minute goal after Corofin goalkeeper Bernard Power brilliant parried a pile-driver from Christopher McFadden, though the corner-back could have been penalised for over-carrying.
Though Corofin scored the next two points, Gaobh Dobhair enjoyed their most productive spell, hitting three in a row, including a super effort from Cian Mulligan, to narrow the gap to a single point as half time approached.
But the contest turned decisively when Ian Burke out-fielded Neil McGee to claim a high ball from Sice and Martin Farragher squeezed the lay-off over the line.
"Ian Burke won that ball and they had to be wary of that in the second half and they weren't able to push up as many people," said Corofin manager Kevin O'Brien.
Corofin slowed the pace deliberately for much of the second period, much to the annoyance of the sizable contingent of Gaobh Dobhair fans in the attendance of 5,109.
They played keep-ball, stringing endless hand-passing sequences together across the pitch to draw out Gaoth Dobhair's 13-man blanket defence. The scoring rate dropped, though Corofin still led by five points after 40 minutes.
A brace of Cassidy points and a free from Eamonn Collum cut the gap to two with nine minutes left but Corofin simply hit the accelerator again, outscoring the Ulster champions 4-2 at the business end of the contest.
"It is a nice achievement to have reached back-to-back (All-Ireland)finals but we don't look on it like that. We just focused on winning," said O'Brien.
"The lads were brilliant in terms of their attitude and their discipline and the way we went about the game. There was a lot of questions asked of us but they stood up again and were full of running at the end," said O'Brien.
Scorers - Corofin: G Sice 1-7 (7fs), Martin Farragher 1-0, J Leonard 0-2 (1f); L Silke, D Burke, I Burke, G Burke 0-1 each. Gaobh Dobhair: K Cassidy 1-2, C Mulligan, O MacNiallais (1f), E Collum (1f), J Carroll 0-2 each, D O'Baoill, N Friel 0-1 each.
Corofin - B Power 7;C Silke 7, K Fitzgerald 7; L Silke 8, D Wall 7; D McMcHugh 7, K Molloy 8 , D Burke 7, R Steede 7; J Leonard 8, M Lundy 6, Mike Farragher 6; G Sice 9, Martin Farragher 7 I Burke 8. Subs: G Burke 7 for Wall (36); C Brady 6 for Lundy (BC, 37); C Cunningham 6 for McHugh (55); C McGrath for Martin Farragher (58), D Canney for Sice (60 +1).
Gaobh Dobhair - C Sweeney 7; G McFadden 6, N McGee 7, C McFadden 7; N Friel 7, O McFadden-Ferry 7; D O Baoill 7; E McGee 6, O MacNiallais 8; D McBride 6, M Carroll 6, N O'Baoill 7; C Mulligan 7 , K Cassidy 9, E Collum 6. Subs: J Carroll 8 for N O Baoill (54); S O Baoill for C McFadden (58).
Ref - M Deegan (Laois)