Monday 19 March 2018

Corofin dethrone champs to set up date with destiny

Corofin 1-14 St Vincent's 1-9 (All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final)

Corofin's Kieran McGrath gives the thumbs up while receiving treatment for cramp at the end of the match
Corofin's Kieran McGrath gives the thumbs up while receiving treatment for cramp at the end of the match
Diarmuid Connolly, St Vincent's, in action against Michael Farragher, Martin Farragher and Ronan Steede, Corofin
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

GIANT-killers Corofin toppled the AIB All-Ireland club football champions St Vincent’s and now view the final on St Patrick’s Day as the last step in a long journey.

Perhaps it will be the hardest step of all to take because finals take on a life of their own, but having come this far, the Corofin players have shown that their mental, physical, and footballing prowess can give them a great chance of lifting the Andy Merrigan Cup. On Saturday at O’Connor Park in Tullamore, Corofin could not be denied, despite the best efforts of a Vincent’s team that deserves to be remembered as great champions.

Unbeaten in 19 championship games stretching back over two years, winning two Dublin titles, two Leinsters, and the All-Ireland, Vincent’s were the real deal.

And then came the gunslingers from the West to shoot down the prospects of a back-to-back All-Ireland success for the Marino club.

No wonder Galway county player and club stalwart Gary Sice was jubilant after a match which featured a terrific first half, and a fascinating dogfight for supremacy in the second half.

“If you were paying in to see a game this year, that’s the game you’re going to want to see. It was a fantastic game. We’ve got a crack at Croker now. It’s step ten of ten, and we’re going to work hard when we get there,” he said.

Corofin worked hard for the hour before clinching a five-point victory. Their football – as was Vincent’s – was refreshingly positive. Astute use of long, accurate kick-passing from midfield to the wings and, when appropriate, down into the centre of the Vincent’s defence, was a feature and Corofin had heroes all over the pitch.

Michael Lundy’s powerful running, the pace of Ian Burke and Martin Farragher, Gary Sice’s competitiveness and guile, the defensive anchoring of Kieran McGrath and Alan Burke was very impressive. And in mentioning these guys, there is no disrespect intended to the rest of the players plus subs who all played their part in a stunning victory.

St Vincent’s? They had all the players in place, all that experience, that stubborn pride that ensured they would never lie down.

Ger Brennan, Diarmuid Connolly, and Tomás ‘Mossy’ Quinn came to do as they had done so often over the last few years, but quite simply, they were shaded, not by much, just enough to keep Corofin believing and grafting.

The team as a whole was only slightly off the pace, and part of that was due to the Corofin lads, but manager Tommy Conroy, as dignified in defeat as he had always been in victory, had no complaints.  “Defeat can be hard to take but I think, on the day, Corofin were the better team. They’re a fine side and they’ll take a lot of stopping on St Patrick’s Day,” he said.

Key moments abounded as the game ebbed and flowed with magnificent intensity, particularly in the first half. At 0-2 each in the 10th minute, Martin Farragher broke through and shot for goal but Vincent’s 'keeper Michael Savage blocked the attempt.

On 16 minutes, Corofin’s Ian Burke got close enough to see the whites of the goalie’s eyes, but his shot went over the bar for a point.

And on 23 minutes came the tale of two penalties, first for Corofin and then, almost immediately, for St Vincent’s. Gary Delaney beat Savage, only to see the ball rebound off the upright. From there, Brendan Egan, who had fouled Gary Sice to concede the penalty, grabbed the ball, and passed to Connolly, whose long delivery was grabbed by Mossy Quinn.

Quinn slipped it to Ciaran Dorney, who was close to goal, and Dorney’s legs were taken by a combination of tackles by Corofin goalie Tom Healy and full-back Kieran Fitzgerald.

Quinn made no mistake from the penalty, and Vincent’s went from being two points down to leading by one (1-5 to 0-7) just five minutes before half-time.

That was a blow, as Michael Lundy admitted. “That would have killed off a lot of teams. But we’re bigger, better and stronger than that. We knew we were going to have setback after setback in this game. We knew we were playing a great team. They’re not All Ireland champions for nothing.”

Egan added a point for Vincent’s on 28 minutes, but just on the 30th minute, Martin Farragher broke through to score Corofin’s goal. No better moment to do that, and when Lundy quickly tacked on  a point, the Connacht men went into half time leading by 1-8 to 1-6.

Lundy and Burke (two) pushed that margin to five points within three minutes of the restart to rev up the Corofin challenge, and overall they did enough to see them through. In that half, Vincent’s scored only three points – two by Connolly and one from a free by Quinn.

They might have had a penalty when Kieran McGrath made a ‘goalkeeper’ type save as he dived on the ball to stop a Dorney effort going into the net, but the ref signalled ‘play on’. Cathal Silke, McGrath and Kieran Fitzgerald made some terrific blocks to halt goal attempts by Vincent’s players. It was Corofin’s day.

Manager Stephen Rochford summed up the feelings.

“Relief, at this moment in time, but, and I don’t want this to sound cocky, not surprised. I felt since I got involved with this group two years ago that there’s huge talent in it, there’s huge determination to get to this time of year, and I knew we had put in a lot of good work.”

Scorers – Corofin: Martin Farragher 1-2; I Burke 0-5 (1f); M Lundy 0-4; G Sice 0-3 (3f). St Vincent’s: T Quinn 1-1 (pen, f); D Connolly 0-3 (1f); R Trainor 0-2; B Egan 0-1; S Carthy 0-1; C Dorney 0-1.

Corofin – T Healy; K McGrath, K Fitzgerald, C Silke; A Burke, L Silke, G Sice; G Higgins, R Steede; M Lundy, G Delaney, D Burke; Martin Farragher, Michael Farragher, I Burke. Subs: D Wall for R Steede (52); J Burke for Martin Farragher (60); C Cunningham for A Burke (60); K Murphy for Michael Farragher (61).

St Vincent’s – M Savage; H Gill, J Curley, M Concarr; Cameron Diamond, G Brennan, B Egan; G Burke, E Fennell; Cormac Diamond, D Donnolly, S Carthy; R Trainor, C Dorney, T Quinn. Subs: T Diamond for Cormac Diamond (36); G Murphy for C Dorney (41); E Brady for M Concarr (55).

Ref – P Hughes (Armagh)

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