I was at O’Connor Park in Tullamore – which, by the way, has got to be the finest mid-sized GAA ground in the country – this afternoon, hoping to see my local club St Vincents make it through to a second successive All-Ireland club final. On a day that had more than a hint of spring about it, it was, however, their opponents, Galway and Connacht champions Corofin, who showed far greater invention and purpose. The Westerners weren’t at all flattered by their five-point winning margin, as they dethroned the All-Ireland champions on a 1-14 to 1-9 scoreline.
The Marino lads looked a bit out of sorts right from the off today. Maybe the fact that they didn’t line out with the same fifteen that had started the All-Ireland final last March and every single championship match since then had something to do with it, with Cameron Diamond starting in place of Kevin Bonnie in the backs and his brother Cormac on for midfielder Daithi Murphy. A more pertinent reason, though, for Vinnies’ off-colour demeanour today was surely the busy, probing start their opponents made.
Corofin are an impressive outfit. Well organised and hard working at the back, the middle third full of lads who are hungry to get on the ball and when they do have the ability to aim laser-guided foot-passes of thirty and forty yards into nippy, dangerous forwards, they’re the best club team I’ve seen for a while. On their day – and we’ve enjoyed more than a few good days following them over the last two years – Vinnies can (and have been) pretty lethal themselves but today simply wasn’t their day. Corofin were always on top and the longer the match went on, the more obvious this fact became.
Vincents have had many stars on the long unbeaten run that ended earlier today – the last championship defeat they suffered before today was when Ballymun beat them in the Dublin quarter-final way back in October 2012 – but, such is his outrageous talent and the many commanding performances he’s put in, Diarmuid Connolly has always been the accepted primus inter pares of the side. Today, though, our main man had to play second fiddle to Corofin’s Michael Lundy who was a constant thorn in the side of the defending champions and who was at the heart of Corofin’s most menacing attacks.
The Galway lads could have been out of sight by half-time, only for two penalty awards – both of them correct (with ref Padraig Hughes, by the way, having an excellent day on the whistle) – inside a minute which briefly turned the contest on its head. Corofin, leading by two points at that stage, got their one first, Gary Delaney’s thumper from the spot coming back off the crossbar. Vinnies swept downfield and a despairing foot-block led to the second penalty award, this time for our lads. Mossy Quinn was coolness personified as he stroked it low and firmly into the bottom right corner to give Vinnies the lead for the first time in the game.
Ahead against the run of play, Vinnies stretched their lead to two soon after when the raiding Brendan Egan belted over a rasper from close range. Things were looking good for the champs now but, in a flash, the contest turned against them. Two Vinnies lads went up for the one ball, both missed and it fell kindly to Lundy, who collected it at a hundred miles an hour and tore off towards the town end goal. With our defence in disarray, he offloaded to Martin Farragher, who found the net despite Jarleth Curley’s best efforts at deflecting it out.
Corofin went in two points to the good and it was clear to the Marino faithful at that stage that this was going to be an uphill struggle. Two quick points for the Westerners right after the break confirmed just how tough the challenge facing our lads was and as the half progressed it became ever clearer that this one was going to be a bridge too far for them. Our lads’ movement of the ball – which involved far more use of the hand compared to their opponents – was slow and ponderous and time and again our attacks failed to end in scores. The Galway lads did more than enough to keep the champions at bay and they were deserving winners at the end.
So, that’s the end of the road for Vinnies in this campaign. Although it was, of course, disappointing to see them lose today, those of us who have had the privilege of following them on their long unbeaten run over the past two years can’t have any complaints about the great performances and super memories they’ve given us. I doubt we’ve the last of them at the business end of the club season either.