As the clock struck five bells last Sunday evening it was the longest, saddest and most silent of strolls down the North Circular Road.
Thousands and thousands of Mayo supporters just stared at the ground and walked swiftly straight ahead. There were no expletives, no chastising of the referee and no bemoaning of the missed chances . . . it was just a stoic silence. In the end, so near and yet so far.
Just four or five hours previously outside Quinn’s Bar in Drumcondra, the mood could not have been any more different. There were Mayo people everywhere, many of them didn’t have tickets, and there wasn’t a whisper of ‘a spare one’ anywhere – not even from the touts.
But these fans were mostly young, happy and loaded with expectation. A pass machine in a nearby shop had a queue of over 30 people by midday, all of them clad in the red and green. So what if they didn’t have tickets – if Mayo won the Sam, they would be there for one of the great occasions of Irish sport.
By one o clock, 15 minutes before the start of the minor match, Mayo supporters had occupied most of the prime positions on ‘The Hill’. By hook or by crook they had secured half – and probably a few more – of the 12,753 terrace tickets.
The Mayo minors responded in style to their early bird supporters delivering a 2-13 to 1-13 victory over Tyrone, their first All-Ireland success since 1985. By the time their inspirational captain, Stephen Coen, picked up the Tom Markham Cup shortly after 2.30pm, the Jones’s Road venue was rocking.
Thousands of Dubs had now infiltrated ‘The Hill’ and also many of the seats in the towering horseshoe stands. The blue bodhrans started to boom from ‘The Hill’, packing a real sound punch that resonated around the ground. Minor matters had been left aside, now we were facing up to the real business of the day.
This contest mightn’t have matched the flow of the Kerry/Dublin All-Ireland semi-final, but the pace and intensity of the first 20 minutes was breathtaking. Often, from the lofty perch of the press box in the upper Hogan Stand, one misses out on the cut and thrust of the action, but from 12 rows back in the Lower Cusack, you can hear the crunch of the tackle, bone against bone, temple against temple. This was no country for old men and no arena for posers.
Mayo did everything right in that opening half hour . . . well almost. They tackled with a manic intensity and played the game at a tempo that the Dubs struggled to keep up with, but they needed scores on the board – lots of them, to carry them through the second half – but alas they only arrived via the drip-feed channel. Dublin heads were reeling, but they hadn’t been knocked to the canvas.
Hawk-Eye just about ruled out an early Keith Higgins effort; Cillian O’Connor kicked a couple of frees wide; ‘keeper Robbie Hennelly also missed a long range placed ball effort, and occasionally there was the sniff of a Mayo goal, but it never came.
Then out of the blue, Dublin delivered a wicked kidney punch. A long ball from Diarmuid Connolly into the Mayo square should have been contested just by Ger Cafferkey and Bernard Brogan, but Hennelly – in his only rush of blood – joined in to make it a gang of three. Brogan’s flick was deft without being viciously fast, but there was no one ‘at home’ to pick it up, and out of nowhere the Dubs were back in business.
In fairness to the Breaffy ’keeper, apart from that slip-up, his heroics kept Mayo in the game with three absolutely magnificent saves. The Mayo backs, though, will be disappointed that from two of them, the Dubs still picked off points from the rebounds.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Corofin hit the goal trail again in crushing Monivea/Abbey
WHILE it goes without saying that everyone is hugely thankful that sporting action has resumed and we still appear on course to complete a season, it is such a pity for the time being that only a handful of supporters are allowed the privilege to watch a team of Corofin’s class in full flight as they look destined to create history on their march to an eighth senior title in a row.
On a glorious day for football last Sunday, Corofin dismantled Monivea/Abbey in emphatic fashion, playing an electric brand of football that repeatedly cut holes in their opponent’s defensive alignment. Seven goals last time out against Oughterard, there could have been more again in Tuam Stadium but for some uncharacteristically sloppy finishing to rapier-like first half moves that left Brian Mulry’s side exposed.
It didn’t help that Cillian McDaid, Monivea/Abbey’s star turn, was an absentee, or that St. Bernard’s Connacht Junior Cup quarter final was scheduled for the same time, but Monivea/Abbey should still take a small shred of comfort from the fact that they competed well at times, created 19 scoring chances, and never dropped their heads despite the lost cause.
With no Connacht or All-Ireland club championship to have to try and peak for later in the year, Corofin look poised to lay down a serious marker on how far ahead of the pack they really are. New faces like Matthew Cooley and replacement Colin Kelly, who confidently netted two second-half goals on his debut, are being given their chance, while Ronan Steede, Martin Farragher, Bernard Power, and Daithí Burke were not required on this occasion.
Throw in the fact that Kevin O’Brien chose to keep Kieran Molloy and Gary Sice in reserve until deep into the second half and you start to seriously question whether any side in the county will be able to lay a glove on them this term. Ian Burke is motoring along nicely, Micheál Lundy appears revived back in a more attacking role, while veterans like Ciarán McGrath are haring around the pitch as if they have a point to prove.
Monivea/Abbey were lively all over the pitch early on and actually created one more scoring opportunity in the opening twelve minutes (5-4) but were unfortunately wasteful when it mattered and somehow found themselves trailing by 1-2 to 0-1.
Corofin’s movement and accuracy were already sublime, with Lundy, Burke, and Cooley lining up in an I formation down the middle of the attack and Darragh Silke offering himself as a highly effective link man in transition. Jason Leonard and Dylan Canney provided width when needed while the defensive Dylan’s, Wall and McHugh, tore forward when the chances arose.
Ian Burke’s sharp turn on eight minutes left Caelom Mulry in his wake, but when a goal looked likely Burke drove just over the bar. Three minutes later the dam broke when Lundy curled a pass into Cooley in space, and he picked out McHugh on the burst who slotted to the net at his ease.
A Brian Moran free registered Monivea/Abbey’s first score shortly after, but the die had already been cast. Jason Leonard drove over a ’45 after Burke had been denied by some last gasp defending before Canney clipped over a classy score where Lundy and Burke were involved again.
Extended report will appear in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Galway minor footballers stun Kerry in brilliant win
NOT many minor teams would have coped with the adversity and setbacks which stalked Galway’s championship summer, or much less end up looking forward to an All-Ireland final appearance in over a fortnight’s time.
Donal Ó Fatharta’s latest batch of minor footballers have had their mettle well and truly tested over the past couple of months, notably when falling twice in the provincial title race and also having to overcome a numerical disadvantage in a key match against a quality Sligo outfit.
The fact that Galway came through all those difficulties to contest last Sunday’s absorbing All-Ireland semi-final was a tribute to the squad’s character and resolve. Quite simply, this is a group of players wearing maroon jerseys who don’t know when to give up.
Having comfortably dispensed with Leinster champions Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final – Galway teams at all levels seem to have the Indian sign over the Lilywhites – they had clearly parked a heartbreaking extra-time loss to Mayo in the Connacht decider. It meant they headed to GAA headquarters in good fettle and no doubts about their bottle.
In the opposition corner, however, was a Kerry team trying to maintain the county’s push for an unprecedented sixth consecutive All-Ireland minor title. The Kingdom were also unbeaten in 34 matches at this level and were strong favourites to carry the day.
But the Galway players were both undaunted and ready for the challenge. They rose to the occasion in magnificent style and, pretty soon, it was evident that this was going to be no walk in the park for the highly-rated Kerry boys.
Galway thrived in the open spaces of Croke Park in producing their most accomplished display of the campaign.
Read full match coverage in Tribune Sport.
Corofin resume quest for seven-in-a-row
DUBLIN’S footballers may be going for the five-in-a-row, but Jim Gavin’s all-conquering charges would struggle to hold a candle to the team which continues to dominate Galway club football.
Corofin have had the odd close shave – notably last year’s drawn county final against Mountbellew/Moylough – but their shadow continues to tower over the Galway championship.
Kevin O’Brien’s troops are on the trail of a seventh county title on the trot in 2019 – a feat which would equal the achievements of St Grellan’s, Ballinasloe (1913 to ‘19) and Tuam Stars (1954 to ’60).
Corofin will also be aiming to stay on track for a record-breaking third consecutive All-Ireland title when resuming their championship campaign with a clash against Annaghdown at Tuam Stadium on Friday evening (7.30pm).
There are nine senior group ties down for this decision this weekend – two go ahead on Friday evening, with the rest taking place on Saturday, scheduling influenced by the Galway minors’ All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry at Croke Park on Sunday.
See full match previews in this week’s Connacht Tribune Sport.