In sharp contrast to the totally ridiculous odds - Brigid’s 1/12 and Glencar/Manorhamilton 13/2, did they not learn their lesson in the case of Raharney v Coolderry last week? - being offered in the run-up to last Sunday’s Connacht Club SFC semi-final, the Leitrim champions of 3 years running came within a cat’s whisker of bringing off a notable victory over a hotly fancied St Brigid’s who had to call on all their vast reserves of craft and experience to eventually book their passage to a final meeting with Galway Kingpins Killererin at Tuam Stadium (on Sunday week, November 21).
Having only conceded 1 goal (that v Castlerea St. Kevin’s in their opening Roscommon SFC group game) in county and Connacht Club 2010 campaigns to date, few could have contemplated Noel O’Brien’s Kiltoom/Cam charges being hit by a triple whammy at Páirc Sean Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon. But that is exactly what transpired at a venue where, over the years Roscommon club or county teams have always encountered the keenest of opposition to secure a favourable outcome (remember Kiltubrid, who forced a replay in Dr. Hyde Park back in 2005).
Patrons in the estimated 1,500 attendance who made their way to Leitrim GAA H/Q on a cold and overcast Sunday afternoon, however, had little prior evidence that a seismic upset could be on the cards. Brigid’s had run up the impressive total of 21 points in their 17-point dismissal of Sligo’s Eastern Harps in the opening round, while 5 weeks had elapsed since Glencar/Manor were lucky enough in overcoming the challenge of St. Mary’s in a low scoring Leitrim SFC final (0-7 to 0-5). On the other hand it was the North Leitrim Club’s third title in a row, but they were coming in cold against Noel O’Brien’s squad who had meanwhile looked well nigh invincible at Kiltoom on October 17.
The early stages of this Provincial semi-final went along expected lines. Heavy underfoot conditions, a bitingly cold crossfield breeze and a greasy ball militated against open play, but the Dolan brothers both got on the scoreboard within 6 minutes. Frankie landed a free for a foul on Senan Kilbride, and a smart point from wing forward Darren followed. Glencar/Manor, in the Primrose and Blue strip, responded after a slow start when wing-forward John Gilmartin had his side’s opening point (7th minute). And a foul on Colin Ryan enabled county player James Glancy to level the contest with the resultant free (11th minute).
Nothing remarkable so far but, one minute later, we had some evidence of what would ultimately ensue when corner-forward Brian McDonald’s high centre was latched onto by subsequent top scorer Adrian Croal, who gave goalie Philip Martin no chance with a right-footed rocket from close-in.
Thus, in a 5-minute cameo, Glencar/Manor, managed by Glenn Young (St Mary’s of Sligo), had rifled home 1-2 to rattle the visitors. But from the kick-out, Senan Kilbride sent over a great point to steady the Brigid’s ship. A Frankie Dolan shot hit the upright, but Croal again was on hand to pop over another point for the Leitrim champions. St Brigid’s now tightened up considerably at the back and, with the impressive Senan Kilbride - isolated at full-forward and winning plenty of primary possession against his direct opponent Adrian O’Flynn - the tide turned inexorably in the Roscommon men’s favour. Senan hit a beauty from almost the sideline on the magnificent new stand side, while his brother Ian was producing a scintillating display of defensive mastery which later earned him the Man-of-the-Match award.
Brigid’s received another huge boost in the 25th minute when Frankie Dolan punished a defensive error by Glencar’s Dominic Kelly to expertly find the net. With the Leitrim side not now having raised a flag for 14 minutes, the half-time scoreboard stood at 1-6 to 1-3 in Brigid’s favour.
Glencar/Manor resumed in positive mood, James Glancy punishing a pick-up with a pointed free. At the other end, the hard-working David O’Connor, plying his trade around the midfield area though listed at corner-forward, saw his goal bound missile career off the crossbar in what was a let-off for the home team. Ian Kilbride continued to impress in defence for Brigid’s, who, once again saw the woodwork frustrate them of another major score when Frankie Dolan broke through. Glencar appeared to be losing some discipline when having three players yellow-carded in the nine minutes after half-time, while hesitancy in creating chances was also a drawback for them.
The home side replaced their full back O’Flynn, who had a torrid time against Senan Kilbride, and moved their corner back and county final man-of-the-match Paddy Maguire to the fringe of the square.
After Frankie Dolan pointed a free, Glencar/Manor received a massive injection of confidence when sub Anthony McDonald soloed a full 30 metres, unleashed a good old-fashion high centre which was deftly fisted to the Brigid’s net by the lurking James Glancy. The teams were now level, the Leitrim support was on-song and it was a case of game on. Scarcely had this score been flagged when the outstanding Ian Kilbride strode upfield to bisect the uprights with a fantastic rallying point. David O’Connor, displaying a huge work-rate, forced the foul punished by Senan Kilbride while David again impressed in forcing a fruitless '45’, and this golden spell by the famed Green and Red was augmented when substitute John Tiernan pointed on the run. Six minutes to go - were Noel O’Brien’s men now pulling away? Far from it, as Glencar/Manor were once again about to tear another strip off the punter’s form sheet and it was super-sub Anthony McDonald who was heavily involved in the build-up which created another opening for Adrian Croal which the No. 13 savoured with relish to register his second and his team’s third goal. Level again - were we heading for extra time or were Brigid’s about to make a shock exit?
This South Roscommon side, however, are made of stern stuff and again furnished unimpeachable evidence of this in the race to the winning post. Not for the first time on Sunday, David O’Connor led the charge which resulted in Frankie Dolan unerringly pointing the resultant free from 45 metres. Senan Kilbride registered his 5th point of the evening in another peerless display, with sterling midfielder Karol Mannion bringing his side’s total to 1-13, by accurately slotting over on 60 minutes.
There was still time for Glencar/Manor squad to launch a late-late attacking salvo, led by another sub Ronan McGourty, and onwards to two-goal hero Croal who certainly had hat-trick on his mind when unleashing another scud-missile which literally flew over the bar. There was no time left, and, at the denouement firm pre-match favourites Brigid’s had emerged from fortress Páirc Sean victorious. The margin of victory was nowhere near what was expected in pre-match punditry, but it still guaranteed their passage to final day at Tuam Stadium on November 21.
Team manager Noel O’Brien, and his selectors Michael O’Brien and Ger Paul Cunniffe, will have gleaned considerably more information from this searching test by Glencar/Manor than in their earlier facile win over Eastern Harps. Chinks were exposed in what, up to now, looked an almost impregnable rear-guard. The concession of three goals is something that can be worked on in training before the big day. On the other hand, the manner in which the side responded to this three-goal whammy at critical stages of play is one of their greatest attributes and will stand them in good stead against Killererin. They had many stars on Sunday, none more so than Man-of-the-Match Ian Kilbride, Peter Domican, Karol Mannion, Frankie Dolan, Senan Kilbride and David O’Connor.
For their part, Glencar/Manor made a clear statement that they would be cannon fodder for nobody on Sunday, also giving the lie to the rank outsiders tag attributed to them. Only a lack of big time experience and killer instinct prevented them causing a huge upset on the Carrick sod. They had a potential match winner in Adrian Croal, with Shane Loughlin, Paddy Maguire, Darren Sweeney, Fintan McGourty and James Glancy also playing well.
SCORERS - St Brigid’s: F Dolan (1-4, 0-4f), S Kilbride (0-5, 1f), D Dolan, I Kilbride, J Tiernan, K Mannion 0-1 each.
Glencar/Manorhamilton: A Croal 2-2, J Glancy 1-2 (0-2f), J Gilmartin (0-1).
ST BRIGID’S: Philip Martin, Robbie Kelly, Darragh Donnelly, Niall Grehan (capt), Ian Kilbride, Peter Domican, Gearoid Cunniffe, Garvan Dolan, Karol Mannion, Cathal McHugh, Frankie Dolan, Darren Dolan, Conor McHugh, Senan Kilbride, David O’Connor. Subs: John Tiernan for Conor McHugh (51); Damien Kellegher for Cathal McHugh (61).
GLENCAR/MANORHAMILTON: Gary Hickey, Thomas McDonald, Adrian O’Flynn, Paddy Maguire, Dominic Kelly (capt), Kieran O’Flynn, Shane Loughlin, Fintan McGourty, Darren Sweeney, James Gilmartin, James Glancy, Gerry Hickey, Adrian Croal, Colin Ryan, Brian McDonald. Subs; Anthony McDonald for Gilmartin (36); Aaron Hickey for Gerry Hickey (38); David Poniard for A O’Flynn (43); Ronan McGourty for A Hickey (54).
REFEREE: Michael Duffy (Sligo).