Dream All-Ireland Club Championship performances' for Ballyhale Shamrocks and Corofin
BY OISIN LANGAN
They didn’t get the breaks! It’s a saying often used in sport and while sometimes it’s used as an all-encompassing excuse for a team who didn’t perform, there are times when it is apt.
There’s no doubting that Ballyhale Shamrocks and Corofin were deserving winners on Saint Patrick’s Day with both teams putting in dominant displays in the respective finals. However, the losing sides, St Thomas and Dr Crokes, can genuinely say the breaks just did not go their way.
St Thomas were already missing experienced forward Kenneth Burke who was injured in the semi-final. The loss of Eanna Burke through injury just days before the game was a further blow, while David Burke played through the pain barrier and worked hard but wasn’t his usual dominating self. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, they lost Fintan Burke through injury in the second half. After that, the floodgates opened and Ballyhale just took off. In fairness to St Thomas, they didn’t crib about it and accepted their tough battle - but lady luck was nowhere to be seen around East Galway last week.
Even before last Sunday’s win, Ballyhale Shamrocks were recognised as one of the great clubs, but the way in which they won enhanced that reputation. You know it’s your day when even mishit shots create goals.
Colin Fennelly is often credited as a powerful runner but his two goals in the final showed his wristy-ness. The first mixed both of his best traits when he won a ball, ran at the goal, released a shot, and while the initial effort was saved, he flicked in the rebound.
His second goal is one that will be talked about for years to come. Adrian Mullen, Ballyhale’s 19-year-old forward, took a shot on goal but it dropped short and wide. However, Fennelly dived after it and with his back to goal somehow managed to flick it past the goalkeeper and between the sticks. “A goal that has to be seen to be believed and even then, you might not believe it,” shouted the KCLR commentator.
Ballyhale showed class both on the park and off it last Sunday. In his post-match speech, Captain Michael Fennelly showed genuine sympathy with St Thomas, acknowledging how injuries both before and during the game hampered them. The Galway side know they came up against a great team but will be left wondering what might have been had Kenneth and Eanna Burke been available.
His kind words for the opposition wasn’t the only touch of class by Fennelly in his speech. At one of what must have been the highest points of his careers, the Captain took time to remember his late teammate and his family. Eoin Doyle was tragically killed last year. In his speech, Fennelly remembered his late friend but also turned to his sister who was beside him on the podium as she was on duty for the finals with An Garda Síochána. Fennelly gave her a special moment of joy as she lifted the trophy in memory of her brother.
In Ballyhale they know hurling is important, but family is everything.
“We got schooled by the better team.” No excuses were offered by the Dr Crokes selectors following their defeat to a brilliant Corofin side in the football final. The Killarney outfit lost a man to a red card late in the first half but didn’t use that as an excuse.
Corofin have rightly taken all the plaudits in the last few days for their amazing performance but Crokes must also be given credit for how they approached the game. With the pace and skill they possess, they must have been tempted to sit deep and try to catch the Galway men on the break. “It’s not in our DNA,” was the response from Dr Crokes selector Niall O’Callaghan when the suggestion of playing defensive and trying to stifle Corofin attack was mentioned.
A team is not just about those who take the pitch and sit in the dugout. Dr Crokes selector Edmond O’Sullivan summed up what the club is all about in his post-game press conference. “We have 6 or 8 people who come down and make us meals after training that you wouldn’t get in a five-star restaurant. They do it because they’re part of our cub. They’re the people I’m so disappointed for. We’ve let those people down. We do appreciate their effort - it’ll be a good test of our club to see where we go from here, but I have no doubt we’ll pick ourselves up and go again.”
The aftermath of finals is rightfully almost always about the winners. But sometimes it’s worth acknowledging the defeated and the effort that went into getting to the biggest day of the Club Championships.
One player who won’t be back for more is Eoin Brosnan. The former Kerry forward confirmed that after 22 years of senior club football, his time is done. Brosnan may not be on the field next season but if Dr Crokes do enjoy success in 2019 and beyond, it’s men like him that have laid the foundation and set the standards for the younger players to match and improve on. He may not be playing, but he will always be part of it.
“I don’t think there are words in the dictionary to describe Corofin’s performance,” said Galway Bay FM analyst Tommy Devane at the two-in-a-row champions homecoming on Monday night. Success is normalised to the North Galway parish but that doesn’t mean it’s taken for granted. Listening to the coverage of the homecoming, you could sense the pride and joy of the community as they welcomed their heroes home.
Gary Sice’s father Jimmy was among the guests on the Galway Bay FM broadcast and his comments gave a great insight into what the club is all about. He was a proud Dad, but he didn’t just praise his son’s amazing performance - he spoke glowingly about the rest of the players, the backroom team and everyone who trained and gave their time to build this squad through the years. Rather than just focus his son’s display, he acknowledged that individuals are nothing without teamwork.
Creating a culture of love for football and following those that have gone before is central to what Corofin do. Sometimes that’s done by big plans, but occasionally small gestures can go a long way. Jimmy Sice’s idea of gathering as many match day programs as possible and getting to team to sign them and then send them to the local primary schools is not only a nice move but a smart one!
There’s no doubt that Ballyhale Shamrocks and Corofin are worthy winners of the AIB Club Championships for 2019. Around the country, clubs watched on enviously as Ballyhale and Corofin took the honours. In those clubs, the players and everyone involved are looking forward to getting started in their own championship soon. Before it all begins again, they all have one thing in common - hope!
From the smallest club in the smallest parish to the largest clubs in the largest towns, the dream is alive. If you’re one of those players or part of those clubs, allow yourself to dream big and enjoy the adventure that awaits.