Kilcoo fall short against history-making Corofin in attritional All-Ireland final
AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship: Corofin 1-12 Kilcoo 0-7
From Andy Watters at Croke Park
AFTER tour de force displays in the previous two finals, Corofin showed they can win ugly too and made history yesterday by completing the first-ever three in-a-row of All-Ireland club titles.
The Galway, Connacht and All-Ireland champions are rightly being hailed as the greatest club team ever to play the game but, it must be said, they didn't look it for long spells of a cagey, nervy final that was balanced on the edge of a knife until extra-time.
The history books will show that they won by eight points but that conceals the evidence that Kilcoo – who played almost the entire second half with 14 men after Dylan Ward was sent off - had enough chances to win the game.
So much went right defensively for the Magpies and Corofin stars Ian Burke, Gary Sice and Jason Leonard struggled to get into the game but kicking five wides in the first half was a luxury the Down men could not afford.
Despite their jittery finishing, Mickey Moran's side led 4-3 at the break and, after reducing a 7-4 deficit to a single point, they had three good chances to take the lead in the topsy-turvy closing stages before Paul Devlin eventually forced an additional 20 minutes with a free in the 10th minute of injury-time.
Back at full strength, hopes were high that the Ulster champions could kick on to victory but Corofin showed their pedigree and their steel in the first 10-minute period and racked up an unanswered 1-4. The goal, from Conor Cunningham, meant there was no way back for the Ulster champions.
The free-scoring drama of extra-time was a contrast to the attritional opening stages of a chess match affair that lacked attacking quality but was engrossing nevertheless.
The Magpies were not about to get into a shoot-out with the free-wheeling Connacht men and they set the tone by pulling everyone back into their own half when their opponents had the ball.
Sweeper Niall McEvoy gobbled up Corofin attempts to put pressure on their full-back line and Kilcoo broke in numbers at every opportunity but Shealan Johnston, Jerome Johnston and Paul Devlin all shot wide before Devlin made amends with the first score of the game 14 minutes in.
A foul on Eugene Branagan had created that opportunity and Branagan pushed forward again to win another free for Devlin who doubled his side's lead.
At the other end, Corofin were struggling to break through the massed Magpies ranks. Every man in black and white knew his job and Conor Laverty led by example, getting back on his own end line to dispossess opposite number Micheal Lundy and drive his side forward.
The end product was lacking however and there were wides from Ryan McEvoy, who put in a terrific shift for his side, and fellow teenager Shealan Johnston before Corofin midfielder Ronan Steede eventually opened his side's account almost 24 minutes into the game.
Kilcoo goalkeeper Martin McCourt had earlier denied Mike Farragher and he did the same when his brother Martin tried his luck but Cathal Silke levelled it before Devlin's superb score from the left wing meant Kilcoo went in at the break with their noses in front.
Thirty seconds into the second half, Corofin's trusty Steede made it all-square with his second point but then Laverty, propelled upwards by sheer willpower, out-jumped Kieran Fitzgerald, broke the ball down and was fouled.
Devlin converted the free but the game quickly turned Corofin's way.
Dylan Wall jinked past Ryan Johnston to equalise and, from the kick-out, Kilcoo's Dylan (Ward) lost the ball and then caught the Corofin wing-back with a high(ish) tackle. Referee Conor Lane flashed a second yellow card and Ward's final was over.
Sice, anonymous up to that point, landed that free and another one soon after it and suddenly Corofin led by two.
The Galway men stationed extra man Cathal Silke as sweeper and retreated into their own half. Kilcoo looked to counter but found their way blocked and Ryan Johnston, their go-to man for much of this campaign, was shut out repeatedly as he tried to carry the ball forward.
Sice landed another free to extend the lead to three and the minutes ticked away as Kilcoo searched for a way back into the game.
Assistant-manager Conleith Gilligan ran on to the field, barking instructions to his men, and Laverty whipped over a point after Eugene Branagan's drive was blocked to restore the Magpies' belief.
Darryl Branagan swapped passes with Shealan Johnston and his score left one in it with six minutes remaining.
Now Corofin were rocking but Kilcoo could not land the killer blow. Laverty cutely won a free but Devlin shot wide and then Laverty, who once again gave his all in the cause, did the same.
Boos rang out from Corofin fans as ‘at least' five minutes of extra-time were announced. It was nail-biting stuff. Devlin's shot was blocked by a trademark Sice tackle and Corofin must have thought they had done enough when Eugene Branagan's effort drifted wide.
But, amid the fouls and Corofin's tactical substitutions, Lane played on. 69 minutes were on the clock when Darragh Silke was black-carded and the free was moved forward for dissent. Devlin sent the ball between the uprights and Kilcoo had booked themselves 20 extra minutes to make their dream come true.
They emerged for extra-time restored to full strength with Aidan Branagan back in the fray but their levels of energy and tenacity had dropped and, as they faded, Corofin showed the hallmark of champions by taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
In a devastating six-minute spell it was over. Steede won a 50-50 ball around the Kilcoo 45-yard line and split the posts for his third of the day and scores from Dylan Canney, Liam Silke and Sice followed.
Then Micheal Lundy tried his luck, the ball came back off the post and Canney broke it down for Cunningham to shoot first-time past McCourt. Leonard's late point meant there were eight in it at the finish and that was cruel on Kilcoo.
Their campaign may have come to a disappointing end but this has been an unforgettable season for the Magpies. Kings of Ulster for the first time, the county Down champions have made it to the summit of the All-Ireland series and they'll aim to return. Maybe next time they'll plant their flag at the peak.
Corofin: B Power; C Silke, K Fitzgerald, L Silke (0-1); K Molloy, C Cunningham, D Wall (0-1); D Burke, R Steede (0-3); G Sice (0-4 frees), Mike Farragher, J Leonard (0-1); I Burke, Martin Farragher, M Lundy
Subs: C Cunningham (1-0) for Wall (36), D McHugh for K Molloy (48), G Burke for Brady (58), C McGrath for L Silke (58), D Silke for Martin Farragher (64), D Canney (0-1) for Burke (68)
Yellow cards: Wall (31), Steede (46), Mike Farragher (58&68), G Burke (67)
Black card: D Silke (67)
Red card: Mike Farragher (68)
Kilcoo: M McCourt; N Branagan, R McEvoy, N McEvoy; E Branagan, Aaron Branagan, D Branagan (0-1); A Morgan, Aidan Branagan; D Ward, P Devlin (0-5, 0-3 frees), R Johnston; S Johnston, J Johnston, C Laverty (0-1)
Subs: J Clarke for R Johnston (50), Anthony Morgan for Aidan Branagan (58), F McGreevy for Aaron Morgan (70), R Johnston for N McEvoy (70)
Yellow cards: Ward (24&34), R McEvoy (47), N Branagan (50)
Red card: Ward (34)
Black card: D Branagan (75) replaced by P Greenan
Referee: C Lane (Cork)