Kilcoo left 'devastated' as club kings Corofin strike to land third title in-a-row
AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Football Championship final: Corofin (Galway) 1-12 Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo (Down) 0-7
HAVING been blunted for so much of a tense, tactical, sometimes turgid All-Ireland final, Corofin finally found their edge when it mattered most and were cut-throat in killing off Kilcoo inside six devastating extra-time minutes.
There was more than a hint of the artists formerly known as Jim Gavin’s Dublin in the clinical and cold manner of execution, Conor Cunningham’s goal just before the break the final brutal blow of a devastating first half 1-4.
Three in-a-row – the greatest club side of all time? That’s a debate that will rumble on long after the dust has settled on this one.
And while there was little of the flourish or finesse of previous victories over Nemo Rangers and Dr Croke’s beneath the St Patrick’s Day sun, there was something deeply satisfying for one of the game’s great entertainers to dog it out as the January cold bit at their heels.
“We didn’t talk about it in-house, that’s the truth,” said Corofin boss Kevin O’Brien, when asked about becoming the first club to claim three All-Ireland senior titles back-to-back.
“We have a philosophy where we focus game on game and I think that helped us achieve this. It was a key focus, especially with the quick turnaround from the last day, that we just had to prepare.
“What we’ve achieved is fantastic, the lads showed great character out there and the way we won that final, it’s as sweet as any of the other victories over the last two years. The lads showed they can grind out results, no matter what way you try and play against us.”
For the Magpies, it wasn’t the way they wanted this year to end but, having finally ended their Ulster hoodoo and returned to the Down throne, there is so much good to reflect upon once the hurt eventually subsides.
“The boys are absolutely devastated,” admitted joint manager Conleith Gilligan, an All-Ireland Club winner with Ballinderry in 2002.
“We came here and planned to win and any deviation from that wasn’t even in the psyche of the boys. They put so much of themselves into it, it’s a fine line between winning and losing but when the final whistle goes, if you’re on the other end of a defeat, it’s a million miles away in terms of the difference.”
It was the first period in extra-time that finished them, yet they came into that final 20 having battled back so impressively in normal time.
Down to 14 men four minutes into the second half after Dylan Ward was shown a second yellow card, trailing by three with eight minutes left against the possession kings, Paul Devlin’s equalising free 10 minutes into added time gave them life – only for Corofin to snatch back control.
Ultimately, the effort taken to drag themselves back into contention had taken its toll.
“It’s hard to know, you’d need to look back at the game, but possibly the amount of energy it took,” said Gilligan.
“We had to play for 35 minutes a man down, we had to chase balls, everybody had to make an extra run. The final whistle came too soon for us; we had momentum at that stage, maybe if we’d another minute or two, but we seemed to be caught a bit cold and a bit flat after full time.
“Corofin controlled extra-time brilliantly, they used all their experience and once we had to start chasing, they were able to open us up and there was gaps appearing.”
And while the Connacht men headed back out west to celebrate an incredible hat-trick of successes, it was a third All-Ireland final defeat for Magpies boss Mickey Moran – one that will be every bit as difficult to digest as Slaughtneil’s losses to Corofin (2015) and Dr Croke’s (2017).
“It’s very disappointing – the effort and enthusiasm Mickey has for it, nobody deserves it more than Mickey,” said Gilligan of his fellow Derry man.
“He’s so humble, so down to earth, he has time for everybody. He’s so good with the players and the players would’ve wanted it for Mickey today as much as anybody.
“That’s hugely disappointing, but that’s football. Sometimes results don’t go your way and you have to dust yourself off and accept that Corofin are maybe the greatest club team of all time.
“We went toe to toe with them for long periods and we came up short.”