It’s been a weird old day, all told. One that started for me down in Mayo – yet not in my home place – and ended with my celebrating back at the club St Vincents’ All-Ireland club final victory today in Croke Park. Against a team from Mayo. As I said, a weird kind of day.
I thought for a while today that I wouldn’t make it back to the capital in time for throw-in, though we did eventually manage to make it to our seats in the Lower Cusack with ten minutes or so to spare before the action got underway. Our choice back in the west this morning had been a very early start and so make the parade down from the club to Croke Park or else a not-so early start and make the match itself. We opted for the latter but it still took a fair bit of foot-to-the-floor driving to make sure we got to HQ ahead of the off.
The action had only got underway a few minutes before Castlebar Mitchels were dealt a hammer-blow, albeit a self-inflicted one when Richie Feeney was (correctly under the new rules) black carded for an utterly needless body check. Richie was probably the last player Mitchels could afford to lose and for this to happen only four minutes in looked like a fatal blow for them.
To their credit, though, the lads from the West didn’t appear to let this setback get to them, even if the concession of an early goal, scored by the excellent Michael Concarr, rocked them back on their heels a bit. They responded in fine style with a succession of well-worked points which saw them turn a four-point deficit into a three-point lead. A second goal for Vincents, palmed to the net by Ciaran Dorney from a Diarmuid Connolly pass, brought the match back to parity and the sides were level again when Eddie Kinsella blew for half-time.
The game was anyone’s at that stage. Over the course of the second half, however, that anyone morphed into one Diarmuid Connolly who put on a quite extraordinary exhibition of football after the break, one that effectively won the match and the All-Ireland title for Vincents. He scored two goals in that second half – his second and Vincents’ fourth was an outrageously brilliant score – and he ended the day with a massive 2-5 from play to his credit. Throw in his assists and they reckoned down at the club tonight that he’d had a hand in 4-10 of Vincents’ final tally for the day of 4-12.
I’d heard in the build-up to the game that Mitchels’ plan was to restrict Mossy Quinn to the minimum score possible. By placing Tom Cunniffe on him, the plan worked a treat – Mossy only got two points today, one of them from a free – but Connolly revelled in the freedom he was given and proceeded to wreak maximum damage from all that open space he enjoyed.
Castlebar battled on gamely even as the match was running away from them – with two goals from Danny Kirby keeping them in the contest – but coming down the closing stretch it was the Marino lads who surged clear. They were full value for their eventual seven-point winning margin.
I’ve never hidden my loyalties in relation to this contest and I’m not going to start now. While I’ve obviously got strong sympathies for the Mitchels lads, who gave so much only to come up short at the final hurdle, ultimately this was a club contest and not a county one and I’ve got to be happy enough that the club I’m a member of won out in the end.
And I am, really I am, but, as I said at the outset, today has been a bit of a strange one for me. Maybe it’s just as well that the county team’s next League match the weekend after next is against the Dubs, a contest where I’ll have no problem at all in relation to conflicting loyalties.