They say goals win games but, you know, points help too. Accuracy in front of the posts even more so and, on that metric alone, Padraig Pearses deserved their win over Knockmore in today’s Connacht Senior club football final. They recorded just two wides compared to fourteen from the Mayo champions as they emerged from James Stephens Park the victors on a scoreline of 1-13 to 1-11.
The pitch in Ballina is heavy at the best of times but this early in the year the conditions underfoot at the venue were always going to militate against flowing football. Throw massed defences and a generous helping of lateral handpassing into the mix and this was never going to be a contest for the purists.
For all that, though, it was a compelling title decider and, with both sides enjoying periods of dominance, it was a game that saw the narrative shift more than once. Boiled right down to its essence, however, it was a match that Padraig Pearses led from first to last.
Given the prevailing conditions, goals almost counted double today such was the important of a green flag. The Rossie lads got off to the perfect start in that regard, when they won a penalty after just three minutes. Burly full-forward Hubert Darcy sent Colm Reape the wrong way and Pearses had a lead they’d never subsequently relinquish.
It was the dream start for the Roscommon champions who, although they’d contested the 2019 provincial decider, had never before tasted provincial success. Playing three-times Connacht champions Knockmore in their own backyard could have been a daunting assignment for them but once they’d hit the front so early in the game, they quickly warmed to the task facing them.
Knockmore were still that goal in arrears – and struggling to get a toe-hold in the game – when the Pearses ‘keeper Paul Whelan was black carded for dragging down Aiden Orme. Hubert Darcy swapped his attacking responsibilities for net-minding, as he stood in between the sticks while his teammate was in the sin bin.
Despite the advantage of the extra man, Knockmore were unable to get back on terms, going in two points behind at the break. Their wide count was already creeping up at this stage and they suffered a bad blow when key man Kieran King hobbled off with what looked like a painful leg injury. His presence in their backline was sorely missed in the second half.
The tie – and the destination of the Shane McGettigan Cup – was effectively decided in the third quarter. Pearses’ attack caught fire – with Man of the Match Paul Carey especially prominent – and they sped seven points clear. It looked then like they’d win in a canter.
Knockmore, to their credit, fought back bravely and, firing 1-2 without reply, cut the gap back to two points at the second water break. The goal, which had brought this tie back to boiling point, was bundled to the net just before then by substitute Charlie Bourke.
In a match of such tight margins, the next score was always going to be crucial. Knockmore had the momentum but Pearses had greater composure when eyeing the posts and the excellent Paul Carey – who ended the day with eight points to his credit – steadied the ship for them with another long-range score from play. They followed that up with two further quick scores, thereby negating the goal Knockmore had bagged before the water break.
Back came the Mayo lads again but, once again, their wayward shooting let them down. With normal time up, though, they’d reduced the gap to three points and when Peter Naughton bagged their tenth point of the day soon after the margin was once more just two points. Extra-time was now a real possibility.
On a day when Padraig Pearses answered every hard question asked of them, however, it was they who bagged the next score, sub Tom Butler the man who notched this one. Deep in stoppage time now, only a goal would do for Knockmore and with every Pearses’ player back inside their ’45 it would be well nigh impossible to engineer a major.
Aiden Orme did, however, get a sight of goal and he went for it. His shot was too high, though, and the ball flew over the bar. Once it was kicked out again the ref blew the final whistle and Padraig Pearses were, for the first time and deservedly so, Connacht champions.
Hard luck to Knockmore – things didn’t go right for them from the off today and they’ll be disappointed that they weren’t able to give a fair account of themselves. While they might have nicked it at the death that would, in truth, have been an injustice as the Roscommon champions richly deserved this breakthrough provincial title win. They now go on to face Leinster champions Kilmacud Crokes in the All-Ireland semi-final at the end of the month and the best of luck to them then.