AIB All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final:
St Brigid’s 1-11 Castlehaven 0-10
A brilliant display in the opening 20 minutes was the key as St Brigid’s reached their first All-Ireland senior club final in 11 years when they had four points to spare in a deserved victory against Cork and Munster champions Castlehaven at FBD Semple Stadium last Sunday.
Opening up a five-point lead by the 20th minute, the Roscommon side went out of the game for a while at the end of the first half and in the third quarter. They then picked up the pace again towards the end of the game and ran out the worthy winners.
On a bitterly cold but fine day, the Semple Stadium pitch was just about playable after a night of heavy frost. It was St Brigid’s who were on top in the early stages. Points from Bobby Nugent (2) and Brian Derwin inside the opening four minutes set the tone as the Connacht champions played some delightful football.
Castlehaven’s best player, Brian Hurley, opened their account with a point in the 6th minute but less than a minute later Ben O’Carroll restored Brigid’s’ three-point advantage with another well-taken point.
Brigid’s may have been dominating, but Castlehaven’s cause was not helped by Brian Hurley missing two very scoreable frees early on. Those proved costly misses as the game progressed.
In the 12th minute a sweeping St Brigid’s move involving Eddie Nolan and Conor Hand set Ben O’Carroll free. When his way to goal was blocked, he found Brian Derwin who made no mistake from close-range for the only goal of the game. St Brigid’s followed up with a Ciaran Sugrue point in the 17th minute and the margin was now six.
The Cork side improved towards half-time and in the 21st minute Cathal Maguire’s shot came back off a post and Cormac Sheehy bundled the ball away at the expense of a ’45.
When Brian Hurley and Ben O’Carroll exchanged points in the 23rd and 26th minutes, the gap was still six (1-7 to 0-4), but Castlehaven were doing much better, and it would be 22 minutes before Brigid’s scored again. Brian Hurley and Cathal Maguire scored late points to send the teams in at half-time with Brigid’s leading by 1-7 to 0-6.
Castlehaven continued in the ascendancy after the break, although Brigid’s had a golden goal chance in the 34th minute, but Paul McGrath lost control of the ball when clean through. Then Michael Hurley and Brian Hurley pointed to reduce the margin to two by the 40th minute.
In the 42nd minute the west Cork side missed a gilt-edged chance to take the lead in the match when Rory Maguire was put through by Brian Hurley, but the full-back’s thundering shot crashed against the crossbar and the danger was cleared.
It was a wake-up call that Brigid’s heeded. John Cunningham came on as a sub and he played a major role as the Roscommon champions came good once again, Robbie Dolan ending the scoring drought with a point in the 47th minute.
Brian Hurley, always a thorn in the side of St Brigid’s, was on target with two pointed frees to reduce the margin to one with eight minutes to go. The second of those frees was a very soft one as it appeared that it was Brian Stack who was fouled and not Hurley.
But St Brigid’s would not be denied. Cunningham kicked a mighty point from 35 metres in the 54th minute as the Roscommon champions surged for home. In injury-time (63rd minute), Paul McGrath steered over a point from close-range. Then with the Castlehaven players up the field looking for an equalising goal, the ball broke to Brigid’s and after Robbie Dolan was hauled down Ben O’Carroll chipped the resultant penalty over the crossbar for the ‘insurance point’.
It was an excellent display from Jerome Stack’s side. They had some marvellous performers on the day. Pearse Frost, Ruaidhri Fallon, Eddie Nolan, Conor Hand, Brian Derwin and Bobby Nugent were excellent and a special word too for sub John Cunningham who made a huge contribution when introduced in the 44th minute.
St Brigid’s will now face Glen of Derry in the final in Croke Park on Sunday week. While the Roscommon champions will be the underdogs, this young team have sparkled on the big occasion many times this year and will go into the final with a real live chance.
We all remember 2013 and that magnificent victory for Brigid’s in the All-Ireland club final against Ballymun. Now it’s time for the class of 2024 to write their own bit of history. Don’t rule them out.