The dreams of a first ever Connacht Club Championship title coming to Leitrim were ended for another year on Sunday last in Kiltoom as Roscommon champions St Brigids proved to be far too good for the recently crowned Leitrim champions.
For even the staunchest of Melvin Gaels supporters last Sunday’s clash with St Brigids in the AIB Connacht Club Championship was always going to be at very least a very difficult game with the prospect of advancing not particularly high. Unfotunately Melvin Gaels worst possible fears were realised as they met a side with real ambitions of being in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day to contest the All-Ireland Club final. Once they clicked into gear St Brigids were awesome. They were powerful in the tackle, accurate with their passing, their movement was difficult to contain and they were clinical in front of goal.
Ultimately there can be few regrets from the Melvin Gaels players, they were simply beaten by a better team and while the final scoreline may hurt, the standard at which St Brigids operate is something the Kinlough club and all other clubs in Leitrim must aspire to.
The manner in which Melvin Gaels played in the opening 20 minutes made what later transpired all the more disappointing from a Leitrim perspective as Melvin Gaels looked a match for their opponents. Stepehen McGurran and BB Brennan were winning more than their fair share of possession in the middle of the pitch while Conor Sheridan was putting in a huge amount of work as St Brigids were made to look relatively normal in those opening stages.
The opening 10 minutes of the game was something of a shooting match between Frankie Dolan and Emlyn Mulligan before Eoin Sheehy struck for an excellent point after a fine pass from Senan Kilbride that gave the home side a 0-3 to 0-2 lead after seven minutes
After the initial chess match that saw both sides look dangerous in the final third Melvin Gaels were presented with a golden opportunity to take the initiative when referee Marty Duffy awarded a penalty.
Colm McGowan’s searching long ball looked as though it would present little danger and was claimed easily by St Brigids goalkeeper Shane Curran. However, the Sligo referee spotted a foul on Peter McGowan by Darragh Donnelly and immediately signalled a penalty for Melvin Gaels.
Emlyn Mulligan, normally deadly accurate with a dead ball, aimed for the top corner but his effort flew high and wide.
That chance could have seen Melvin Gaels’ heads drop but they seemed to be growing in confidence and deservedly got back on level terms when Mulligan pointed from a tight angle and midway through the half he struck again to give Melvin Gaels the lead.
With the momentum now well and truly behind the Leitrim champions Conor Sheridan and Peter McGowan combined to create another opportunity for Emlyn Mulligan but as soon as the ball went over the bar the point was ruled out by Marty Duffy, with Mulligan adjudged to have scored with an open palm.
With 10 minutes of the half remaining Frankie Dolan scored his third point of the game when he converted a free but that was almost immediately cancelled out by an excellent Mulligan free from just inside the 45.
With the game seemingly delicately poised the final eight minutes of the half illustrated just how good St Brigids are as they moved through the gears and with points from Eoin Sheehy (two), Senan Kilbride (two) and Frankie Dolan (four) the defending Connacht Champions opened up a commanding 0-12 to 0-5 half-time lead in the blink of an eye.
With the wind at the backs in the second half the game wasn’t completely beyond Melvin Gaels but it was difficult to see how such a well drilled side would relinquish such a commanding positon.
If Melvin Gaels were to have any hope of staging an unlikely comeback a fast start to the second half was essential and the fact that an injury picked up by Frankie Dolan in the closing stages of the opening half meant he was unable to take his place for the second meant there was reason for confidence.
Unfortunately that confidence quickly began to ebb away as St Brigids began the second half in the same manner they finished the first. Ian Kilbride, Richard Blaine and Darren Dolan pointed within five points of the retstart to leave 10 points between the sides, and even though there was still a lot of football to be played, the game now appeared to be over as a contest.
Stephen McGurrin did reduce the deficit with a point but from the resulting kickout St Brigids broke with speed and purpose and scored the game’s opening goal.
Richard Blaine’s pass to Karol Manion was the one that carved open the defence and when the ball fell to Senan Kilbride, the Roscommon star passed to Eddie Egan rather than shoot himself and Egan made no mistake from close range. The hugely influential Kilbride was always eager to get on the ball but he appeared to be equally keen to bring others into play and was instrumental in the majority of St Brigids scores.
Emlyn Mulligan gave the supporters who made the long journey from Kinlough to Kiltoom reason to cheer when he expertly pointed from a sideline ball and that was soon followed by a a fine Paul McGurrin point after he was found by his brother Stephen.
One of the real strengths of the St Brigids team was the calibre of players they introduced from the bench and Eddie Egan was a perfect example of that. Having already scored a goal Egan registered a point that left the deficit at 11 points and with 10 minutes remaining that lead was further increased when St Brigids struck for the second goal of the game.
Again Senan Kilbride was heavily involved and his ball to Kevin Sheehy unlocked the Melvin Gaels defence. Sheehy then found Gearoid Cunniffe who dispatched his shot past Gareth Phelan.
With the game long over as a contest the final 10 minutes proved to be of little consequence as the intensity of championship battle was now gone from the game but to his credit Paul Brennan continued to try to drive his team forward and his work led to Jesse McGuinness finding Emlyn Mulligan with an excellent pass and Mulligan, as is normally the case, was deadly accurate.
Although they had already secured their place in the next round St Brigids extended ther lead with further points from Eoin Sheehy, Alan McInerney and the excellent Damien Kelleher.
The final score of the game came from Emlyn Mulligan after good approach play involving Paul Brennan and Colin Regan but there was nothing Melvin Gaels could do to change the final outcome.
While the heavy defeat may have hurt the pride of the Melvin Gaels players it is important to note that they have been the outstanding team in the county this year and are still in with a very real chance of adding the division one league title to their senior championship crown.
Gareth Phelan, Stephen Clancy, Fabian McMorrow, Shane Ryan, Paul McGurrin (0-1), Paul Brennan, Donal Clancy, Stephen McGurrin (0-1), Brendan Brennan, Conor Sheridan, Emlyn Mulligan (0-8), Colm McGowan, Jonathan Connolly, James Phelan, Peter McGowan. Subs: Jesse McGuinness for P. McGowan (36 mins), Colin Regan for C. McGowan (41 mins), Martin McCarron for J. Phelan (41 mins), James Bredin for Connolly (44 mins), Anthony Tiffoney for P. McGurrin (53 mins).
Shane Currin, Peter Domican, Darragh Donnelly, Ronan Stack, Damien Kelleher (0-1), Ian Kilbride (0-1), Conor McHugh, Karol Mannion, Ger Aherne, Gearoid Cunniffe (0-1), Darren Dolan (0-1), Niall Grehan, Senan Kilbride (0-2), Frankie Dolan (0-7), Eoin Sheehy (0-4). Subs: Richard Blaine (0-1) for McHugh (27 mins), Darragh Sheehy for F. Dolan (HT), Eddie Egan (1-1) for D. Dolan (38 mins), Johnny Murray for Aherne (42 mins), Alan McInernery (0-1) for Grehan (51 mins).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)