Memory of Mannion's wonder-goal still stings Sice
By John Harrington
It’s 10 years since Karol Mannion won the 2006 Connacht Club Senior Football title for St. Brigid’s with a spectacular injury-time goal against Corofin.
If you were in Dr Hyde Park that day, it’s unlikely the passage of time has dulled the memory of how that goal made you feel at the time.
It delivered ecstasy for everyone associated with St. Brigid’s, pure despair for Corofin natives, and sheer amazement for any neutrals in the crowd.
Gary Sice certainly remembers it well, he was on the Corofin team that day and still regrets not taking out Mannion before the ball even got as far as him.
“I was about this far (points right beside his face) away from his jaw,” chuckles Sice ruefully.
“Another second and he was getting it! I had an opportunity to clip him on the halfway line and one of our midfielders had the opportunity to clip him, take his ankles from under him and he just managed to skip out of tackle.
“The pitch was horrible the same day and I think if it had been dry he was getting it but he got away with it and he cracked it so you can't but say fair play.”
Ten years on, and St. Brigid’s and Corofin will meet in another AIB Connacht Club SFC this Sunday.
And as fate would have it, Sice and Mannion were thrown together this week when they attended a media event in Dublin to publicise the match. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for the topic to turn to ‘The Goal'.
“I was only talking to him this morning about it,” says Sice. “I said, 'Look, no goalkeeper, 15 balls, I'll put a patch in the goal, hit the patch'. And he admitted in fairness to him that, no-way, he'd do it.
“It was a sickener! We learned a valuable lesson from that. We should have taken his head off. We had 14 men for 58 minutes of that game and were cruising two points up.
“There were seven minutes of over-time. Where that came from, I don't know. He let rip, and in fairness...I'm still convinced he wasn't going for that, I think he let rip and was hopefully it lands somewhere and knocks down a break or something.
“There's no way, he was 32 or 33 yards out, Jesus Christ you wouldn't try it in a schools game, it was a ridiculous effort!
“But that's Karol Mannion because all through his Roscommon career and the whole lot he was able to pull out something different and he always looked a bit different with Roscommon, he has that skill set, he has that know how, he's a good baller, a really good footballer.”
The 2006 Connacht Final isn’t the only occasion that Corofin have suffered at the hands of St. Brigid’s in the past. They were also narrowly beaten by the Roscommon club in the 2011 Connacht Final on a day when they were left seriously aggrieved by a number of refereeing decisions.
The two clubs have shared a lot of recent history, most of it of the sour variety from a Corofin point of view, but Sice doesn’t think that will give Sunday’s clash any extra edge.
“There's no history anymore because the two groups have changed so much,” he says. “They have eight or nine new players and so do we. Some of our younger lads don't even know about what's happened five years ago. That seems to be a trend with that age-group at the moment.
“They're a quality opposition. They have been there on and off. I think they won five in a row in Roscommon, that means they were in Connacht five years in a row.
“Took a year out, and obviously they're back now so they've been building very strong. Their minors won the Connacht Final during the week so they're a strong club and fairly like ourselves in ways so it's going to be a fairly interesting day on Sunday.
“I've no doubt in my mind that Brigid's have something that we don't know about and I know we have things they don't know about.
“So the groups have changed so much, and the clubs have even changed. They've met so much over the last four or five years at underage that whatever edge was there before is gone now. We regularly go down there for blitzes and they regularly come up to us.
“We meet them in Connacht minor and all kinds of stuff. So there's no edge there anymore. Defused completely.”
Corofin have a good habit of learning from painful defeats and coming back stronger.
After their 2006 Connacht Final loss to St. Brigid’s they rebounded by winning two provincial titles in a row in 2008 and 2009.
And when they were beaten by Castlebar Mitchels in the 2013 Connacht semi-final by a single point, they came back the next season to win the club’s first All-Ireland title since 1998.
“I suppose it's pure joy because we'd seen it before and we'd seen what it meant and we were probably the result of it,” says Sice.
“That group that's there at the moment is probably a result of that win in '98. I suppose as we get a little bit older we start to realise that what we're doing at the moment is going to grow what comes after it.
“To stand in Croke Park and for a 30 second window to look around you and realise, 'Jesus, I'm after winning an All-Ireland with my club in Croke Park', it was just epic, there's no other word for it.
“But then it gives you a little taste and makes you think the group is pretty young, we're strong, we've got no bad injuries, maybe we can have another cut at it.
“It was definitely a dream I'd be looking to do for a long time and we'd been close but now we'd finally gotten over the line.”
Corofin are one of only eight clubs to win the All-Ireland title more than once, and were they climb the steps of Croke Park again next St. Patrick’s Day for the second time in three years, their legacy as one of the truly great clubs would be enshrined.
Very few clubs win multiple All-Irelands with the same generation of players. Sice admits it would be satisfying to leave that sort of legacy, but knows too that thinking that far ahead would be a recipe for disaster this Sunday.
“That would be nice. It would be a dream, it would be ideal. But you can't do it when you're up against opposition like Brigid's.
“You genuinely cannot dream for a second, because when you do Senan Kilbride will pop up and knock up and get a goal or Karol Mannion will pop up and get a goal or the next thing you're six minutes from the end, you're two points up and someone gets a sickener of a goal.
“It has happened before against Brigid's. We're too long in the tooth for that, we've learned a lot. Even our younger guys coming through have been forewarned and I'm sure Brigid's are thinking the same as we are.
“Legacies are hard things to talk about when you're living it. It's grand to sit down and have a cup of coffee in two years time and you're retired. At the moment legacy is not a concern, it's the here and now and to do the business if you can.”