AIB Connacht Club SFC: Corofin reach decider
AIB Connacht Club SFC Semi-Final
Corofin 0-16 Ballina Stephenites 0-12
By Billy Coss at Pearse Stadium
Five points apiece from Jack McCabe and Gary Sice helped Corofin to weather a second half rally from Ballina Stephenites to keep their quest for an 11th Connacht Senior Club Football Championship title on track in Salthill this afternoon.
The Galway champions turned around with a 0-9 to 0-3 advantage on a wintry, windswept day at Pearse Stadium and extended their margin to a high of 0-11 to 0-4 by the 36th minute. Backed by the elements, Ballina stormed back into contention during a rip-roaring second half and closed to 0-12 to 0-9 by the 49th minute.
A grandstand finish looked in store, however, the winners soon reasserted their dominance with man of the match McCabe (two), Sice and Micheál Lundy all on target as they sealed their passage to a provincial final against St. Brigid's of Roscommon or Leitrim's Mohill early next month.
Both teams started without frontliners and also lost key players during the contest. Kieran Molloy was a notable absentee for Corofin, while 'keeper Bernard Power, Dylan Wall and Mike Farragher were all forced to depart the action.
Ballina, meanwhile, were minus Pádraig O'Hora and lost another key defender to injury, Ger Cafferkey, inside the opening quarter. Joint-captain Dylan Thornton was also restricted to a brief cameo off the bench in the second half before being forced to leave the fray.
Corofin led from pillar to post and their mix of youthful exuberance and vast experience proved a winning formula. Captain Dylan McHugh, Patrick Egan, Sice and McCabe were all influential figures during the opening half and all scored more than once in carving out a six-point interval cushion.
Ballina went scoreless for the opening quarter shooting into the Árus Bóthar na Trá end, and their first half return of three points - courtesy of converted frees from top scorers Evan Regan and Frank Irwin - left too much ground to make up.
Niall Heffernan's side needed a strong third quarter when aided by elements, but with Lundy, Sice and McCabe scores cancelling out efforts from Regan and Frank Irwin, they maintained their half-time buffer at the three-quarter mark.
With kickout possession becoming more plentiful, Ballina reeled off three without reply through Ciarán Boland and both Frank and Jack Irwin. McHugh earlier came to Corofin' rescue with a well-executed block on Regan and the Galway champions retook control with McCabe punching over a pair of pressure-relieving points to go along with further efforts from Lundy and Sice.
That moved Corofin to safety in the closing stages which also witnessed the return to football action for Galway senior hurling captain Daithí Burke.
Scorers for Corofin: Jack McCabe 0-5, Gary Sice 0-5 (2fs), Patrick Egan 0-2, Micheál Lundy 0-2 and Dylan McHugh 0-2.
Scorers from Ballina Stephenites: Evan Regan 0-5 (4fs, 1m), Frank Irwin 0-3 (1f), Jack Irwin 0-1, Conor McStay 0-1, Ciarán Boland 0-1 and Mark Birane 0-1.
Corofin: Bernard Power; Liam Silke, Dylan McHugh (captain), Cathal Silke; Mike Farragher, Conor Cunningham, Gavin Burke; Patrick Egan, Ciarán Brady; Brian Cogger, Micheál Lundy, Tony Gill; Gary Sice, Dylan Wall, Jack McCabe.
Subs: Oran Burke for Power, half-time; Darragh Silke for Wall, half-time; Ross Mahon for Cathal Silke (37), Glen McHugh for Farragher (47), Colin Brady for Gill (52), Daithí Burke for Ciarán Brady (60).
Ballina Stephenites: David Clarke; Liam Golden, Ger Cafferkey, Sam Callinan; Ciarán Boland, David Tighe, Seán Regan; Luke Feeney, Mikey Murray (joint-captain); Niall Feeney, Ciarán Treacy, Frank Irwin; Evan Regan, Jack Irwin, Conor McStay.
Subs: James Doherty for Cafferkey (11), Mark Birrane for Treacy (41), Dylan Thornton (joint-captain) for Mikey Murray (41), Mikey Murray for Thornton (54), Ciarán Sweeney for Jack Irwin (56).
Referee: Barry Judge (Sligo).