Darragh Silke of Corofin holds off against David Tighe of Ballina Stephenites during their AIB Connacht GAA senior club championship semi-final at Pearse Stadium, Salthill. Photo: Ray Ryan | Sportsfile

End of the road for Mayo senior football champions in Connacht series

Corofin's experience and cuteness got them over the line with a 0-16 to 0-12 victory over Ballina Stephenites in the AIB Connacht club senior football championship semi-final at Pearse Stadium, Salthill, this afternoon.

The breeze, as ever, was a factor and it was Corofin who made better use of the ball playing against it than Ballina had in the first half, the Mayo champions managing just three frees through Frank Irwin and Evan Regan (two) in the opening 30 minutes, leaving them down by six at the break.

While the Stephenites were better in the second half and had the deficit down to just three points with 11 minutes plus added time remaining, Corofin showed their vast experience to reel off three points in a row through Michael Lundy and Jack McCabe (two), giving Ballina a mountain to climb with time running out.

In fairness to the Mayo champions, they had a good go in the closing stages. Still trailing by six going into injury time, they landed two points through Mark Birrane and Conor McStay and lobbed a few balls into the danger area as well in an attempt to land the goal that was needed, but the Corofin defence held firm and they deservedly held on to reach the Connacht decider.

Ballina Stephenites manager Niall Heffernan, speaking after the game, recognised Corofin's strenghts.

He said: “I felt that early in the second half we were getting at them but in fairness to Corofin, they showed their class. They came down and they got their scores easier than we did in either half.

“Their link play, their fitness, their power – they showed it all it. It took us a while to match the physicality that they brought. We knew what they were like but you have to experience it up here.”

Heffernan added that losing players of the calibre of Padraig O'Hora and Dylan Thornton prior to throw-in and Ger Cafferkey just 11 minutes into the contest didn't help.

“We were always up against it, down two or three players, and then to lose Ger Caff so early in the game well was just a huge, huge loss on top of that. After all that, we still competed well against a very good team like Corofin, but we just came up short.”

While that's the end of the road for Ballina this year, Heffernan feels they can reflect with pride the on the campaign.

“That group has grown hugely, and they have fantastic leaders with some of those older guys, and hopefully those guys will stay on to bring those young guys on even further. The attitude of the players has been brilliant, as has been the effort that they’ve put in.

“We’ve seven or eight guys based in Dublin, coming down to Ballina for training during the week, or else we get a venue because we don’t have full lights for ourselves. There’s been a lot of obstacles that those players have gotten over and just said, ‘We’re going to do it’.”

Ballina Stephenites: D. Clarke; L. Golden, G. Cafferkey, S. Callinan; C. Boland (0-1), D. Tighe, S. Regan; L. Feeney, M. Murray; N. Feeney, C. Treacy, F. Irwin (0-3, 1f); E. Regan (0-5, 4f, 1m), J. Irwin (0-1), C. McStay (0-1).

Subs used: J. Doherty, M. Birrane (0-1), D. Thornton, C. Sweeney.

Corofin: B. Power; L. Silke, D. McHugh (0-2), C. Silke; M. Farragher, C. Cunningham, G. Burke; P. Egan (0-2), C. Brady; B. Cogger, M. Lundy (0-2), T. Gill; G. Sice (0-5, 2f), D. Wall, J. McCabe (0-5).

Subs used: O. Burke, D. Silke, R. Mahon, G. McHugh, C. Brady, D. Burke.

Referee: B. Judge (Sligo).