And then there were two. Well, eventually there was two in terms of the Intermediate Championship but we’ll get to that in a while. It’s not often that the Gods smile down on me. I was covering matches elsewhere before the big games on Saturday and Sunday but I was excellently positioned geographically wise and just had enough time for my Corolla to bomb from my matches to the championship games. That Corolla of mine has seen many a road, you can’t beat the old: fast but reliable.
Speaking of fast and reliable, Kevin McLoughlin’s Knockmore are back into their first county final since 2009 and will be looking to snatch the Moclair Cup from Mitchels next Saturday. It was McLoughlin that opened the game’s proceedings for his side after just thirty seconds and after twenty minutes the scoreline read 0-7 to 0-2 in favour of Knockmore.
Knockmore had already denied Breaffy of one cup at the start of the season, beating them in the Michael Walsh League final. Tommy O’Reilly was a late addition to the Breaffy side and he hammered home a well worked goal to make it 0-8 to 1-4 at the interval. I gave Breaffy the nod last week but I also said that if the chips were down and the game was neck and neck that Knockmore had the ability to grind out another fantastic win and that is what they did.
With two points separating the sides, up stepped Robbie Hennelly who lashed over a superb free with a minute of normal time remaining. When Breaffy won a ’45 seconds later, the ‘keeper was already en route to have another crack at the posts but could not direct the ball over this time. The next score was crucial and Peter Naughton, who had a great game for Knockmore pointing five scores, turned the ball over from Breaffy and fed Kieran Langan who scooped up the insurance point.
Final whistle, action over, right? Wrong! Andrew Keane collected two yellow cards and Breaffy played against Knockmore for the last five minutes with an extra man. Keane had been stuck to Aidan O’Shea for the majority of the game. That’s his job, he’s a defender marking a county star, you don’t let him out of your sight.
There was times where what was happening on the ball was irrelevant because something was happening out of the corner of your eye. Nine times out of ten, two opposing players were on the deck and 90% of the time it was O’Shea and Keane. This action spilled over after the final whistle in what Mayo GAA PRO Paul Cunnane described as a ‘melee’. Paul Cunnane is a credit to Mayo GAA, the work he does for them is indescribable. The definition of a ‘melee’ is “a confused hand-to-hand fight or struggle among several people”.
Photo: Mayo News/Michael Donnelly
He couldn’t have described it any better. It was “among several people” (fans and players alike from both sides getting involved), it was “hand-to-hand” (poor Hennelly left the field with blood running down his face from a cut above his eye) and anyone who was in MacHale Park was surely “confused” on how it all started. It put a damper on what was a fantastic win for Knockmore as manager Ray MacHale now turns his focus to Saturday and Mitchels.
Mitchels and ‘Tubber, the most decorative clubs in recent history in Mayo. They don’t do matches, they endurance battles. This was not one of those epic battles. 0-6 to 0-2 was the score at the break and those two Ballintubber scores came from Cillian O’Connor frees. In fact, out of the 1-5 that Ballintubber chalked up on Sunday, all five points came from placed kicks of Cillian’s. Their goal was their only score from play and it came deep into second half injury time.
It was a huge anti-climax to the ‘Super Sunday’ of football we had created in our minds. The omen that hung over the Castlebar outfit of never having beaten Ballintubber in senior knock-out championship football was banished. Tight defending from Castlebar produced the result of Ballintubber ending almost scoreless from open play.
Ray O’Malley and Ger McDonagh kept close tabs on Cillian while, at the other end, Neil Douglas was displaying fine form, scoring both from frees and open play. Eight points in total is what he took from the game and when compared to 1-11 that his side accumulated altogether, it was some effort from their talisman.
They say two games are never the same and that is a sentence which rang true on Sunday. Ballintubber couldn’t stop scoring the week before in the quarter-finals. You’d have to wonder if they left everything out on the field that day. Was there any need to inject such a hammering into a side which you’ve already beaten before the half-time whistle?
The Ballintubber side seemed sluggish and drained last Sunday and Mitchels looked as though they didn’t even break sweat. We’re not getting the best out of our club teams. Years gone by and the 0-6 to 0-2 score line at that we had at half-time would have been chalked up in ten minutes between these two sides. Something wasn’t right on Sunday.
Mitchels deserved the win but they deserved better opposition than that. It was not the Ballintubber we know and love watching and hopefully themselves and Breaffy can have a good rest over this winter period and come back refreshed for next season. Both sides have some wonderful players on show and these players are shattered.
Not taking anything away from Knockmore and Mitchels. They are equally just as fatigued and credit to their players for getting this far having endured some hard-fought games.
I am really excited about Saturday’s senior final. Mitchels no doubt will be red-hot favourites and so they should be. The current title holders eclipsed Breaffy in last year’s final and their ability to do that to any team is always there.
I like their ‘keeper Rory Byrne. He’s not the extravagant type of goalie we’re now used to seeing. The Cluxton type ‘keeper, taking ’45s, roaring at defenders, travelling out from his goal. His job is simple and effective, take the kick-outs and guard the goal with your life. He does both very well. His lack of roaring is down to how well the Castlebar team is set up and this is always going to be hard to break down. However, I feel if anyone can do it, Knockmore can.
On paper you have to say Castlebar but it is hard to get Knockmore out of the skull. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if the game is in the melting pot with ten or fifteen minutes to go, my money’s on Knockmore. I’ve been surprised at how well they can grind out games under the cosh. Ballaghaderreen, Aghamore and Breaffy: all games where Knockmore had to dig deep in order to find that extra point or two to snatch a win.
Castlebar beat Knockmore last year at the semi-final stage. They will have one up psychologically on Knockmore before throw-in because of it. However, hurt does wonders and Knockmore will surely be seeking revenge, along with their first Moclair Cup success in 19 years.
My friend Tom likes the auld football match and the auld flutter of a bet from time to time too. Nice little Westport and Kiltimagh double on Saturday he placed on his phone and thought no more of it as we left a soccer game in Milebush to travel to one of the Intermediate games in Ballina.
Kiltimagh vs. Burrishoole was exhausting even to watch. There was five minutes of injury time and to be honest if there was another five, they’re could have been a different outcome again. Kiltimagh found themselves level for the second week running at half-time, courtesy of another late first half goal from Michael Moran. The same player snatched another goal in the second half too.
When Jason Doherty popped over a free deep into injury time and drew the sides level for the eighth time in the game, my friend Tom began to worry. The game had draw written all over it but Tom’s face had “someone score quick” written all over it. His and Kiltimagh’s prayers were answered. David Lydon and Brian ‘Chuckie’ Gallagher ensued a Hallowe’en style nightmare finish for Burris’. Lydon grabbed the match winner when he pointed under pressure to book Kiltimagh a place in the final and leaving them one win away from joining the big boys.
Head back to the car, turn on Mid-West, stick the car into first gear and emergency break. Daniel Carey of the Mayo News was the one who had the ill-fated job of revealing the bad news to my friend Tom. Westport had drawn and so any notion of profit for him, like the snow from last winter, had disappeared in an instance.
A bad aerial connection on my Corolla meant we ducked in and out of signal as we heard phrases such as “a point from a Westport penalty” and “last minute Shrule/Glencorrib goal” being used and I just had to wait until Monday morning to piece it all together. Michael Gallagher was the man to do that for me as he described in the Western People how the game had everything. In his marvellous intro, he spoke of “comebacks, drama, good/bad football and rumours, lots of rumours”.
Westport busted into a 0-7 to 0-3 lead followed by a Phil Keegan penalty which flew over the crossbar while a Lewis Cawley penalty flew into the back of the net. Fitting that the two goals came from penalties and two influential men, Cawley and Mark Ronaldson racked up 1-5 and 1-4 for the respective sides, but it was Ronaldson who would get the most important one as he buried his equalising penalty into the bottom corner of the net.
Now what about those rumours I hear you say? Number 29 on the match programme for the replay last night (Wednesday), the blonde bombshell, Conor Mortimer, returned for his home club Shrule/Glencorrib and was introduced mid-way through the second half scoring a left footed point almost immediately. That’s all he could manage as Westport ran out 1-9 to 0-9 point winners.
Shrule/Glencorrib went into a five point to nothing lead after fifteen minutes but Westport finished the half off strongly rattling 1-4 without reply courtesy of a fantastic Shane Scott goal. The border lads were always one or two behind Westport in the second half and despite superb displays from David Geraghty, Colin Hoverty to name but a few, they couldn’t power past the strength of Westport.
Mort was the talk of the night and caused one fella behind me to wonder “Is he in for a shout with Mayo again?” He was serious and all! It got me and a few of the lads talking on the drive home. Imagine if you are a Shrule/Glencorrib player and you’ve put in the graft all year long and it gets to the biggest match of the year and you’re immediately second best to some old club hero who has just been transferred back in. It’s not the nicest situation.
Westport now face Kiltimagh in Saturday’s curtain raiser in MacHale Park. This is going to some game. These are the two teams I’ve fancied since the summer and I had an inkling that if they avoided each other throughout, they would eventually meet on the final stage.
Both go into this game having not lost a championship game all year. Kiltimagh immediately have the edge considering the bizarre three-day turn around for Westport. Three matches in one week will surely have some impact on stamina you would think. Then again, these Westport lads are built like machines, the display of fine shouldering on Wednesday night was a joy to watch.
They’ve both had two very close encounters with teams en route to the final and it will be just a case of who wants it more on the day. It’s too hard to call, both sides have an array of talent. I think Kiltimagh will do it on the basis that they’ve had a week to recover instead of Westport’s three days, both of which are not ideal period of rest for either side. If that is the case, Westport may have to call on their youth to come on mid-way through the second half for some running duties with fresh legs. Regardless, it will be the curtain-raiser before the main event.
Speaking of Westport’s youth, Oisin McLoughlin was on hand to kick over the Intermediate teams insurance score against Shrule/Glencorrib and was also one of their minors’ main men in the West Mayo ‘A’ Final, kicking 1-2 alongside Killian Kilkenny. This game would have been a perfect opener in MacHale Park last Sunday for the two senior semis.
It was a joy to cover. There was roughly about 18 scores recorded from 18 shots before a wide was witnessed in the 21st minute. The standard of football was immense with Edward Ball and Oisin Lally having a cracking game for Louisburgh who only for a sluggish second half finish were well in contention for majority of the game.
Ballyhaunis Gaels and Ballintubber were crowned Minor ‘B’ and ‘C’ champions respectively. They both played two hard-fought finals. Ballyhaunis overcame Belmullet, Michael McGarry and Cathal Carney scoring 1-4 and 1-2 for the winners which was matched by Belmullet’s Ryan O’ Donoghue who managed 1-3. ‘Tubber’s one point win was enough to see them collect the ‘C’ trophy as their talisman Jamsie Finnerty had a great day at the office with his 1-7 of the teams 2-10.
Holly-Cara were victorious in the South Mayo ‘B’ final against Ballinrobe. A goal was all that separated the teams and captain Conor Heneghan grabbed two along with five points to lift the trophy for his side. Tooreen and Ballyhaunis must battle it out again in the hurling as they endured a closely contested Mayo SHC Final on a scoreline of 1-15 to 2-12. Keith Higgins of Bally and Kenny Feeney on Tooreen were the outstanding men recording 0-10 and 0-6 respectively.
Carnacon were convincing winners over Leitrim outfit Kiltubrid in the Ladies football SFC final on Sunday morning, blitzing their opponents 8-20 to 1-9. Cora got her fair share contributing 2-11 but she wasn’t the only high scorer, Fiona McHale grabbing 4-1 also. They hadn’t tasted provincial success since 2013 but don’t feel too bad for the girls, it was their 15th time holding the trophy in 19 seasons! As I’ve said before, the squad is jam-packed with stars, surely Michelle McGing must be hounded with phone calls from the Mayo camp to return? I will be interviewing one of those stars on Thursday in college: Carnacon captain Doireann Hughes is a major player for the NUIG girls team also.
Is Saturday night lights and Wednesday night football going to become a new addition to Mayo club football? Will Mitchels hold on to their senior crown or will we see fresh-faced winners in Knockmore? And who will be joining them at the top table of Mayo football next year, will it be Westport or Kiltimagh? Will Conor Mort return to the Mayo team? Will my friend Tom ever win another bet? Stay tuned and return next week to find out.