Three out of three ain’t bad, that’s how the song goes, isn’t it? Not even 24 hours after Lee Keegan won the GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year award did he find himself and his Westport side getting through to the Connacht Intermediate championship final. The man was all over the shop this past week or so: winning the county title the Saturday before last, flying to America the following morning before returning for the All-Stars and sure why not round off the week by booking your place in another final? That’s a new form of jet lag!
His Westport side received a real wake-up call in their Connacht IFC semi-final clash against Monivea Abbey. They’d breezed past Kiltimagh in the county final and, as it turned out, it was nearly the undoing of them in their following game. They looked out of touch at times, a little off the pace but luckily for them, this wake-up call didn’t end with them sleeping in.
They relied on placed kicks to get scores but that in itself isn’t a problem if you have top-class free takers, which Westport do in abundance. Three frees from Fionn McDonagh and three from Lewis Cawley, one of which came in the dying minutes of the second half, helped drag the Covies over the line.
It is easy to make sense of why Westport may have been so lacklustre. Three games in just seven days is physically draining, even if you are an athlete à la Lee Keegan. The third game – the county final – should have been a tiring, fatigued based experience but it turned out to be relatively easy for the Covies. They weren’t tested against Kiltimagh and they just seemed to roll over the line uncontested really.
Photo: Western People/David Farrell Photography
Then, they’re hit early on by the Galway champions, in a match played in their own county, and it’s a case of really seeing what this Westport side are made of. The answer? Pure class.
They will fit perfectly into the senior set-up next year in Mayo because, truthfully, they have looked like a senior side this past year. The build of the players is extraordinary, they are like brick walls.
Speaking of brick walls, Kevin Keane had a marvellous game at full-back. When Monivea Abbey piled on the pressure in attack mid-way through the second period, he was on hand to guard his goal like watchdog. They now face Leitrim champions Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s in Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday week, November 20th. The longer lead-in will provide some well-needed rest for the boys in blue, who will be red-hot favourites to claim the Connacht crown over the Leitrim outfit.
We talked about Ballintubber and Castlebar being El Clasico of Mayo football. Well, another classic is forming in Connacht in the shape of the meeting of Mitchels and Corofin.
A relatively easy (and expected) win over Tourlestrane was achieved last Saturday without the Mayo side really breaking a sweat. They led 1-8 to 0-2 after 45 minutes and they didn’t just let the foot off the gas thereafter, they just stopped the vehicle entirely. They could have blown the Sligo champs out of the water but they didn’t, possibly knowing that they had rivals Corofin next in the firing line. Another 1-5 from Neil Douglas was coupled with another clean sheet from Rory Byrne who has now managed five shutouts in seven championship matches for Mitchels.
Castlebar are a massive force in Connacht football and they meet another in the form of Corofin on Sunday in MacHale Park. They have the psychological edge over Corofin as they have beaten them twice in their two previous encounters. Despite this and their fantastic run in the championship in the last two years, there will be no hype in the Mitchels group.
The match-ups in this contest are incredible and, as a neutral, I personally can’t wait for this semi-final on Sunday. Mike Finnerty of the Mayo News eluded to some of these personal duels in his pre-match build-up and they are mouth-watering. Mitchels’ man-marker Donie Newcombe has to try and keep tabs on Michael Lundy while Liam Silke has what can only be described as the ‘impossible’ task of marking Castlebar’s talisman Neil Douglas. Paddy Durcan was rested in the quarter-final after his hamstring injury picked up in the county final. He and his team-mates will be fighting fit and ready for battle this Sunday.
Nobody taught Padraig Prendergast the phrase “lightning doesn’t strike twice”. His and Louisburgh’s two last points in their Connacht JFC semi-final came from frees, both hogging the touchline and both beautifully curled over off the ground from the citeog of Prendergast. It was a game where they needed a captain to stand up to the mark and be counted and Kevin Gibbons did just that, firing over six of Louisburgh’s 15 points.
The game looked a foregone conclusion in the second half, the Mayo side were up by eight points and cruising. A well worked goal, two soft penalties and before you knew it Oranmore/Maree were on a level pegging with Louisburgh with the clock ticking into added time. The second of Prendergast’s wonder strikes came in the third minute of this added time. From one pressure kick to another, Jonathan Kelliher had the chance to send the game into extra-time but, unlike Prendergast, he didn’t have the same accuracy under pressure.
I was present at the game and was taken aback by the amount of Louisburgh fans who had made the journey to Salthill. Louisburgh frustrated Oranmore/Maree and it even resulted in one of their players getting sent off for a late hit on Kevin Gibbons. They now look to two weeks time where they face Creggs at Kiltoom in the Connacht JFC final.
Stephen O’ Malley’s seven points for Ballintubber, meanwhile, weren’t enough to see his side clinch the West Mayo ‘B’ Minor Championship. Burrishoole narrowly beat ‘Tubber 4-13 to 4-11 where their star man Jack Hanley came up with the goods, scoring 1-7 for his side. Claremorris’ win over Aghamore in Division 1A of the league may have just done enough to keep them safe for another year. Five points from James Shaughnessy saw Claremorris scrape a one-point win over Aghamore who now lie bottom of the table with two games remaining.
The Ballyhaunis hurlers played out another thrilling hurling match last weekend, this time against Ahascragh-Fohenagh in the Connacht Intermediate Final. 1-7 from star man Keith Higgins wasn’t enough to grab ‘Haunis the win and they must now take another shot at the final on Saturday in Athleague.
Also on Saturday, Mayo Masters will be looking to bridge a seven-year gap for glory when they face Cavan in Clonberne. The side contains the like of Kenneth Mortimer, Aidan Higgins and Fergal Kelly to name but a few and will rely on Mitchels’ Kevin Filan in attack who was instrumental in their semi-final win over Tyrone.
Three really is the magic number and with each week that passes we remain positive that we will have three Mayo teams lining out on St. Patrick’s Day. For Castlebar, Westport and Louisburgh, the journey continues. Mayo football is strong as we saw on Friday night with the All-Stars and it is getting stronger as we see with the progression of these three clubs. We’ll aim small for the moment and worry about All-Irelands if they come our way. For now, the attention turns to MacHale Park on Sunday as the first of our three warriors go to battle.
Final mention, though, goes to the ladies of Kilmoremoy who won the Connacht junior football title at the weekend. They beat the Galway side St James by 6-14 to 1-11, with Sarah Rowe claiming four of her team’s six goals. They now face Kinsale in the All-Ireland semi-final and that one has been fixed for Ballina on Sunday week.