I’m on Holy Ground for the night, not long in from an evening at MacHale Park where Breaffy qualified for the Senior club football final and where Castlebar Mitchels and Ballintubber couldn’t be separated, even after extra-time, in the other semi-final.
It was getting on for ten tonight when I finally left the ground but when I took my seat high up in the stand shortly before six this evening I still needed the sunglasses. Away to the west the slowly descending sun cast long autumnal shadows from the players onto the green sward. It was a perfect evening for football.
Breaffy were on top from the start in the evening’s first semi-final, racing to a three-point lead over Ballaghaderreen inside the opening few minutes. The atmosphere inside MacHale Park was strangely muted during these early exchanges, the crowd – still smallish in number, though plenty more would arrive later for the main event – making little or no noise, which meant the players’ shouts, in particular Andy Moran’s incessant promptings, dominated on the vocal front.
The crowd eventually got something to shout about when Breaffy broke through for a goal midway through the half. Ballagh’ had reduced the gap to one but then Matthew Ruane floated a ball right into the danger zone where Gareth Dunne connected with his fist and steered it to the net.
Breaffy took that four-point lead into the break. They failed to build on it on the resumption, though, and instead Ballaghaderreen cut the gap in half. The second of these was a classic Andy Moran score, out in front to win the ball, twisting this way, then that, then chipping it over.
The lights were now on at MacHale Park but still this dour contest doggedly refused to catch fire. Eventually Breaffy added a point to their half-time score – a neat one from Tommy O’Reilly, after a long ball in was knocked down into his path – and then slowly but surely they began to pull away.
Three nice points from play saw them push six clear. The first came from Conor O’Shea – the most prominent of the three siblings this evening – who turned neatly before firing over with his left. Then Mattie Ruane, bursting through at speed, rode a tackle well and shot over. Next it was Seamus O’Shea to try his luck off his left and that went over too.
There seemed to be no way back for Ballaghaderreen now but, with time running out, they pulled a goal back when sub Kuba Callaghan (at least I think it was him) connected with a low, raking cross and poked it home. It was too late, though, and while Breaffy had to scramble a bit at the end, it was, in truth, a comfortable enough semi-final win for them.
Here’s my post-game audio report on this one:
Onto the main event, where the meeting of defending champions Castlebar Mitchels and Ballintubber proved to be a far more compelling encounter. It went all the way to extra-time, either of them could have snatched it but in the end they both had to settle for a draw.
It was Ballintubber who were out of the traps sharper and they took the game to the champions early on. Cillian O’Connor squeezed a shot over the bar from a tight angle to open the scoring and Ciaran Gavin from a free doubled their early lead.
Castlebar hit back with three points on the spin. Their relaxed manner while in possession exuded confidence and it seemed only a matter of time before this was translated into scores on the board.
It wasn’t, though, as instead Ballintubber broke through for a goal at the other end. The score was created thanks to a sublime Alan Dillon pass into Cillian who offloaded smartly to the inrushing Michael Plunkett. I thought he definitely took too many steps before pulling the trigger but he got away with it and slipped the ball into the corner of the net.
Castlebar responded well, though, scoring the final two points of the half. They both came from David Stenson, the first from a free, but this positive boost was counterbalanced by the loss of Aidan Walsh, ordered off before the break on a second yellow.
A point in arrears and a man down, Mitchels looked in a bit of bother at half-time. Ballintubber’s massed defence had done well to bottle up Castlebar’s attacking forays in the opening half so the question now was how better those attacks might be, with the champions hobbled by virtue of the sending-off.
We got our answer to that shortly after the resumption. The ref played a good advantage when one of the Mitchels players was fouled out around the fifty, opting instead to let the attack develop. When the ball was played into Ray O’Malley a goal chance didn’t really look on but the Tubber defence parted obligingly for him and the Mitchels wing-back sashayed into the open space afforded to him and cracked the ball to the net.
A big home town roar erupted in the stand and when Jason Gibbons hacked a point effort badly wide at the other end straight away after, it really did seem like the contest had swung decisively in Castlebar’s favour.
A Cillian free cut the gap back to one but Barry Moran, anonymous until then, thumped over a monster point into the bacon factory end. A David Stenson free increased the margin between the sides to three points.
Two more Cillian frees brought Ballintubber back into it but then Neil Douglas smashed over a cracking point from distance for Castlebar. The same player was in on goal after the ‘keeper made a hash of his restart but he failed to convert the chance of bagging what would have been a decisive major. Instead, the ball cannoned back out, Danny Kirby picked it up and fed Dougie who popped it over.
Three to the good once more and again it was Castlebar who looked likely to prevail. Then Ciaran Galvin rammed over a long-range point for Ballintubber, but this was followed by bad wides from Alan Dillon and Diarmuid O’Connor.
Castlebar missed another chance to land the knockout blow, Donal Vaughan butchering badly a goal-scoring opportunity from a breakaway attack.
Into injury-time and Cillian was presented with a must-score free from close on fifty yards out. He duly nailed it. Then, with just seconds left to play, Alan Dillon tempted Ger McDonagh to dive in with a challenge, the Castlebar captain duly obliged and down went Dillon. Cillian pointed the free – although it took the hesitant umpires a few seconds to confirm that the ball had actually gone over – to send the match into extra-time.
By now the contest was starting to resemble a heavyweight boxing bout heading towards the fifteenth round. The big guns from both teams were cancelling each other out, both were flailing at the other but the punches never connected cleanly.
In this grim battle for supremacy, one player stood out. Diarmuid O’Connor’s influence grew and grew as the evening wore on and despite the repeated hits on him he kept taking the fight to the champions. In the end, he played himself almost literally into the ground.
Half-time of extra-time approached and neither side had managed to trouble the scoreboard. Then Jamsie Finnerty was played in by Cillian and fired over off the trusty left to edge the Tubber lads back in front.
When Miles Kelly’s awkward-looking effort eventually dropped over the posts soon after the start of the second extra-time period it now began to seem like it would be Ballintubber’s night. Then, all of a flash, Mitchels reeled off three points without reply, the second one another Barry Moran boomer, and they were back in front.
But Diarmuid continued to drive his side on and it was a foul on him close to the Mitchels goal that gave Cillian the chance to level the tie yet again, which he duly did. The same player even had a late chance to win it, with a speculative effort from fifty yards out, a bit like the one he’d knocked over deep in stoppage time to salvage a draw in the 2016 All-Ireland final. Tonight, though, Cillian’s effort tailed wide and soon after it was all over, the score tied at 1-12 each.
So these two heavyweights will have to do it all over again next weekend, to earn the right to meet Breaffy in the final in a fortnight’s time.
Here’s my audio report on this stalemate battle:
Finally, there was a shock outcome this evening in the Senior relegation final at Charlestown, where Davitts edged out Crossmolina by 0-17 to 1-13. This means that Deel Rovers, the All-Ireland club champions in 2001, will be plying their trade at Intermediate level in next year’s championship.
The fateful score that confirmed Crossmolina’s relegation from the Senior ranks was bagged by Davitts’ substitute, Mickey Conroy. Here it is:
.@Davitts_GAA will play senior in 2019 as @ConroyMickey comes off the bench to fist the game winner score in dramatic fashion and send @DeelRoversGAA down on a 0-17 1-13 scoreline. pic.twitter.com/ybw2KGXtsr
— Midwest Radio Sport (@MWRSport) October 6, 2018