Johnny Logan won the Eurovision for the first time, veteran republican Tom Barry died, retired international Robbie Keane was born, and Knockmore and Castlebar Mitchels last met in the Mayo senior club championship final. The year was 1980 and that final saw the meeting of two Mayo footballing traditions. Mitchels, founded in 1885 was the oldest club in the county, while Knockmore, though founded in 1958, were not registered until 1960. Mitchels had 24 senior titles in the bag to Knockmore’s one before the 1980 final. However, it could be said that the playing field had been levelled on the run in to the decider as both teams had shown recent good form. Mitchels had taken the 1978 title by a point against Claremorris and Knockmore were beaten finalists in 1979. Two early Knockmore goals in the 1979 semi-final had knocked champions Castlebar out of contention. Knockmore’s opponents in the final were the all-conquering Garrymore side. Garrymore had completed the three-in-a-row from 1974 to 76 (the last club to do so ), and it took a replay for them to be beaten in the 1977 final.
Both Mitchels and Knockmore had been tested on their respective roads through the 1980 competition. Knockmore showed their intent early on by wreaking revenge on champions Garrymore in the first round. Next up were the men from Bangor Erris. Kiltane were outmatched by Knockmore who deserved their place in a semifinal duel with Ballinrobe. The eastern shore of Lough Conn celebrated a four-point semifinal victory over the Robe, thanks, in large part, to the return of Liam O’Neill to his midfield post.
Castlebar reached the final by the skin of their teeth, winning each game by two just points. First to be put to the sword were Claremorris, Mitchels’ combatants in the 1978 final. Ballaghaderreen followed but in a poor game spectators only saw 12 points scored, seven to Castlebar. Aughamore, finalists in 1974 and 1975, were Castlebar’s prize for beating Ballaghaderreen. Mitchels went in to that encounter as underdogs but they had an ace up their sleeve. Monaghan native Tom Reilly was hailed as a great addition to the Mitchels’ attack. The Mayo under-21 displayed an energy that enabled him to score a well-engineered goal that pushed the fulltime scoreline to 2-8 to 0-12 in Mitchels’ favour.
In advance of the final, critics pointed to a chink in Knockmore’s armour. With seven players over the age of 30, the team was dubbed the league of pensioners. Added incentive for Knockmore, if any was needed. Castlebar possibly lost the game in the first 30 minutes. That half hour was dotted with inaccurate scoring attempts. To rub salt in the wound, a Cormac Egan goal for Mitchels was adjudged to have been illegal. Frank Ryan was not to be denied when he fisted a goal in the 21st minute. The ball was supplied by Henry Gavin who would leave his mark on the game. The teams finished 1-2 apiece at half time, Knockmore’s goal having been scored by Peter Hughes from the penalty spot.
Knockmore came out after the interval and launched an attack on the Mitchel’s defence. Ironically, the critic’s chink was to prove to be Knockmore’s advantage as their experience allowed the team to carry out their game plan without panicking. Within the first 15 minutes, Knockmore’s wonder substitute Michael Durkan had knocked in two goals that helped his side press their dominance. Young Reilly responded with a 30 yard goal from a Henry Gavin long ball pass that allowed Mitchels stay in the contest. At one stage Mitchels were a daunting seven points adrift. Castlebar’s defence reorganised and to their credit they kept Knockmore scoreless for the rest of the game. The final, played in James Stephens Park in Ballina, ended Knockmore 3-4, Castlebar Mitchels 2-6. It is remembered for some enthralling passages of play. The quality shown gave Mayo club football in general a shot in the arm and gave the two clubs a foundation on which each secured further titles during the eighties.
Knockmore: D Molloy, R MacHale, S Durkan, D Langan, D Ruttledge, P Warde, M Molloy, L O’Neill, M O’Hora (0-2 ), N Durkan (0-1 ), S Weir, L MacHale, P Durkan (0-1 ), E MacHale, P Hughes (1-0 ). Subs: M Durkan (2-0 ) for E MacHale and T Warde for L MacHale.
Castlebar: D O’Malley, L Doherty, S Minogue, P Burke, N O’Shea, M Minogue, K Hynes, M Walshe, J Quinn (0-1 ), T Reilly (1-2 ), H Gavin (0-1 ), C Egan, F Joyce (0-2 ), F Ryan (1-0 ), J Munnelly. Subs: P Gavin for J Munnelly and F McDonald for F Ryan. The referee was J Cosgrove from Crossmolina.