There is no point pretending I saw it coming, there is no point being wise after the event.
Ballintubber's defeat of the four-in-a-row chasing Castlebar Mitchels in the county semi-final replay caught me and quite a few by surprise. The myth that the underdog gets only one chance can be well and truly dismissed.
Again, as in the first game, the replay was far from a classic - very low scoring played in very greasy conditions. I have to commend the groundsmen as Elverys MacHale Park was in splendid condition considering the amount of rain that fell last Saturday.
The way the dominance in this match swayed to and fro kept us intrigued right through to the second minute of injury time in extra time. It was like a heavyweight boxing match without the boxing as both teams had to deal with receiving severe blows, only to suck it up regroup and come again. Nobody left this one early.
Castlebar have been worthy champions, brilliant champions but something didn't seem right in the two games against Ballintubber. They weren't playing with the swagger, ruthlessness and killer instinct of yesteryear.
Their diminished performance levels can be largely attributed to the severe pressure they were put under by a well prepared Ballintubber outfit. Even when the game was level and deep in injury time, instead of retreating and protecting what they had, Ballintubber went for the jugular, they pressed high up the field in pursuit of a turnover to create a winning chance in injury time of extra time. The relentless pressure applied by their forward division had Castlebar struggling to find a way out of their defence, time and time again.
The winning score came from an unlikely source as Joe Geraghty popped over unattended in the closing stages. The Mitchels, as champions do, would create one last chance, it fell to Danny Kirby. A herculean block by Diarmuid O'Connor from Kirby's effort ensured it was 'Tubber's day and the champions were out.
Battles all over the field
Too many of Castlebar's go-to players didn't play well. Aidan Walsh and Danny Kirby struggled around the middle. Paddy Durcan wasn't his usual rampaging self. He was detailed with keeping tabs on the machine that is Diarmuid O'Connor when Ballintubber had possession. Not a nice prospect for someone not in top form.
Likewise Brian Walsh was keeping tabs on Durcan when the Mitchels had possession, after doing so brilliantly on him, the week before. In all, Castlebar had eight players who have donned a jersey for the Mayo senior team at some stage in the last few years, while Ballintubber had four. The Ballintubber four made a huge difference to the outcome of the game. All played splendidly and all four were in contention for the man-of-the-match award along with Gary Loftus.
Alan Dillon's pursuit of a career in politics obviously hasn't affected his time on the training ground. He was everywhere and as is always the case, he is so smart on the ball and rarely if ever does anything silly when he gets it. Some of his passing when under extreme pressure was top drawer. He will be playing in his sixth senior final on Saturday evening.
Cillian O'Connor's nerve was there for all to see as he kicked some wonderful frees under extreme pressure. The equaliser in normal time was not for the fainthearted. Jason Gibbons was also to the fore and Diarmuid O'Connor was again outstanding. Neil Douglas burrowed a lone furrow up front for Castlebar. His ability to win a dirty ball is unrivalled. How he makes it stick no matter what way it comes at him, is one of the great skills. Had he taken all of Castlebar's frees, his team would probably be in the county final.
Upon leaving the match I spoke to a few Mitchels supporters who were very irate at the performance of referee John Glavey. Some of the calls were bizarre alright but some of the definite fouls that went unpunished were mystifying, not just for Castlebar I might add. I struggled to keep count of the amount of times he moved the ball forward for dissent or overturned a free and hopped the ball. The players had a right to be a little vexed. There is nothing more frustrating in the white heat of battle for a player that they cannot query or question a decision without been punished for doing so.
Can Ballintubber come again?
The big question is, have Ballintubber anything left in the tank for Saturday's final against Breaffy? I'm sure Breaffy were only too delighted to see the replay going to extra time. I have no doubt they will have a pep in their step after seeing the Mitchels defeated, as Castlebar have been a real bogey team for them down the years.
The county final will be billed as a battle of the brothers as the O’Shea's take on the O'Connor's, although it is far more than that. Alan Dillon and Robbie Hennelly will have a big say on the outcome. The clash between Matthew Ruane and Jason Gibbons is a mouth watering prospect. James Horan will watch that match up close.
I feel Ballintubber have a more balanced team as long as they have saved something for the final. Breaffy will feel they will never get a better chance. Don't rule out another draw. Saturday promises to be a monumental occasion at Elverys MacHale Park. The intermediate final between Belmullet and Burrishoole throws in at 6pm followed by the senior final at 8pm. I expect a huge crowd.