Back-to-back by the 'Parish of the Backs'

GAA: Mayo GAA SFC Final

Back to back: Knockmore celebrate after claiming the Mayo Senior Football Championship last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile.

Back to back: Knockmore celebrate after claiming the Mayo Senior Football Championship last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile.

Finals in Gaelic football aren't there for getting high artistic marks from the judges in Gaelic - they're there to be won, and that is exactly what Knockmore did last Sunday in Ballina.

The men from the Parish of the Backs' have put together back-to-back Mayo Senior Football titles for the first time since the 1990s for their club and it is an achievement that should be given proper praise and applause.

For those taking just a casual glance at the scoreboard in the future, it might look like an underwhelming contest, one by a side who were champions last year against a team that came from nowhere and were lucky to be there. But that is the furthest thing from the truth.

Belmullet came into this final on the back of some fantastic wins against a side who were much more vaunted than them in the build-up and who came with a plan that had seen both Westport and Breaffy dispatched in the knock-out stages, along with beating Knockmore in the group stages.

Raymond Dempsey, has proved himself to be a shrewd manager who is able to read a situation, set his side up to play the opposition whatever way they want to and have confidence that his side can match that, while bringing their own qualities to the fore and that is exactly what they did last Sunday.

They were tight at the back, tackling hard, winning turnovers, forcing Belmullet to go long with their kick-outs, backing their middle third to hoover up the ball around that area and breaking quickly and with intent when the chance arose. You've to look no further than the goal just before half-time to see it in action. Shane McHale turned over James Kelly in the Knockmore defensive line, the ball was worked quickly and Aiden Orme wasted no time in delivering a perfect ball to James Ruddy who was isolated inside on his man. Ruddy fetched the ball, turned his man and drove it low past Shane Nallen to the net.

That goal turned a tight 0-2 to 0-1 scoreline, which Belmullet would have been happy with going in at the break, into a four-point gap. In a low-scoring game - that score was always going to vital. Knockmore's penchant for getting goals at key times has served them well this year, you've only to look at their quarter-final win over Ballintubber and semi-final against Garrymore when they capitalised on small errors by their opponents' defences to rattle the net and turn the tide in their favour in those games.

Afterwards, Knockmore manager Ray Dempsey was delighted with his side's performance and was looking forward to what comes next, saying: "Belmullet, all credit to them, they came in and threw everything at us and we are just delighted to be on the right side of the line.

"Any county title is special, you know, we are just happy we put it back-to-back, that is the only choice we had this year if we were going to retain it, so look, we'll enjoy it.

"You can go into the wilderness in club football in Mayo because the level and standard is so high so you have to enjoy it and we have to try and keep improving for next year's championship, but presently we will have to improve a bit if we are to go on and win the next round of the Connacht Club championship.

"There is pressure off, we have the Moclair Cup and that was our ambition at the start of the year, this (Connacht Club Championship ) is an added bonus, it could have come around last year, but Covid put paid to that.

"Maybe we might be as well off, we are a year older and stuff, but again, today's performance, we'll probably struggle to get over the Connacht semi-final. We are going to celebrate tonight and enjoy it and relax because if you don't enjoy and relax and celebrate these occasions - you know you're missing a tick.

"There is a deep resolve in them lads and there is more to come from them, I still think a lot of them are nowhere near where they can go to but there is an emphasis there on coaching, there is an emphasis on individual players to develop and all that, so, you know, management work with players and players work with management and we'll see can we improve another step or two."

It was a similar feeling of pride from Knockmore forward Peter Naughton who told the Mayo Advertiser: "So special, it hasn't been done since the 90s and them legends back in the day, to do the same as them is great.

"To back it up was very important for us, it is what we wanted to do, we wanted to do back-to-back - people could have said it was a once-off last year. The way the weather was last year, I don't think we got a bad day for football and this year we just proved we could do it in any conditions and we can go dog to dog with them or play football against them."

As for going on further in the Connacht Club Championship, it's something he's looking forward to also: "That was in the back of our minds too, obviously you want to win the county first but to have that opportunity now to go out and prove ourselves in Connacht and to see how we get on is going to be a huge honour. Look, I'm a Knockmore man and I'm just happy to be moving on to the Connacht's with these boys, they are a credit and I'm delighted."

As for his own performance in the final, he gave the credit to his team-mates, adding: "The group of boys I have around me, they make it so easy for me. I kick my frees when I have to and when you've Kevin McLoughlin out the pitch there pinging passes and other boys, sure, he's passing it in like a bubble, he's the best kick-passer in the country and he makes your job a bit easier really.

"We've gotten nothing easy this year, but we knew when it came to the crunch we could get over the line, the legs the fitness, the family feeling there - the boys, we'd die for each other out there, it is such a tight group and that is worth an extra two or three points and there is no individuals."

Knockmore's ability to blend in youth and experienced players into their team has been something that has stood out the last two years and Naughton is very proud of that.

"Massive - the boys there last year from minor, won everything last year, Charlie Burke, Liam Durcan and the likes, the bench we have is ridiculous there is good youth and experience and a tight group.

He was also full of praise for the side's defence line, who put in a big showing last weekend, saying: Kieran King was absolutely exceptional there today and David McHale too. David is an unsung hero all year, marking him in training he is as tight as any defender out there, he's a bust of pace and is as tight as an ox - credit to all the boys."


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