Legends lap up the celebrations

It was a fitting climax to the Mayo GAA club season that two of our most decorated players ended up with big prizes as Keith Higgins and his Ballyhaunis team mates captured the Mayo intermediate title, while in the senior final Lee Keegan and Westport finally got their hands on the coveted Moclair Cup for the first time in the club's history.

Neither game was pretty and neither game will have an extended highlights reel but that will make absolutely no difference to the players and supporters of Ballyhaunis and Westport.

Ballyhaunis have to be commended for coming back for more after losing finals in 2019 and 2021. Jack Coyne was outstanding for the winners and deservedly got the man of the match award.

Westport’s win in the senior final was built on a strong defensive performance where they held free scoring Ballina to a measly 1-06 for the day, which is serious going considering Ballina had scored 14 goals in their previous four games.

Killian Kilkelly who is normally an impact substitute was a surprise starter in place of Pat Lambert. That decision proved a telling call by Martin Connolly as Kilkelly ended up with the man of the match accolade scoring 1-04 in what was a very low scoring contest.

It was a nail biting encounter for the most part with nothing between the teams. The two goals came in the second half.

Killian Kilkelly dispatched his penalty low to David Clarke’s left hand side in the 42nd minute. The penalty was awarded after Ballina defender James Doherty touched the ball on the ground as it scrambled goal-wards.

It was the correct call by the ref but it ultimately made no difference as the ball would have been goaled regardless by an onrushing Kevin Keane had it not been swept to safety by Doherty.

Ballina responded in kind after another scramble, this time inside the Westport 14 yard line as the ball bobbled before it fell to the feet of Padraic O'Hora who hit it to the net to give his team a life line and tie it up at 1-05 a piece.

The Westport of old may have folded under the pressure but as was the case in the semi final, this team was unwilling to wave the white flag as they rallied to score four points on the spin to leave an insurmountable lead for Ballina to claw back. Evan Regan kicked over the last point of the game to leave it 1-09 to 1-06 and leave Westport in euphoria at claiming their maiden Moclair Cup.

The gravity of what Westport have achieved can be easily summed up by Lee Keegan's reaction after the game as he described winning the Moclair Cup as the best thing he has ever achieved in football and that’s coming from a five-time All-Star and former player of the year.

I have to agree it is a feeling like no other.

As a veteran of five senior finals over a 19-year span, winning the Moclair cup left an elation like no other. Seeing Keegan's and the Westport players' reactions to the win brought back memories, some happy and unfortunately some not so, from the three finals that I lost as a player. That is the prestige that winning a senior title means, especially in a football mad county like Mayo. No doubt the celebrations went on for a day or two.

Westport's first taste of the Connacht club championship is the toughest one they could have asked for as they will face off against Galway champions, Moycullen, on Sunday week. Moycullen, who needed a late Peter Cooke goal to snatch the Galway title from Salthill/Knocknacarra last Sunday are bolstered by county players, Sean and Paul Kelly, Cooke and Dessie Connelly.

It's Moycullen's second title in three years so they have some experience at this level. At least Westport are not playing a Corofin team at the peak of their powers. That game takes place in Castlebar.

On a personal note, a massive congratulations to Charlestown LGFA who have qualified for the Connacht Intermediate final after defeating Roscommon champions Boyle in the semi final last Sunday in Boyle. It was a fine team performance but in Deirdre Doherty, Charlestown had the difference between the teams.

Doherty scored 1-03 in each half to finish with 2-06 of her team's 3-07 total. Four of her points were scored from distance with her weaker left foot in what was a sensational display of scoring.

Next up for Charlestown is the final against Leitrim champions Kiltubrid on Saturday the 12th of November.

The focus became real for new Mayo manager Kevin McStay with the release of the national league fixtures for 2023. Mayo open their account with a mouth-watering contest against Connacht rivals and All-Ireland finalists Galway at the end of January. Having not had a single home league game in 2022, it's nice that Castlebar will host four games in 2023.

Apart from Galway, Mayo will have home advantage against Kerry, Tyrone and Monaghan. Nothing easy in any of them.

 

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