I managed to take in four of the five matches at McHale Park last weekend. The weather was particularly nice for football and I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the action. I am partial to giving the GAA at administrative level the odd short-arm tackle over the way they do business when it comes to entrance fees to matches. No such complaints last weekend and I have to applaud the fact that the County Board decided an entrance fee of €10 to be an appropriate rate on both days. This represents excellent value for money, even in these economically depressed times. However when you consider that €20 gave you access to five games I was disappointed that the crowds did not flood into the venue over the weekend.
The Ballyhaunis v Burrishoole match on Saturday afternoon started off in ding-dong fashion with both sides trading some excellent scores. At half time it was difficult to know who would prevail, but Burrishoole seemed that little bit more at ease. Despite the fact that I fancied Burrishoole at the outset I did not anticipate the way they dismantled a well prepared Ballyhaunis side. I say ‘well prepared’ as I had heard they travelled down to Crossmolina a number of weeks ago to familiarise themselves with the venue before they played Belmullet in the Championship. That attention to detail caught my eye and I had a suspicion they might actually be in with a shot of winning this year’s intermediate title. But Burrishoole, with senior league experience behind them this season, were by far the more accomplished side. Jason Doherty again enhanced his reputation as being one of the very best when presented with his one- on- one goal opportunities.
I called my good friend Pat Holmes, manager of Castlebar Mitchels, on Saturday morning to wish him the best. He was fairly confident his side would beat Knockmore, and how right he was. The Mitchels gobbled up possession around midfield with both Barry Moran and Shane Fitzmaurice dominating this vital sector. Big Barry Moran, in particular, turned in a magnificent performance and highlighted the fact that, if this man could stay injury free, he is as good a ball winner as we could possibly hope for in the county. I expect he will be recalled into the county panel for the 2012 season. However the real star of the show was the ever young Kevin Filan. He kicked points for fun last Saturday evening and turned in a man of the match performance with some outstanding point taking from both sides of the field. Remarkably, when awarding marks for real work and hard graft around the field, I have to say all the prizes in this category go to Castlebar. Knockmore on the other hand never reached the performance levels required to advance to a final. A talking point in the stand was why they played Kevin McLoughlin in the full back line for most of the match. Trevor Howley was selected at half forward and never looked comfortable in that position. I assume he was selected here to curb the runs of Richie Feeney, a man who loves to attack down the flanks. A better option might have been the deployment of McLoughlin in this position as he is a much better attacker than Howley
The Sunday best
I was back again on Sunday to see the other county intermediate semi-final, Davitts v Parke. Colm Mc Manamon happened to sit in beside me at the game. He was there note taking on his opponents for the final. I am unsure how he felt after this match, but I do know he was mightily impressed with the quality of the football from Davitts in particular. In fairness to Parke they deserve great credit for not throwing in the towel when they were behind by six or seven points midway during the second half. They managed to whittle down the final margin to three points by the end, which is encouraging for all involved. Michael Conroy, a player I had involved at Mayo senior level some years ago, was fantastic for Davitts in the full forward line. I wonder if he could have something to offer at the higher level. Colm Boyle, at centre back, was equally good, and many in the crowd thought they were looking at Keith Higgins at times as ‘Boyler’ tore up and down the field in a similar style to the Mayo footballer. Colm Mac had a pad full of notes by the end of the game which will ensure some head scratching over the next two weeks.
Ballintubber v Ballina was next up. I had friends from Crossmolina texting me eight minutes into the second half wondering how the game was going. Ballina were leading by a point at that stage and were in with a mighty chance of making it to the final. However they never got a sniff of winning this match from that point to the end. Ballintubber completely dominated proceedings from there on and won the match at a canter. They soaked up anything that the Ballina boys threw at them and in the process looked quite formidable indeed. It seems that last year’s championship victory has liberated the Tubber and they are playing much better football as a result. They looked very composed, more skilful, and just a better side than Ballina. They have abandoned their unattractive defensive style and are now playing a much more attack orientated brand of football. Cillian O Connor has improved hugely after his year playing at inter-county level and he in particular was a thorn in the side of the Ballina defence. The Dillon brothers were excellent too and they surprisingly won the mid-field battle fairly comfortably. Ballina, like Knockmore, have departed the championship season with a whimper. They, like many others, will have some soul searching to do over the next few months.