Hard work and determination along with a slice of luck that every winning side needs, were all key ingredients of Castlebar Mitchels win over Corofin in Tuam on Sunday afternoon. On a day that pretty football was never going to be the fore, Pat Holmes' side dug in when the game looked to be going away from them and they ground out the hard fought win over the Galway champions. All over the field Mitchels found leaders, with Eoghan O'Reilly putting in a massive shift marshaling his defence alongside the also excellent Tom Cunniffe and Richie Feeney's selfless running and covering, closed down the Corofin attack at vital stages and offered his side an outlet to move the ball out of defence and to safety, when Corofin came hunting late on.
The game started in strange circumstances, with Mitchels thinking that they had taken an early lead when Richie Feeney looked to have slotted the ball over the bar less than a minute in, but despite the umpire waving the flag to signal the score, he was over-ruled by the referee and his sideline officials. Ronan Steede kicked the first score of the game, a few seconds later and the Galway champions were off and running. Tom King quickly leveled the game up with the first of his six points on the afternoon, from a free after Neil Douglas was fouled close in to goal. But the game was about to be all played in the Mitchels half of the field for the next 15 minutes. Corofin dominated the possession, but were profligate with their shooting (something that carried on all afternoon ), which saw them kick five wides in the first half and drop a few more efforts short. Eight minutes in the Galway side bagged the first goal of the game through Gary Sice. Ronan Steede drove the ball in long on top of Sice. He was able to win the ball and hold off two men before driving the ball high past Ciaran Naughton in the Castlebar goal. The ball spurted back out on to the field after it crashed of the stanchion in the goal, but neither referee or umpires were in any doubt the ball had crossed the whitewash. Two minutes later Steede pulled an effort wide after a quick free from Alan O'Donovan picked him out. Not long after that, Ciaran Naughton pulled off a fine save from O'Donovan from close range, as Corofin targeted the Mitchels full-back line with long high balls and looked to have the back-line Castlebar trio in serious trouble. O'Donovan drove the 45 resulting from Naughton's save over the bar and three minutes later Gary Sice pointed a free to put his side five points to the good, with a quarter of the game gone.
But Mitchels weren't going to to let Corofin run riot against them and they pulled themselves together and flew straight back into the game. Tom King pointed his second free to cut the gap back to four points 16 minutes in and a minute later the Mitchels plundered their first goal of the clash. Richie Feeney was the man who climbed high to flick the ball to the back of the net from close in after Castlebar had worked the ball through half-a-dozen pair of hands to create the chance, with Donal Newcombe starting the move with a driving run. The ball was worked through the hands from the 21 and into space, with Barry Moran, Tom King and Neil Douglas all playing their part before Feeney raised the green flag.
Corofin did respond almost immediately with Ian Burke kicking his first score of the game from a close range free to keep his side two points clear. But nine minutes before the break, Mitchels took the lead for the first time in the game when the grabbed their second goal in somewhat fortuitous circumstances. Donal Newcombe drove right through the heart of the Corofin defence and took aim for a point from close range. The Castlebar captain undercooked his effort and it came back into play off the bar. Neil Lydon was the quickest to react and was able to finish the ball to the back of the net from close range, putting Castlebar into a one point lead. Tom King pushed that lead out to two points three minutes later, which was quickly replied to by a Joe Canny point for Corofin. But the last word on the half was left to Mitchels' James Durcan who cut-a-thrust inside the Corofin cover to create enough space for himself to send the ball between the posts before the break and send his side in leading by 2-4 to 1-5 at the half-time whistle.
The break saw Corofin attempt to change things up and they introduced Alan Burke and Damien Burke for the second half. They did cut the gap back to a single point two minutes into the half, when Gary Sice kicked an early point, but it was Mitchels who roared back into the game and they reeled off three unanswered points between the fourth and ninth minutes of the half. Two Tom King pointed frees were intersected by a Ray O'Malley score to put the Mitchels 2-7 to 1-6 up and the game there for the taking for them. Corofin were starting to pile on the pressure, but they couldn't convert the possession into scores with O'Reilly and Cunniffe along with Newcombe and Alan Feeney standing up exceptionally well to the yellow and green onslaught. Ian Bruke cut the gap back to three points with a 16th minute free, but Corofin couldn't capitalise on it and less than a minute later King tapped over the eventual winning free and it was a matter of holding out for Mitchels. Gary Sice pulled two scorable frees wide late on, and although Corofin managed tack on three more points before the end, Mitchels stood firm. The closest that Corofin came to breaching Ciaran Naughton's line for a second time in the game, came nine minutes before the end when Liam Silke barreled through and saw his fumbled effort swept off the line by a Castlebar defender.
Credit has to go to Castlebar Mitchels who kept fighting until the very end and never looked like bending the knee in the face of the yellow and green wave coming at them. Next up for Pat Holmes and his team is the All Ireland champions St Brigid's, in two weeks time in the Connacht final.
Castlebar: C Naughton; D Newcombe, A Feeney; T Cunniffe; R O'Malley (0-1 ), E O'Reilly, P Durcan; B Moran, A Walsh; N Douglas, G McDonagh, T King (0-6,5f ); J Durcan (0-1 ), R Feeney (1-0 ), N Lydon (1-0 ): Subs: S Hopkins for J Durcan (55mins ), D Joyce for N Douglas (59 mins )
Corofin: T Healy; M Comer, P Kelly, A Lawless; B O'Donovan, G Higgins, L Silke; R Steede (0-1 ), K Comer; G Sice (1-3,2f ), A O'Donovan (0-1,1-45 ), M Farragher; I Burke (0-4,3f ), J Canny (0-1 ), R Burke. Subs: A Burke for B O'Donovan (30 mins ), D Burke for R Burke (30 mins ), M Lundy for A O'Donovan (41 mins )
Ref: P Neilan (Roscommon )