Finally getting over the 20-year-old itch and winning the Moclair Cup looks to have freed this Castlebar Mitchels team from the nagging doubts that many had about their ability to press on and mark themselves out as one of the truly great Mayo club sides. They have another opportunity to kick-on again this Sunday, when they go toe-to-toe with the current AIB All Ireland club champions, St Brigid's in Hyde Park. While bookmakers may have the Roscommon men as 4/7 favourites and Castlebar as 15/8 outsiders, those numbers will been have paid little heed around Páirc Josie Munnelly, as Pat Holmes along with his management team of Alan Nolan and Shane Conway put their players through their paces in preparation for Mitchels first provincial final since 1993. Last Sunday, the Mitchels wrapped up the Mayo double with a comprehensive 2-15 to 1-2 league win over the previous holders of the Moclair Cup, Ballaghaderreen. In 10 league and seven championship games they have gone into battle in this year, Mitchels have only been overturned once, on the opening day in the league, when the side they saw off in the county final (Breaffy ) edged past them on a boggy and misty spring day.
They went into their Connacht semi-final as underdogs against Corofin, and despite looking to have game slipping away from them early on they battened down the hatches and came out deserved winners by a solitary point. A key to Mitchels victory in that game was their ability to get goals at key times during the 60 minutes. This goal getting ability has been a major factor in their championship performances this season throughout, and if they can mange to so again on Sunday it will set them up for a right crack at St Brigid's. Since the quarter-finals of the Mayo championship they have hit the back of the net seven times in the four championship games they have played. In the three group games they played in Mayo they also managed to find the back of the net five times, to add up to a total of 12 three-pointers in seven championship games to date.
While they have been tested on a number of occasions so far this year, squaring up against the All Ireland champions is something that will be another major step up for the Mitchels. This St Brigid's project has been on the go for quite a while now, and culminated last St Patrick's Day in Croke Park. But the Kiltoom men do not look like they just want to settle for one day in the sun, they are dead set on putting together back to back titles. They have waltzed their way through the Roscommon championship and have cruised through their two games so far in the Connacht championship, with neither Sligo's Tourlestrane nor Leitrim's St Mary's putting up much of a challenge to the team from close to Hudson Bay. Their 5-15 to 1-5 win in Páirc Seán MacDiarmada was far from the ideal preparation they would have wanted ahead of Sunday's game against the Mitchels.
While Kevin McStay may have stepped aside from the manager’s role after the All Ireland final victory, there is still plenty of Mayo interest on the Brigid's sideline with Liam McHale still on board as the team coach, under new manager Benny O'Brien.
Brigid's will be looking to players like the eccentric and experienced Shane Curran, Cathal McHugh, Karol Mannion, Mark O'Carroll, Cathal McHugh, Senan Kilbride, and Frankie Dolan to lead them on Sunday. These players have all experienced the highs and lows in the green and red of the Roscommon champions over the past number of years, and will not want to let their provincial and All Ireland titles slip to the Mitchels.
But Mitchels are no pushovers, with a team full of quality and experience at the highest levels in the game themselves. Their Mayo senior trio of Barry Moran, Richie Feeney, and Tom Cunniffee will be marked out by their opponents as the men to watch, but Mitchels have a number of other players who will have no problem with stepping up to the plate to be the main men when the call comes. Ciaran Naughton has been one of the top goalkeepers in the county for a number of years now and will be knocking once again for a chance to show his worth for Mayo in the new year. Eoghan O'Reilly put in a colossus of a performance in the Connacht semi-final against Corofin, while Alan Feeney is a proven tough, yet skilful, defender who will take no nonsense. Captain Donal Newcombe and Peter Durcan have both been in exceptional form for Castlebar this season, while Ger McDonnagh or Aidan Walsh are more than able foils for Barry Moran in the middle of the park, depending on how Holmes sees fit on Sunday. Up front Neil Douglas has shown plenty of the elusiveness and finishing ability this year that marked him out as a serious potential when he was an underage star for Mayo. Neil Lydon's physicality and ability to get win the dirty ball will be a distinctive advantage on Sunday, if conditions are as you would expect in November, while Tom King has been in show-stopping form these past few months. King who was double jobbing with Mervue United and the Irish Universities soccer squad for most of the summer, has been the ace in the hole for Mitchels in the closing stages of the Mayo championship and into the provincial competition. His speed and free-taking have been key factors in their recent wins.
While Brigid's have been on the go a good while getting to the top of the mountain and do not look like they will step aside for anyone, Mitchels have the right blend of qualities that will have them nervously looking over their shoulders ahead of Sunday. Is this a climb too far for Mitchels? No, it is just another step for them to take on their own journey. Throw-in at the Hyde is at 2pm.