The senior season may have ended up in disappointment against Dublin, however, our minors had a truly remarkable year but it could have been so different. Back on June 22 we first set eyes on Stephen Coen, Tommy “Goals” Conroy, and co. They had an easy victory over Leitrim winning by 1-15 to 1-05 in McHale Park. The old saying that “no one game will make a season”, could not be further from the truth after Mayo’s clash with Galway on June 30 (the same day London shocked Leitrim ). This was a remarkable game, Mayo were within inches of going out, (and remember there is no back door safety net for minors at semi-final stage ) sheer persistence got them over the line in extra time on a final score 5-08 to 2-11. The Connacht final against Roscommon was a great spectacle. Brilliant goals, superb defending, and skill levels to match. Mayo sauntered into a big lead but Roscommon clawed their way back and came agonisingly close to snatching a draw in the dying seconds, it would have been robbery had Mayo not won it. A Connacht minor final is not to be sniffed at. Mayo then gave Westmeath a right tanking in the quarter final in Tullamore winning by 2-13 to 0-8 points, the rest of the country were beginning to take note. A real test awaited in the semi final against Monaghan, many bookmakers’ favourites for the title. This was no question the performance of the year from the minors. They blitzed their northern opponents, scoring a whopping three goals and 19 points in the process. Talking to Barney Rock during and after this game, he was very impressed. The only negative from this game was the unfortunate injury to Cian Hanley who would agonisingly miss the final. The final pitted Mayo against more Ulster opponents in Tyrone, who were very lucky to beat Roscommon in their semi-final. Mayo played some brilliant football, urged on by the huge Mayo support. The full forward line of Darragh Doherty, Liam Irwin, and Tommy Conroy scored 2-09 of the 2-13 total. We were given the scare of our lives when Tyrone pulled a goal back in the dying moments but the Tommy Markham Cup was won for the first time since 1985. The celebrations in Croke Park after the final whistle will be something I will never forget.
On the home front
The race for the Moclair Cup started on May 25, six days after Mayo hammered Galway in Salthill; there were no huge surprises in the group stages, Castlebar’s demolition of Breaffy a real signal of intent. Charlestown’s fine win away to Knockmore enough to secure top spot and avoid the big guns in the quarter final. Reigning champions Ballaghaderreen sneaked through with a last gasp draw against Ballinrobe, had they lost they were out. It all began in earnest on quarter finals weekend. The quarter-finals on the Saturday did not throw up any surprises, Castlebar annihilating Ballina and Charlestown comfortably accounting for Garrymore. Worrying times if you are a Stephenites fan, losing so badly and the retirement of seven players in the aftermath of that match. No surprises on the Saturday but the bookies got it all wrong on quarter-final Sunday (as did yours truly ). Breaffy tore into county champions Ballaghaderreen and defeated them comprehensively, while a Declan Sweeney inspired Knockmore took the plaudits against the second favourites for the Moclair Cup, Ballintubber. The performance by Knockmore was all the more special given the freak injury sustained by top marksman Aiden Kilcoyne just before throw in. The less said about the semi-finals the better, Charlestown and Knockmore simply did not turn up against Breaffy and Castlebar. The football was poor and the excitement non existent, Breaffy and Castlebar winning in a canter. The clash of the local rivals in the county final added a bit of spice to matters, particularly as there were two brothers playing on opposing teams. The atrocious weather conditions and poor visibility did not make for attractive football, but the Mitchell’s achieved their ultimate goal of winning the Moclair Cup for the first time in 20 years.
If ever there was a bad year to win the Moclair Cup surely this was the year, as the big guns both won in Galway and Roscommon and both games played by the Mayo champions would have to be played away from home if they progressed. I was not sure about the pedigree of Castlebar until I watched them play Corofin in Tuam in the Connacht club semi-final. After a dreadful start they really showed their class and completely stunned an over confident Corofin side. That performance prompted me to have a little wager on Castlebar to win the competition outright at 14/1. They still had to go to Hyde Park to play the All-Ireland champions St Brigid’s. If I was impressed after the game in Tuam there are no words to describe what I felt after this game. Backs against the wall, losing badly and top midfielder Barry Moran red carded, surely it was lights out. If anyone has not watched this game I would advise them to because the way Castlebar responded after that was real Roy of the Rovers stuff. They completely out fought St Brigid’s and rightfully won the Shane McGettigan Cup. A truly brilliant year for Castlebar. Congrats to them.
There was also some great football in the intermediate and junior grades, with Kiltane bouncing straight back up to senior playing some wonderful football along the way. They capped their year with a Connacht title and will be eyeing the All Ireland with real intent come the spring. Cill Chomain made it a year of double celebration winning the junior title in impressive style against Ardnaree who must be wondering what do they have to do to finally win that elusive junior title.