Castlebar Mitchels 3-13
Dr Crokes 1-11
The worst thing that could probably happen to Castlebar Mitchels is that they somehow end up go into the All Ireland final on St Patrick's Day as favorites. Since they escaped the clutches of the Mayo championship, they've gone into two Connacht championship games and now an All Ireland semi-final as the underdogs, and each time they've been the ones standing with broad smiles at the final whistle.
This was a fantastic performance from Mitchels, they worked their socks off when the game was in the melting pot and when they sniffed the the chance to land the knockout blow they didn't pass up the offer. Ger McDonagh's point with four minutes left on the clock was the score that broke the back of the Crokes challenge. Castlebar were leading by two points at that stage and the Kerrymen were putting the squeeze on looking to swing the game back in their favour. But from once the white flag was waved by the umpire after McDonagh's strike there was only ever going to be one winner and Castlebar went on to plunder 1-2 more before the final whistle to put six points between the side. It wasn't a six point game on the basis of the play on the pitch, but for their work rate and ambition to go for the kill when it was there, Castlebar deserved it.
The match-ups going into the game was a major talking point, with who was going to pick up Colm Cooper for Castlebar one that had piqued plenty of interest before hand. Tom Cunniffe was the man handed that task and the Castlebar speedster had done reasonably well on the 'Gooch' until Cooper had his afternoon cut short after picking up an injury after a coming together as he scored a brilliant point to put Crokes two clear 17 minutes in. Pat Holmes rotated Barry Moran and Danny Kirby in and out of the full forward and midfield position a number of times throughout the hour and both men made hay on the inside line for Castlebar. With Moran in particular give Eoin Brosnan torrid time when the pair went toe to toe.
Moran and Aidan Walsh kicked Castlebar into an early two point lead, but the Crokes responded quickly thanks to points from Kieran O'Leary and Fionn Fitzgerald. Cooper got his first score of the afternoon shortly after when he clipped one over from close range after Eoin O'Reilly had blocked down a goal effort from O'Leary, which came about after Alan Feeney had been caught out by a long ball in. The impressive Alan O'Sullivan kicked the first of four top class points he managed on the afternoon to double the gap with ten minutes gone. Danny Kirby brought the game back to the minimum with excellent score from distance after the ball was well worked up from the Mitchels defence through a number of hand-passes and Moran leveled the contest up with his second point after he beat Brosnan all ends up after he collected a Kirby pass. O'Sullivan pushed the Munster champions back in front again shortly after and Cooper's last action in the game was to make it 0-6 to 0-4 in favour of Crokes with 13 minutes left in the half.
Mitchels were first to draw blood in the goal stakes not long after. Moran and Neil Douglas were involved in the build up in a move that saw man of the match Patrick Durcan breaking at pace onto the ball. The outstanding Mitchels number seven took fire at the goal, his first effort was well saved by David Moloney, but Durcan was on hand to fire the rebound to the back of the net and put Mitchels into the lead by a point.
Their joy was to be short lived as the Kerrymen replied within two minutes with their own goal. Michéal Burns (on for Cooper ) picked out Kieran O'Leary inside the Castlebar cover with an brilliant pass and he drove the ball past Ciaran Naughton with an unstoppable finish. Even though the ball beat him on his near side, there's nothing Naughton could have done to keep it out.
As the end of the first half approached it was the Mayo men who went through the gears and upped their performance, kicking three points inside the final three minutes of the half. Richie Feeney slammed one over form out on the right, Tom King kicked his first of the day and the first point from a free in the whole game on the 30 minute mark and Mitchels captain Donal Newcombe pointed one from close range to put his side into the lead on a score of 1-7 to 1-6 at half-time.
The second half saw Mitchels kick on and early points from a King free and from Richie Feeney pushed them three points clear. Dathai Casey and Ambrose O'Donnovan kicked scores to close the gap back to a single score ten minutes into the half. But Mitchels were about to deliver one of the most decisive scores of the game. Barry Moran contested for a long ball driven into the Crokes full back line and the ball broke loose to Tom King. The deadly corner forward didn't waste any time in making a beeline for the goal and drilled it to the back of the net, to send the Castlebar faithful delirious. That pushed the gap out to four points, but Crokes weren't done for yet and O'Donovan and the man-mountain that's Johnny Buckley scored points from distance. At least twice in the second half, Buckley left Castlebar men on the floor as they attempted to stop him with a shoulder. Another long range curling effort from O'Sullivan made it 2-9 to 1-11 in favour of Mitchels and would have had a lot of teams getting nervous. But not this Castlebar team, they just upped their performance even more, with King kicking another free to put the lead out to two points and then McDonagh kicked his score to drive the knife through the heart of the Kerrymen's challenge. After that score, Mitchels could smell Croke Park. Aidan Walsh kicked a nice point, then Neil Lydon got in on the act. Finally and fittingly it was Patrick Durcan who put the full stop on the encounter by driving home his second and his sides third goal of the day and confirm their St Patrick's day plans.
Castlebar Mitchels:T King 1-3 (3fs ); P Durcan 2-0; B Moran, A Walsh, R Feeney 0-2 each, D Kirby, D Newcombe, G McDonagh, N Lydon 0-1 each
Dr Crokes:A O’Sullivan 0-4; K O’Leary 1-1; C Cooper 0-2; F Fitzgerald, D Casey, A O’Donovan, J Buckley 0-1 each
Castlebar Mitchels: C Naughton; A Feeney, T Cunniffe, R O'Malley; D Newcombe,E Reilly , P Durcan; G McDonagh, B Moran; N Lydon, A Walsh, R Feeney; D Kirby, N Douglas, T King. Subs: J Durcan for R Feeney (51 ); D Joyce for A Feeney (52 )
Dr Crokes: D Moloney; F Fitzgerald, M Moloney, L Quinn; D O'Leary, E Brosnan, K Ward; A O'Donovan, J Buckley; A O'Sullivan, D Casey, B Looney; K O'Leary, C Cooper, S Doolan. Subs: L Quinn for Payne (5 ); M Burns for Cooper inj (22 ), S Meyers for Ward (ht ); G O’Shea for O’Donovan (50 )
Ref: C Reilly (Meath )