Castlebar Mitchels are 60 minutes away from the holy grail of club football. To join the elite clubs like Nemo Rangers, Crossmaglen Rangers, and indeed our own Crossmolina Deel Rovers and Ballina Stephenites would be nothing short of a miracle. It took them 20 years to win the elusive Moclair Cup, now their eyes are firmly set on the Andy Merrigan. Castlebar have beaten the three hot favourites for the competition along the way to the final in Corofin, St Brigid's, and the dead certs until last Sunday, Dr Crokes of Kerry. There will not be a dry eye in Mick Byrne’s if they succeed.
Very often games of this magnitude are swung on certain things, like they were last Saturday, and I have no doubt this game’s biggest moment happened in the 20th minute, when the best footballer of our generation had to leave the field with a suspect cruciate knee ligament injury and what later was discovered to be also a fractured knee. I love watching Colm ‘the Gooch’ Cooper but when I realised his game was run, it gave me renewed optimism that Castlebar would win through. I have no doubt there was no intent by any Castlebar player to injure Colm Cooper. Rewind to last year’s All-Ireland semi final and the clatter Tom Cunniffe landed on Peter Harte of Tyrone when the Red Hand were cruising against Mayo, another game changing moment. Harte had to leave the field and Tyrone crumbled. Last Saturday the same happened to Dr Crokes when their talisman Cooper departed.
The rejigging of the defence was not rocket science but you have to give credit to Pat Holmes and his management team. Kieran O’Leary was taking Alan Feeney to the cleaners, and when Cooper left they immediately deployed Cunniffe on to O’Leary and he completely played him out of the game. Big Barry Moran was causing all sorts of problems for Crokes on the edge of the square (we may see him have another go for Mayo in the same position ). Moran is very agile for a 6’5” man and he has tremendous ball control and two very good feet, a la Liam McHale back in the day.
I am firmly on the Mitchels’ bandwagon
I unfortunately was not present in Portlaoise to witness this brilliant Castlebar performance, as a certain milestone was reached and had to be celebrated, and I along with 30 or so family and friends roared on the Mitchels from the comfort of a hotel in Clifden. I will be the first to admit that when this party was planned last October there was no way I could see a Mayo club team competing in a semifinal in February, especially after Corofin and St Brigid’s came out of Galway and Roscommon respectively.
Nothing surprises me any more, I expected Castlebar to win last weekend and I put my money where my mouth is after their superb win over Corofin in Tuam, and have them backed at a very generous 14/1 to win the All-Ireland. It was very fitting that when Patrick Durcan was being announced by TG4 as its Man of the Match he raced through for his second and Castlebar’s third goal. It was what you call right on cue. It is great to see another Mayo/Dublin final on Paddy’s Day. Let’s hope for a reversal of fortunes this time.
the Railway Cup
I was amazed to find out that Connacht played in the Railway Cup last weekend where they defeated a Cork/Kerry selection representing Munster. When I played in the competition many moons ago it was losing its prestige, but as a player it was still nice to represent your Province and get to know some other players from the Connaught counties instead of trying to tear stripes out of them. A paltry 100 people apparently turned up in Tuam to witness the finest from Munster and Connacht go to battle, which is shocking really. It is hard to believe that stadia used to be packed to capacity for these games 40 and 50 years ago. I fear it will not be long before it is scrapped altogether. The final of the competition is on this Sunday in Tuam Stadium against Ulster at 2.30pm. It is well worth the trip for any football supporter.