It was All-Ireland final heartbreak for another Mayo team as Castlebar Mitchels fell to the might of St Vincent’s on St Patrick’s Day. We will never know what might have happened if Richie Feeney had not received a black card after only five minutes.
Unfortunately the body check is a black card offence and it left Eddie Kinsella with no choice however harsh it seems. I was still convinced the referee would be lenient considering it was so early in the game and I am sure Pat Holmes and the entire Castlebar contingent were left dumbfounded, having to play for 55 minutes without their “spiritual leader”.
They managed before against St Brigid's when Barry Moran was wrongfully dismissed and they were asked to dig deep again. I firmly believed if Tom Cuniffe got a stranglehold on Tomas Quinn, Castlebar would win the game. Cuniffe dogged at Quinn for the entire game and eliminated his threat, however it was another Dublin county star that was causing all the problems.
Diarmuid Connolly is a fine footballer but he can also blow hot and cold. On St Patrick’s Day, he put in a performance that he could have only dreamed about. It was up there with one of the finest individual displays seen on the hallowed turf. He fielded kick outs, assisted for two goals, and scored an amazing 2-05 from play in what was as near a perfect 10 performance as you will get.
Why did he wait for the Mitchels to perform like that? Castlebar deserve huge credit for not throwing in the towel, but Vincent’s opened them up time and time again and only for some brilliant saves by Ciaran Naughton the game could have been over at half time. The sides went in level at half time after a pulsating first half with some brilliant point taking. Vincent’s raced into an early lead in the second half but Castlebar still clawed them back and went ahead after Danny Kirby picked up a fortuitous rebound off the post to smash the ball to the Vincent’s net.
Games always have turning points and this most definitely was the defining passage of play. Straight from the kick out Vincent’s raced up the field and from a centred free kick that evaded the Mitchels’ defence, it bounced beautifully for Connolly to flick the ball past a helpless Naughton in the Castlebar goal. It knocked the stuffing out of me; I can only imagine the draining effect it had on the players.
It was after the concession of that goal that Feeney was missed most. Connolly was dictating play and Eoghan O’Reilly could badly have done with Feeney’s assistance while trying to curb the threat of the Dublin star, but when a player as big and strong as that is on form, he is impossible to shackle. He has great balance when he is on the ball and, most importantly, he can finish with both feet making it a nightmare for defenders. His second goal was an unbelievable finish. The Mitchels should not be ashamed, they gave it a real go but came up short to a better team on the day.
The weekend before last Mayo coughed up a nine point lead against Westmeath, going in at half time a point behind before eventually turning the screw and winning comfortably against the Division 1 minnows.
Last Sunday in McHale Park against Cork it was practically the complete opposite. I was unable to take my seat behind the mike for the game because of a severe throat infection which left me crocked for pretty much seven full days. I had an able replacement in John Maughan who along with yours truly could not understand how Cork were a whopping 2/1 in the bookies considering they were putting up big scores in their previous games and were unbeaten in Division 1, beating Dublin in Croke Park being the highlight of their campaign.
Maybe the fact that three of their top scorers started on the bench had something to do with it. Just my luck that the only Mayo game I have missed in a while is not broadcast on TG4, so I tuned in to see how my colleagues on the wireless were coping without me.
Cork raced out of the blocks and went 5-0 ahead after only five minutes and the 8/13 odds on Mayo before the game looked pretty miserable and also sounded like Maughan and I knew nothing about football.
Mayo went to 5/1 in the bookies after they had conceded the first five points. Some things in football are hard to explain and another example unfolded in Castlebar.
Cork, totally dominant for all of five minutes, completely and utterly collapsed like a deck of cards. Mayo upped the ante all right but I could not believe my ears when I heard that the only unbeaten team in Division 1 stopped competing and looked like they had settled for losing before half time.
Just as well for Cork that Mayo missed a host of goal scoring chances. Otherwise, it would have been extremely embarrassing and made the journey home even more unbearable. Mayo took four from 10 goal chances throughout the 70 minutes, the only goal in the first half coming when Jason Doherty broke onto a loose ball before jinking his way through the generous Cork defence and finishing to the corner of the net with his left foot. There was goals galore in the second half. Alan Freeman scored a cracker leaving two defenders in his wake and Ken O Halloran, the Cork goalkeeper, helpless.
But my favourite of all the goals was Cillian O Connor’s - not because of the difficulty in the finish but because of the unselfishness and awareness of Kevin McLoughlin with his assist. His 15 metre pass to O Connor when he had the keeper rounded was of the highest order and made O Connor’s task simple. James Horan will be worried about the concession of 2-05 in the last 15 minutes. Next stop Croke Park and the Dubs; we badly owe them a beating.