Last Sunday’s county Junior and Intermediate finals were certainly a day for the underdog with Castlebar Mitchels B team and Ballyhaunis prevailing as county champions.
I predicted both games incorrectly as I expected Achill and Hollymount/Carramore to win their respective finals. The win for Castlebar in the junior final is an amazing feat considering it is their second string outfit, and with their seniors also in the final it could be an unprecedented double for the county town. In the current climate when it is hard to get 15 for a club they have exceeded expectation to remain competitive on all fronts. Before anyone uses the “look at the size of the pick they have or the size of the town” as an explanation of their recent successes, it should be noted that not too many moons ago their first team were playing intermediate football so it is quite remarkable that their second string will compete in that competition next year.
Last Sunday was not the most ideal condition to play football with the gale force wind benefiting the team defending the Albany end. Castlebar were well in control despite a fine solo goal by Michael D McNamara, and the Mitchels looked deserving of their seven point lead going into half time, but the game took a bit of a twist when Michael Darragh Sweeney goaled for the Islanders right on the stroke of half time to leave only four points between the sides at the interval, the goal coming against the run of play and the four point lead not befitting of Castlebar’s dominance. When games are in the melting pot you look for some new shining light or some wily bit of experience to get you over the line and in Kevin Filan from Castlebar found the perfect solution. Filan is 41 year old and eventually got his hands on the Paddy Moclair Cup last year. Now he has completed his medal haul within Mayo, winning county senior, intermediate, and junior titles. His free taking was top notch on Sunday, his work rate extremely impressive, but it was the way he conducted the orchestra that impressed me the most. He set up more chances for his team mates who failed to find the target on several occasions, which led me to use the line: “If Kevin Filan could only have passed the ball into Kevin Filan Castlebar would have won by a lot more.” He deserved the man of the match accolade but was run very close by full back Adrian Roache, who after nullifying the threat of Achill danger man Michael Darragh Sweeney, more than capably assisted in the attack, driving forward at every chance.
Ballyhaunis were the 7/4 outsiders to win the intermediate title and not many neutrals could see it happening. Football was made for stories like this. Ballyhaunis only won two competitive games in 2013, their 2014 championship did not get off to the best start either losing to Mayo Gaels by five points. In every game they have played since they have been the underdogs. Normally the underdog will turn the opposition over once, twice if they are very lucky, so for Ballyhaunis to achieve that feat on five occasions in a row since the loss to Mayo Gaels is a remarkable success story. They just scraped into the quarter finals with two one point wins over Tourmakeady and Burrishoole. It was not the prettiest final in the world, again hampered by the conditions, what I did flag beforehand was that it was going to be a shootout between ace marksmen Darren Coen of Hollymount/Carramore and Ballyhaunis hotshot Niall Prenty. Both players carried the hopes of their teams going into the final. Had I been an opposing manager for either of those players I would have made sure they received that extra little bit of attention. Ballyhaunis’s ability to keep possession against the elements in the second half won them the day, and when they eventually got the ball in the direction of Prenty there was on most occasions only one result, a white flag. Hollymount/Carramore will bitterly regret some missed chances in that second half when playing with the elements and Coen was visibly hurting after hooking his last effort to take the game to a replay. Tomas Morley has Ballyhaunis back in the senior grade for the first time since 1992/93 when they got relegated with my own team Charlestown. It is important they now try to emulate the last three Mayo intermediate winners, Kiltane, Charlestown, and Davitts and win the Connacht championship. It is great to see a player of Keith Higgins’s calibre representing Mayo in a club jersey when I am sure he felt he would never get the chance. Congratulations to the six Mayo players nominated for All-Stars, and find out next week what All-Star team I think is going to be picked.