A few weeks ago before the county final between Castlebar Mitchels and Ballintubber I envisaged a predicament that Cillian O’Connor could find himself in. I thought nothing of it at the time because I expected Castlebar to retain the Moclair Cup. O’Connor was at the final stages of the trials for the International Rules team, with his skill set and physical attributes I have no doubt he would have been on Paul Early's panel. When Ballintubber won the county final I immediately thought of O’Connor and the predicament, club versus country? It was simple; he was going nowhere and immediately pulled out of the Irish set up to give his full attention to his club.
While the Irish team departed for the sunny surroundings of Perth this week O’Connor will be knee deep in muck in Clogher (no reflection on Ballintubber’s pitch by the way ) you have to love your club. Every player would have done the same; I am still peeved a player has to pay a price for being successful with his club. I wonder what would have happened if Irish captain Michael Murphy’s club won the Donegal championship and then won again last weekend as their conquerors St Eunan’s did, serious negotiating with the Ulster council to keep all parties happy I imagine to make sure Murphy would have travelled to Australia. Chrissy McKaigue of Derry and Conor McManus of Monaghan find themselves in this precarious position, they are playing against each other in the Ulster club semi-final this week and obviously have not travelled with the main party. They leave together immediately after the match, if they are still on speaking terms. Whichever team wins, their star player will be missing from some crucial club training in the build up to their club’s biggest game; it is not ideal having to travel back from the other side of the world either. I hope Cillian O’Connor gets another chance to represent Ireland.
The Tubber do what they have to
The Ballintubber and St Brigid's game was a marvellous spectacle played between two really clever and well coached teams. Despite a torrential downpour before the game the McHale Park turf held up reasonably well, the heavy conditions making it tough on the players. Ballintubber needed to play above themselves to beat the 2013 All-Ireland champions and that they certainly did, despite Jason Gibbons’ post match comments suggesting otherwise. From listening to Gibbons it sounds like Ballintubber are striving towards perfection in their performance. Brigid’s started the better but Ballintubber gradually got into the game. Ballintubber players took turns taking the fight to their opponents, Padraic O’Connor and Alan Plunkett, troubling the umpires with a green and white flag each. The Ballintubber midfield decided to get into the game in the 10th minute; Gibbons and Stephen Broderick were outstanding for the Mayo champions after that. St Brigid’s looked a little rattled and every time Ballintubber attacked they looked like they would score. Ballintubber’s half back line got on some amount of ball and used it very wisely on most occasions. Liam McHale and co would have been well aware of Ballintubber’s goal threat but had to have been extremely worried when Plunkett coasted in for his goal in the 26th minute, Ballintubber well worth their three point interval lead.
The second half was intriguing, Brigid’s clawed themselves back level after some persistent fouling by Ballintubber. It was then Alan Dillon’s few minutes of magic when he scored two precious points, the second a real peach. The Roscommon champions would not go away, and after intense pressure Karol Mannion goaled to amazingly put them in front. Ballintubber of old would have rolled away and lost but not this team, straight from the kick out the three O’Connors combined for Padraic to blast home the leveller. There is no question the biggest turning point of the game was with 10 minutes left on the clock, Senan Kilbride missed a glorious chance to put the minimum between the teams but screwed his effort wide, to rub salt to his wounds from the resulting kick out, Stephen Broderick who found himself in acres of space fed the ball to Cillian O’Connor who scored a sublime goal, side footing the ball to the top right corner of the net. Ballintubber rightfully held on for a three point win but I am sure they had some anxious moments when Karol Mannion went to ground on two occasions on the edge of the square in those dying seconds. Next up Corofin in the Connacht final, should be another cracker.
A worthy cause to donate my time to
I volunteered to collect money outside McHale Park last Sunday for the coffers of Pieta house which is an extremely good cause; I was amazed at the generosity and the number of neutral supporters attending the game from all over Mayo and beyond. I nabbed Anthony Cunningham, the Galway hurling manager for a few euro, the Galwayman of course managed the Roscommon side to county and provincial glory in the past.