The first weekend of the Mayo GAA senior championship had a little bit of everything including one side lining up their entire 15 players in their own half for the start of the second half of their game, a heroic struggle between Mayo men Aidan O’Shea and Colm Boyle against each other for the pride of the parish, the return of Cillian O’Connor to action for Ballintubber and late, late fight back from Kiltane to break the hearts of Shrule-Glencorrib who made the long trip to Bangor.
Mitchels find what they need
On Saturday evening former Sligo All Star winner Eamon O’Hara brought his 42 strong squad to Josie Munnelly Park to take on Castlebar Mitchels, the game which was played in wet and windy conditions, wasn’t the greatest example of football you’ll have ever seen with Ballaghaderreen playing ultra-defensive football, but for 30 minutes it looked like it might work.
The visitors went in leading by 0-6 to 0-5 at the break, but they failed to register a single score in the second half as the county town men went on to win by 0-10 to 0-6. Ballaghaderreen flooded their defence from the get go and left just Barry Regan and Andy Moran stationed inside their opponents half when not in possession. Despite having the vast majority of the possession it took Castlebar Mitchels a long time to figure their way around the massive white wall. Aidan Walsh opened the scoring for the home-sde two minutes in with a well taken free and Barry Moran doubled their lead a minute later. Andy Moran cut the gap to a single point after six minutes and Regan tied the game up four minutes later. Working off the limited possession they had, Ballagh’ were moving well early on with Moran and Tom Cunniffe engaged in their own personal battle. A Walsh free on the quarter-of-an-hour mark put his side back in front, but five minutes later the nerveless Regan had it all square again. Walsh hit back with another point from a dead ball two minutes after that, but once again the visitors responded quickly. Andy Moran drove over a 45 with precision before two more Regan frees had his side two points to the good. That man Walsh once again stepped up for his side and cut the gap right back to the bare minimum at the turn around. With 11 scores in the first half and only two of them coming from play, the paying crowd certainly weren’t getting much entertainment for their money, even if the contrasting styles made it an intriguing encounter.
The start of the second half treated us to a site, never before seen by this writer and probably never will be seen again as Ballagh’ kept their entire 15 players in their own half for the throw up to restart the contest. The half-time break allowed Castlebar some time to reorganise and get to grips with what they had to to and they controlled the second half from the get go and despite, never really putting clear daylight between themselves and their guests they were deserving winners.
Two frees from Eoghan O’Reilly inside the first five minutes put Mitchels back in front and a point from Patrick Durcan on 43 minutes had them two clear. Neil Douglas who didn’t have a game he’ll want to remember two much about pointed a free from distance after 16 minutes to put three points between the sides and that’s how it stayed for the next ten minutes. Despite being the much better side on the day, Mitchels were still leaving themselves open to the possibility of Ballabh working a goal and hitting them with a sucker punch at the death. But three minutes from time another Walsh free put them four clear and calmed the nerves.
It wasn’t pretty or exciting, but new Mitchels manager Declan O’Reilly will be happy to have got their championship off to a winning start and that his side were able to figure out in the second half how to break down the Ballagh' defensive tactic.
Breaffy hold off Davitts fight back
On Sunday lunchtime, Breaffy made the trip to Ballindine to open their senior championship season against Davitts. The west Mayo men were wearing a new blue and white hooped shirt for the first time and they were put to the pin of their collar by the host before emerging as one point winners at the end of a dramatic encounter. The two men wearing the number six shirts for their respective sides were the man men on show, with both Aidan O’Shea and Colm Boyle putting in big shifts for their sides. It was Boyle who won the a penalty two minutes from the end of normal time that really put the cat-among-the-pigeons. Josh Ronayne saw his effort from the spot saved by Robert Hennelly, but he was the quickest to react and drove the rebound to the back of the net. That goal put only two points between the sides and the momentum with Davitts, they homeside nearly pulled it out at the death with Ronan McNamara seeing is point blank effort saved by Hennelly and the rebound coming off the boot of Andrew Peters and looping just over the bar rather than under it.
Breaffy started the game brightly with Tommy O’Reilly and Robbie Fadden pointing inside the opening two minutes, then McNamara had an effort that looked to have gone over the bar and was even put up on the scoreboard. However, ten minutes later referee Ronan Gurren confirmed that it didn’t go over and the scoreboard was changed to reflect that, it proved to be costly at the end for the hosts. Ronayne got Davitts motoring seven minutes in and three minutes later Liam Kearns had the game tied up. Breaffy responded with their only goal of the day two minutes later when Conor O’Shea pounced to send the ball to the back of the net after Tommy O’Reilly had seen his effort come of the bar. But aided by a stiff breeze they used to the full advantage Davitts came back into the game with Kearns kicking one point and McNamara adding two more to level it up. McNamara’s first point in that run was one of the finest scores you’d have seen around all weekend.
Gary Walsh edged Breaffy back in front not long after and five minutes from the break Aidan O’Shea drove the ball over the bar, but Davitt weren’t going to let the game get that far away from them and points from Ronayne and Kearns had the game level at the break on a score of 0-7 to 1-4.
With the wind at their backs, it was expected that Breaffy would put away the challenge of their hosts over the final 30 minutes and they did reel off three points inside the first five minutes with Conor O’Shea, Aidan O’Shea and Peter Dravins all getting scores. Kearns replied for the hosts on 39 minutes, but it was the visitors who looked to have found the extra gear they required as two points from the youngest O’Shea along with one from Dravins had them five clear and seven minutes to go. But with time ticking down, Boyle picked up the ball and went on a mazy run before he was hauled to the ground and that set off a frantic final few minutes. Breaffy will be happy and relieved to have gotten out with the win in the end, but Davitts showed they’ll have something to say in this championship season yet.
Garrymore turn on the class when needed
Not far away in Garrymore on Sunday afternoon the homeside were impressive winners against Charlestown. The east Mayo men came into the game with something to prove after their hosts knocked them out at the quarter-final stage last season. But two first half goals from a slick Garrymore side made it a task they were never going to be victorious in. Jimmy Killeen opened the scoring two minutes in for the hosts, but points from Jack Reilly and David Caffrey put Charlestown ahead after five minutes. Seven minutes in the first goal arrived when a flowing move, full of powerful and intelligent running involving Shane Nally, Enda Varley, Brian Walsh and Caolan Crowe was finished to the net by Brendan Cunningham.
Garrymore’s support running to create and option for the man in possession was top class all day and it was something that Charlestown never got to grips with. Colm Maye responded with a free a minute later for Charlestown but, Garrymore were about to hit 1-3 without reply and that would more or less win them the game. Brian Walsh kicked a point then Jimmy Killeen added another one and 15 minutes in Mark Tierney finished from close range tot he net after Killeen’s effort came back off the bar. The goal chance came from the smart thinking of Trevor Nally who cut out a Charlestown pass out of defence to set the move in motion. Killeen added another point not long after to put his side into a 2-4 to 0-3 lead. Charlestown had an appeal for a goal turned down after a free from Maye dropped short and Paul Mulligan got his paw on the ball that bounced down off the crossbar, but the umpires weren't having any of it 18 minutes in. Maybe cut the gap to six points with another free 23 minutes in and then a minute later it looked to be game on again. David Caffrey and Kevin Deignan combined well down he right flank and set Gareth O’Donnell free, he cut in with power and pace and drove the ball past Morvyn Connolly to the back of the net. But it was the hosts who kicked on from there before the break with two pointed frees from Killeen leaving Garrymore leading at the break on a score of 2-6 to 1-4 and with the wind at their backs for the second half.
The opening seven minutes of the second half saw Garrymore push their lead out to eight points thanks to points from Shane Nally, who was very impressive in the middle of the park again for his side, a Killeen free and one from Caolan Crowe. Charlestown did rally and they kicked four unanswered points through a brace of Maye frees and one each for Martin Mulvaney and Brendan Quinn, but they could never bridge that gap that had built up as Brian Walsh and another Killeen free kept the hosts noses just that bit to far in front. Charlestown did manage two more scores before the end, with Garrymore hitting one more point to leave the south Mayo men victorious on a scoreline of 2-12 to 1-11.
O'Connor returns as champions stroll to victory
Ballintubber opened up their defensive of the senior title with a 1-23 to 1-8 win over Ballinrobe in Clogher on Sunday afternoon. The big news coming out of that game was that Cillian O’Connor returned to action as a second half sub, scoring one point before being shown a black card after 16 minutes of action.
Three wins for north Mayo sides
Knockmore got their championship off to a winning start with a 0-15 to 1-9 win over Ballyhaunis at home. The north Mayo men had led the game 0-8 to 1-2 at the turn around. In Bangor Erris, Kiltane and Shrule-Glencorrib engaged in an epic encounter that saw the hosts just edge it right at the death. Mark Donaldson put his side up by two points two minutes into injury time, but two minutes later Kiltane managed to get the ball over the line and raise the green flag and go into the lead for the first time since the seventh minute. The north Mayo men added on another point in injury time to run out 1-16 to 1-14 winners.
In the other game on Saturday night, Ballina Stephenites hosted Claremorris in James Stephens Park, the south Mayo men went into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead thanks to points from Healy, Hutton, Sean Prendergast and O’Reilly, the homside with Alex Corduff chipping in with a few points managed to hold a 0-7 to 0-5 lead at the break. The 2005 All Ireland winners kept their foot down after the restart and kicked 1-3 without reply to set up the win and in the end they ran out 1-11 to 0-7 winners, to get their championship off to a winning start.
Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship Round 1
Davitts 1-9 Breaffy 1-10
Knockmore 0-15 Ballyhaunis 1-9
Castlebar Mitchels 0-10 Ballaghaderren 0-6
Ballina Stephenites 1-11 Claremorris 0-7
Ballintubber 1-23 Ballinrobe 1-8
Crossmolina Deel Rovers v Aghamore (next weekend )
Kiltane 1-16 Shurle-Glencorrib 1-14
Garrymore 2-12 Charlestown 1-11