What a feast of sport we had last Sunday. Two quality performances by Breaffy and Castlebar in the Mayo championship semifinals followed by as gutsy a performance as you are likely to see by the Irish Rugby team, only to be deflated by the Republic of Ireland soccer team failing to gain automatic qualification for the Euros when they were defeated by Poland.
I know it did not take a rocket scientist to decide to bring the Mayo semifinals forward but whoever did make the decision boosted the crowd in McHale Park by a few hundred people at the very least as the country is gone rugby mad, and anyone with sport in the bloodstream was certainly not going to miss Ireland’s much anticipated game with France.
O’Shea does the business
Breaffy tore up the script when defeating current county champions and hot favourites Ballintubber in the first semifinal. Breaffy were invitingly priced at 9/4 with the bookmakers before the game. Any team with five or six of a county senior panel are never going to be far away, and when one of that five or six happens to be one Aidan O’Shea your team is going to be in with a right chance. The pattern for this game was set early on. Three early Breaffy attacks yielded two goals, and another effort cracked off the post that was eventually kicked over for a point. Breaffy were tearing into the county champions and the constant swapping of Aidan O’Shea and his brother Conor from full to centre-forward along with the movement of Tommy O’Reilly wreaked havoc in the Ballintubber defence. Aidan O’Shea’s first goal was all about power and skill. After a centre by Keith Mulchrone the full-forward out-muscled Danny Geraghty to win the ball, brush the defenders out of his way to bury his shot past a helpless Brendan Walsh. The second Breaffy goal was all about composure as Gary Walsh made a clever play by lofting a pass to Tommy O’Reilly for a tap in.
Despite all the setbacks Ballintubber would not go away and to their credit landed three on the spin to go in only four down at half time. The champions narrowed the lead to two early in the second half but just as you thought Breaffy were in trouble O’Shea again won possession before driving at the Tubber rearguard, before being hauled over for a penalty that was duly dispatched by full back Micheal Jennings. The final nail in the coffin arrived when O’Shea again gathered a free from his brother Seamie to steamroll his way towards the goal before hammering his shot to the net to all but seal the deal. In this form the “Breaffy Bomber” looks unmarkable. It will be interesting to see what tactic Castlebar use to thwart his influence in the final.
Mitchels do what they needed to do
In the second semifinal, despite struggling for long periods and allowing Knockmore get back into the game on two occasions, Castlebar looked like they are going to be hard to beat. You cannot argue with a 4-15 final tally beautifully split by 2-07 in the first half and 2-08 in the second. Barry Moran was the standout man in this game fielding spectacularly and finishing with 1-01 to his name. Eoghan O’Reilly got his team going when he waltzed through the Knockmore defence to beautifully side foot his team’s first goal, defending you normally would not associate with the parish of the backs. Even when Knockmore went for it Castlebar seemed to have another gear and emptied their bench to great effect with their substitutes accounting for 1-03 of their tally, James Durcan helping himself to 1-01.
With the proximity of Breaffy and Castlebar to each other, there are plenty of interesting sidebars to the game, like brothers Eoghan and Tommy O’Reilly who will be lining out against each other for the second time in three years in a county final. Their father Tom, a former Mitchels stalwart on the playing field, is now a selector with Breaffy. Meanwhile Castlebar’s manager Declan Reilly was in charge of Breaffy when the sides met in the 2013 final. Plenty of intrigue to go around to say the least, especially in the O’Reilly household.
Rochford lays down another claim to the manager’s bib
Stephen Rochford certainly did no harm for his reputation or his GAA CV in guiding All Ireland club champions Corofin to another county title. I am not sure many of you are aware of this because of the furore and excitement of the Mayo/Dublin saga in August, but the day before Mayo played Dublin in the drawn match Corofin were within a whisker of being dumped out of the championship when they miraculously rescued a draw against Tuam Stars in the Galway quarter-final. They were all but beaten until they scored the leveller with the last kick of the game and now they are county champions. Why does this affect us Mayo folk you ask. Simple, either Castlebar or Breaffy would be hotly fancied to win the provincial title with Corofin out of the race, now you will find the Galway kingpins will just get better and better and that is not good news for whichever Mayo team prevails.