Castlebar Mitchels qualified for a mouth watering Connacht final clash with All Ireland champions Corofin after a hard fought win over Roscommon Champions Clann Na Gael in Hyde Park last Sunday. It was a classic case of goals win games as The Mitchels pounced for three first half goals that really left the Roscommon outfit with a mountain to climb.
We had barely settled into our match positions when Richie Feeney found himself unmarked near the Clann goal to fire his shot past a stunned Ronan O'Reilly in the Clann Na Gael goal. The build up to Feeney’s goal was all about quick thinking. Danny Kirby wasted no time in finding Feeney with a quick free when most would have settled for a tap over point. You have to give credit to referee John Gilmartin for allowing Castlebar to move the ball quickly while the Clann defence were still finding their feet.
The stopwatch had not hit the third minute when Castlebar scored their second. Again the build up play was very impressive with up to 10 Mitchels player involved. The ball was taken from the right corner back position all the way up the right flank before been fired across the square by Richie Feeney; the interchange play among five Castlebar players was poetry in motion before Feeney again set up Barry Moran for a tap in. Ray O'Malley did take a dirty elbow to the forehead for his part in the move. It was a brilliant team goal despite Barry Moran miss kicking his effort slightly. Every time Castlebar attacked they looked like they would score a goal but to their credit Clann Na Gael would not go away. After reducing the deficit to four points, thanks mainly to the accurate boot of Donie Shine and a fine effort by Ultan Harney, Clann Na Gael suffered another sucker punch when Danny Kirby rounded the Clann goalkeeper to strike for goal number three on 22 minutes. On watching the goal again Kirby did take about six steps before he finished but I do think he was fouled in the penalty area in the build up so credit again to the referee for allowing the advantage.
The second half was a real war of attrition. The Mitchels not playing with the same fluency as they did in the first half and Clann Na Gael were now controlling the middle third. The half time lead was reduced to two points as Castlebar struggled to get a score to settle their nerves. Step up Paddy Durcan showing all of his inter county prowess. He scored an inspiring point, fetched two spectacular kick outs, and took the game back to Clann with his penetrating runs. His twin brother James and another substitute Cian Costello ably assisted with two fine scores between them. Castlebar lived dangerously and but for a splendid double save, first from Tom Cunniffe and then goalkeeper Rory Byrne the Mitchel’s would have been on the ropes. Declan O'Reilly and Declan Shaw will be delighted their team have reached the Connaught final but both will know a repeat performance like last Sunday would result in a 10 point drubbing at the hands of Corofin. It gives them something to work towards. If you’re not in it you can’t win it.
Well earned recognition at the All Stars
The All-Stars did not really throw up any surprises with three Mayo players getting their deserved awards. However some recipients seemed to have been rewarded to fill gaps in this year’s selection which makes it frustrating. It’s very strange to hear the general public asking “how the hell did he make the team” about more than one player selected. If you win an award like that surely you should not have anyone question it and presumably you had a year you will remember for the rest of your life. Winning All-Stars is about consistency over a period of time but for me I am struggling to remember telling contributions from a number of the team over the entire season, yes some had phenomenal games but the key word is consistency.
Another cop out for me was the placing of Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone in the half forward line. He had a brilliant season for the red hand but at midfield and should have won his All-Star there because that is where he played all his good football. The same was done last year when Michael Murphy was named as a half forward despite doing all his damage at number 14. One day an entire team will be picked with players in the positions in which they played.
Connacht titles up for grabs on Sunday
Hollymount-Carramore and Ardnaree look to make history for their clubs when they challenge for provincial honours on Sunday. Both teams are going into the unknown really as unlike the senior grade it is very difficult to gauge intermediate and junior football outside your own county. Both face Galway opposition which should increase the rivalry. If Hollymount-Carramore have sufficiently recovered from their epic-semi final win over Melvin Gaels and Ardnaree kept their celebrations to a minimum after winning that elusive Junior title I expect we could have a double Mayo victory. It will not be easy though.