Reigning champions Castlebar Mitchels qualified for a mouthwatering semifinal clash against neighbours Ballintubber, having had to pull out all the stops against a stubborn and well drilled Ballaghadeereen side in the quarter final of the Mayo Senior Football Championship last weekend. It was a thoroughly enjoyable game with some excellent scores from both teams despite the unfavourable heavy underfoot conditions.
Despite Castlebar scoring from the throw in through James Durcan it seems a little complacency swept through their lines and Ballaghadeereen took full advantage. Electing to play a very defensive game Ballagh sought to frustrate their opponents while trying to catch them on the counter attack through David Drake and Shairoze Akram. When you have a player of the calibre of Barry Regan up front it always gives you a good chance. He was in scintillating form in the first half scoring at will from every angle and distance from play and placed balls.
Castlebar Mitchels' defence in turn were invited to attack because of Ballagh's set up and they duly obliged. Castlebar's crucial score coming when two defenders Shane Irwin and Eoghan O'Reilly linked brilliantly when O'Reilly palmed the ball to the net. It showed great composure from Irwin when he laid the ball on a plate for O'Reilly. The enormous work rate put in by Ballagh eventually took its toll as Castlebar emptied their bench to great effect. Cian Costello ran Ballagh ragged with his non stop movement and a sublime pass from Neil Douglas to Costello who finished superbly to the net was the beginning of the end for a valiant Ballaghadeereen.
I expected the Garrymore and Ballintubber game to be keenly contested given the pride Garrymore players have in their jersey and the history of their club. We never got anything easy off them when we played them that’s for sure. Their performance last Sunday ranks as probably the worst they have ever put in at championship level, bordering on embarrassing at times. I wondered what stalwarts like Michael Coleman and Tony Corcoran thought, I imagine they were seething.
It was a tough game to commentate on because of the lack of intensity from the south Mayo club. Ballintubber scored a massive 6-14 in their win against Garrymore. Don't get me wrong, Ballintubber have the capacity to tear you apart and go on a goal feast as they did against Knockmore a few years back. Surely you would think a player of Cillian O'Connor's ability would merit a bit of special attention from the opposing team. There wasn't a glove laid on him as he fired home a whopping 4-04 and that was after being substituted after 10 minutes of the second half. What would he have ended up with had he stayed on until they end?
It reminded me of watching the Harlem Globe Trotters play around in an exhibition game where they did as they pleased and tried little flicks, tricks, and chip ups and things you normally would not see in a competitive environment. Some of their goals were of the highest order but their opponents' unwillingness to put in a tackle has to be taken into account.
Breaffy also made it through to face Knockmore after having a tight encounter with Crossmolina, winning in the end by a comfortable six points. However they found themselves a point down with nine minutes to go but 1-04 without reply got them safely through. Seamus O'Shea's fitness crucial to their progression in the competition. With all the star studded names they have, coupled with three vital members of Mayo's All-Ireland U21 winning team surely there has to be a big performance in them.
Knockmore put paid to my outside fancy for the Moclair Cup, Aughamore, when defeating them by two points in the second quarter final last Saturday. Far from having a team of recognised stars Knockmore bring a serious work ethic to the table and should Breaffy arrive for their semi final meeting with them on Sunday in the wrong frame of mind we could be in for a shock. For those who love their football, Sunday's semifinals should be intriguing with no fewer than 12 of our Mayo senior panel playing for their clubs along with a few more who will be called for trials next year.
The clash of Castlebar and Ballintubber should attract many neutrals while Breaffy and the O'Sheas will make sure supporters get in early as both games are very appealing. I expect Castlebar to tie up Cillian O Connor and co and Breaffy to sneak through for a repeat of last year's final.