Saturday Night Lights

Deadly Doug: Neil Douglas has been in brilliant form for Castlebar Mitchels so far this season. Photo: Sportsfile

Deadly Doug: Neil Douglas has been in brilliant form for Castlebar Mitchels so far this season. Photo: Sportsfile

Most of us bar those from the 'Parish of the Backs' were expecting a repeat of last year's county final tomorrow evening in MacHale Park. But Knockmore showed no regard for preconceptions as they tore into Breaffy from the get go and were deserved two point winners to book their place in the senior final for the first time in seven years.

Ray McHale's men are back in the big time and they deserved it, being the better side from start to finish in that game and they will need to attack tomorrow night's meeting with the standard bearers of Mayo football in a similar fashion and there is no doubt that they will. While they have not been in the final for seven years, they have been in the last four of the championship for the last eight years, that is a level of consistency that somehow can be overlooked by those on the outside, with Castlebar and Ballintubber picking up five of the last six titles.

They had a game plan and their defensive work rate was phenomenal, keeping Breaffy's starting forward line to just 1-1 from play in the game, they hunted in packs and were not afraid to mix the rough with the smooth to get the result they required. They hunted in packs and turned over the Breaffy attack time after time, something that Declan O'Reilly and his management team will have been keeping a keen eye on avoiding tomorrow night.

Kevin McLoughlin was the lynchpin to their game plan, mopping up lots of ball around the middle third and linking the forward play brilliantly with strong running and chipping in with two points. Their full forward line were on top form too, with Peter Naughton finishing up with five points and Kieran Langan with two, while Sean Ruttledge who spent a lot of time sweeping around the fringes of the battle chipped in with a point from play.

As for their opponents tomorrow night, they laid down a serious marker of intent with an impressive display against Ballintubber, keeping their nemesis to a single score from play over the course of their semifinal, that score coming in the form of an injury time goal. They hit the ground running with Neil Douglas kicking four points in the opening quarter as they raced into a 0-5 to 0-0 lead to put themselves well out in front. This is Mitchels' sixth final in seven years, a remarkable level of consistency from a core group of players, who have also rejuvenated themselves year on year, and tomorrow night they will go looking to put together back to back titles for the first time since 1969-1970.

Mitchels' defensive shape is superb and their ability to transition from defence to attack is phenomenal at times, and there are not many teams who can live with them in the country when they execute it well. But they can fall out of games for periods, like last Sunday where they managed to score just four points between the 14th and 54th minute of the game, despite being by far the better team, and they let Ballintubber back into it and if Alan Plunkett had managed to find the back of the net in the 56th minute there would have been only a point in the game. That chance did shake Mitchels and they tagged on 1-1 in the next 120 seconds to kill the game off as a contest.

Knockmore will be keenly aware that they have to take whatever chances come their way, they were sloppy with a few scorable frees in their win over Breaffy, and they will not get a similar chance to get out of jail if they miss them this time around. Despite their consistency in reaching semifinals over the past number of years, it has been 19 years since they last brought the Moclair Cup home to the shores of Lough Conn. They have won the title the third most times with eight titles won between 1973 and 1997, will they make it number nine on Saturday? It's hard to see it. But then this time last week, there weren't that many who thought they would be here. However, it looks like it will be Castlebar's day once again as they go looking for their 30th Mayo senior title.



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