And then there were two. Knockmore qualified for their first county final since 2009 after a pulsating and dramatic game against hotly fancied Breaffy in the semifinal last Sunday. The final whistle brought on some ugly scenes as a lot of players from both sides got involved in skirmishes while supporters were on the field. It was an unsightly end to a compelling game with fisticuffs occurring between players while there were children in the vicinity, it was not a great advertisement for our sport.
A major feature of both semifinals last Sunday was the off the ball pulling and dragging that made for a very messy spectacle for the supporters. If the referees were strict on the black card rule up to 12 players could have been issued with black cards last Sunday. Pulling and dragging a player to the ground off the ball is the same as deliberate obstruction which was one of the reasons the black card was introduced. Such instances occurred every two minutes of both games. Sometimes you were better off not even watching the ball as the side shows going on all over the field made for better viewing. It is an impossible task for referees to monitor on their own and when linesmen and umpires are unable or unwilling to help out, anarchy reigns. The black card debate will go on forever. I personally think it was a good idea to introduce it to stop cynical fouling but when referees have different opinions on the fouls for which the card was introduced that creates annoyance and frustration among players and supporters.
Another issue that irks me is the disrespect and ignorance directed towards our county players both verbally and physically both on and off the field by people who had supported them a few short weeks ago. I have no problem with someone meeting them head on within the rules of the game as long as it is on the field of play. Knockmore tore up the script and belittled their 7/2 opening price as they tore into their more fancied opponents. Breaffy’s cause was not helped having to start without Seamus O’Shea and All-Ireland U21 final man of the match Matthew Ruane. Knockmore raced out of the blocks with Keith Ruttledge scoring two fine points from open play. His brother Sean deployed as a sweeper was very effective from start to finish, intercepting many long deliveries while also doubling up whenever a Breaffy player entered the scoring zone. Along with Ruttledge Kevin McLoughlin was the stand out player on show scoring two fine points and carrying the ball to great effect while also delivering some very accurate kick passes.
Despite Knockmore’s dominance they could not shake off out of sorts Breaffy who thanks to a Tommy Reilly goal went in at half time only a point in arrears. It would have been an injustice had Knockmore not held on at the end as they were on top right throughout although Robbie Hennelly had a last gasp 45 to snatch a draw but hooked it wide.
Castlebar show their class again
Castlebar cantered into the final against a very under par Ballintubber, the county champions in control from start to finish. The statistics do not read well for Ballintubber, only one score from play for the entire hour which was an injury time goal when the game was done and dusted. It wass amazing this was the team that scored 6-14 the previous week in the quarter-final yet all they could manage was five frees from placed balls up until that goal. It is a measure of how good the Mitchels are. They had their match ups spot on and were miserable when it came to coughing up chances. Ballintubber simply could not break them down. Knockmore will certainly bring plenty of passion to Saturday evening’s unique final played for the first time under lights, but for me Castlebar seem to be streets ahead of the chasing pack and whether it is with footballing skills or physicality they are able to mix it with anyone, and should make it two Moclair Cups in a row, not without a fight from Knockmore however.
Two interesting spectators at the semifinals were Tourlestrane joint managers Eamon O’Hara and Gerry McGowan whose team play the Mayo champions in Markievicz Park on Saturday week. Needless to say they were hoping the games finished in draws adding to a fixture pile up for whichever team they come up against. Both feel strongly it will be Castlebar Mitchels. They have the obvious advantage of been able to watch their opponents in the flesh on three occasions. Both will be present in MacHale Park tomorrow evening to cast their eye over their opponents one last time.
Hard week for Westport
Saturday evening’s intermediate and senior final double header should attract a nice crowd to Castlebar. I wonder will three games in seven days be too much for Westport? The Covies booked their place in the final with a three point win over Shrule-Glenncorrib on Wednesday night after a replay, that featured the return of Conor Mortimer, who did score a nice point after coming on, but was not able to help the south Mayo men over the line.