Technical problems and a corrupt USB data file meant last week’s column vanished into thin air just before the paper went to print. Obviously for the most part the article was about Castlebar’s agonising defeat to Corofin after extra time. There was another part issuing a slight warning to Westport before they took on Leitrim champions Sean O’Heslin’s, based on the fact that it took Hollymount/Carramore extra time to see off last year’s Leitrim champions Melvin Gaels. I also felt Louisburg were going into the unknown against Creggs in Kiltoom and would need a big performance to emerge victorious.
I have no doubt Castlebar will look back on their defeat to Corofin with regret, the game was there for the taking in normal time, the wide count says it all, 14 for Castlebar and four for Corofin, the majority of these coming in the first half from really good scoring positions. Despite all those wides the Mitchels found themselves only two in arrears at the break, having only scored four themselves, three points from frees from Neil Douglas and, worryingly, only one from play from Mayo star Paddy Durkin.
Defences were very much to the fore in this game and both teams were relying on counter attacking football to create their scoring chances. Corofin would have been widely aware of the scoring threat of Neil Douglas in this year’s championship and gave that marking job to Galway player Cathal Silke, who was to be Dougie’s chaperone for the day. Douglas found the going tough but still kept trying despite the extra attention. In a low scoring game a goal would have very much decided the contest and it nearly came after five minutes of the second half when Liam Silke got inside the Mitchels’ cover only for Rory Byrne to make an inspiring save to keep his team in the game. Byrne’s exploits over the last couple of years, particularly in 2016, will surely merit a game or two for Stephen Rochford’s Mayo in 2017. It looked as if Castlebar’s race was run with 10 minutes to go only for inspirational substitute David Stenson to score two late points to send the game to extra time.
I felt at the time it was the last thing the Mayo champions needed. This was their sixth game in six weeks and they had been on the go for a solid 18 months as a result of reaching this year’s club final. Extra time was the Ian Burke show as the Corofin sharpshooter landed two fine scores for his team that ultimately decided the game. I felt for Castlebar who were out on their feet at the final whistle. I particularly noticed Ger McDonagh and Eoghan O’Reilly who had nothing left in the tank, and looked like they had lead in their feet near the end, the price you pay for having such a good run the previous year. Castlebar have been tremendous champions and have represented our county with great distinction. It is time for them to have a well earned break and recharge the batteries. They will take stopping again next year.
What an end to the year for both Louisburg and Westport, winning the Junior and Intermediate finals in Kiltoom and Carrick on Shannon respectively. Both teams were very impressive and deserving of their victories. For those of you who have not seen it I suggest you search social media to see the Louisburg players carrying the Frank Reynolds Cup up the Main Street and into the Square in Louisburg to raucous celebrations. It is what makes playing for your club different, it seems the whole village was out to welcome home their heroes. It brought back great memories of how special it is winning things for your town, your community, your family, your club. The Westport bandwagon keeps rolling with an added piece of media attention, of course from the fact they have the current GAA/GPA player of the year on their team. A Connacht intermediate medal another added statement for the #thingsleedid. Westport too need a recharging after their endeavours in 2016. It is a very satisfying feeling finishing a season with two cups in tow and knowing you have an All-Ireland semifinal waiting around the corner. It will be a different kind of Christmas for Louisburg and Westport players. May I suggest a challenge game between both clubs on St Stephen’s Day for a charity of their choice. It would attract a large crowd.