The provincial club championships really kicked into life last weekend with some mouth watering games and exhilarating displays in all four Provinces and no question the shock of the club season occurred in Leinster as the mighty St Vincent's were humbled by Wicklow champions Rathnew. Credit to Castlebar Mitchels who qualified for another Connacht club final after getting the job done eventually against Sligo champions Tourlestrane but not without a real scare. Castlebar are not playing with the same fluency and conviction of other years which is slightly worrying from their viewpoint but the most important thing is that they are winning.
It took a Danny Kirby goal late on to settle the affair as the Mitchels were made to work very hard to get over the line. I found myself in Tuam covering the other Connacht club semi-final between St Brigids and Corofin for Radio One. After suffering an embarrassing 14-point defeat to Corofin last year in the final St Brigid's arrived in Tuam with real intent on righting all the wrongs.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable encounter that needed extra time to separate the sides. Three-in-a-row hurling All-Star Daithi Burke scoring a goal in extra time that ultimately decided the affair. I did feel for St Brigid's who at one stage went five points down in the second half of normal time yet failed to throw in the towel. Had forward Cathal McHugh reserved a little energy he would surely have nailed two late frees that would probably have won the game for St Brigid's in normal time. In Padraig Kelly and Brian Stack they had two star performers. Stack is certainly one to watch for Roscommon in the future. He gave the Corofin defence a torrid time despite been double teamed for the entire day. Credit to Corofin all the same who have qualified for their fourth Connacht club final in a row which is some achievement in itself.
Back to the best of the best
First and foremost I have to congratulate Andy Moran on winning the player of the year after a fantastic season in the green and red. Andy is the perfect example of what hard work and total commitment can achieve. He looked like his goose was cooked a few years back and after doing his cruciate and breaking his leg in the past you would have thought there was no way back for him at inter county level. I remember meeting him outside Croke Park after Mayo defeated Donegal in the quarter final in 2015, he had come on as a sub and was quite effective for the last 15 minutes of the game. “Well done” I said to him, “that's your role from now on Andy” I said, “Impact sub”, “F**k you” he replied with a massive grin on his face “you sound just like Holmes”. He wasn't content with a place on the bench. There lies the reason Andy Moran is the 2017 Player of the Year, he is a shining example to any ambitious young footballer. It’s a marvellous personal achievement for him and totally deserved.
It was the first time in a long while there was great debate over this year's All-Star team as there were so many good performers throughout the year, Mayo can be reasonably happy receiving six awards. David Clarke or Stephen Cluxton was the toss of a coin for the goalkeeper jersey. Cluxton must be baffled, the man who has revolutionised goalkeeping along with lifting Sam Maguire three years in a row been left out again. Amazingly he has not won an award since 2013. Strong arguments can be made for Lee Keegan who outplayed Enda Smith of Roscommon in the quarter-final and he didn't give Ciaran Kilkenny a kick in the final after Kilkenny orchestrated Dublin's annihilation of Tyrone in the semi final. He also scored two crucial goals in both of those games. Jason Doherty and Kevin Mcloughlin will struggle to put in two better years than they did in 2017 (although I hope they get better ) but call me biased if you want but the absence of Tom Parsons in the All-Star team has left me slightly bewildered. Don't get me wrong, Colm Cavanagh had a fine season but not as good or as effective a season as Tom Parsons in midfield. Parsons was the stand out midfielder on All-Ireland final day, James McCarthy included. I had a visit from Tom the day after the All-Star function and despite his disappointment he is going to use it as motivation for 2018. He said Andy winning the player of the year has given him great incentive to keep plugging away. They are a resilient bunch this lot.
Masters do it again
Congrats to the Mayo masters team who have put All-Ireland titles back to back after a hard fought win against Sligo in the final last weekend. It's a shame the competition doesn't get the recognition it deserves. In an era where health and well being is to the fore you would think the powers that be would row in behind players over the forty mark committing themselves to keeping fit and healthy while also donning a county jersey.