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Castlebar Mitchels’ manager Pat Holmes is facing into his second county final in three years on Sunday which will also be the club’s third crack at the title in four. The All Ireland u21 winning manager from 2006 was also part of the last team from the county town to taste success in this competition 20 years ago, alongside a number of players with long roots to Sunday’s final, including his opposite number Declan O’Reilly who was a member of the panel and Tom O’Reilly whose two sons will line up in opposite camps come Sunday.
Castlebar Mitchels have been going the extra mile this year in their quest to win their first county championship in 20 years, according to Richie Feeney. The team that have lost two of the last three county finals have been working hard to find those extra couple of inches to get themselves over the gain line and back to the promised land, he says. “I think the effort the lads have put in this year, is more effort that they’ve put in, in the last three or four years from what I’ve seen anyway.” Getting players to commit to stay around during the summer when the championship can enter a hiatus and not lot of football is played is another thing that has been a great boost to the cause this year he says. “I suppose the boys decided to stay around, there were a number of lads who went off travelling the last few years and things like that. Two of the boys went, but they came straight back into it and only missed one game and everyone decided to put the shoulder to the wheel and give it a good rattle.”
The dividing lines are fluid when it comes to the boundary, fluid enough to see two brothers togging out for opposing teams on Sunday, but one thing that is not fluid is the desire of both Castlebar Mitchels and Breaffy to take home the Paddy Moclair Cup with them on Sunday evening. Both of this year’s finalists have got there on merit, one was expected to be still standing here, while the others dusted themselves off after heavy defeat to the other in the group stages and have battled back to show their true worth.
It'll be hard to find a county final that will have as close of neighbors going toe-toe in it, and have two brothers lining up in opposite colours (Tommy O'Reilly for Breaffy and Eoghan O'Reilly for Castlebar), but that's what this years Mayo senior football championship final has in store in a fortnight's time. Breaffy booked their very first appearance int he final with a historic win over Charlestown, while Castlebar Mitchels overcame Knockmore, despite being without the services of their man-of-the-match from last weeks quarter-final win over Ballina Stephenites ,Barry Moran and losing Aidan Walsh early in the game through injury. Mitchels beat Breaffy comprehensively in the group stages of the championship back in early summer, but Declan O'Reilly's have inflicted a defeat on Pat Holmes' side this year with a win in the opening league game of the season.
It was a weekend for shocks and surprises last weekend as the two teams who have won the last three Moclair cups between them bowed out at the quarter-final stage. The biggest surprise of the weekend arguably was Breaffy’s victory over Ballaghaderreen in the first of Sunday’s games.
Two weeks on from the pain of Croke Park, it's back to playing for the pride of the parish this weekend as the quarter-finals and relegation semi-finals of the Treanlaur Catering Senior Football Championships take place. MacHale Park in Castlebar will host two double headers of last eight action on Saturday and Sunday, with the entertainment getting under way with the meetings of Castlebar Mitchels and Ballina Stepehenites at 3.30pm and Charlestown and Garrymore at 5pm tomorrow. The first game is, on paper, probably the game of the weekend, with the two most successful sides in the history of the competition going toe-to-toe. Pat Holmes' Castlebar men go into the game as favourites after blitzing their way through the group stages, which included a comprehensive win over fellow last eight side Breaffy. Holmes' team have been knocking at the door of winning the Moclair Cup for the first time since the early 90s and this year could be their time. With Barry Moran, Tom Cunniffee (if he is fit after having gone off at half-time in the All Ireland final) and Richie Feeney back in situ, alongside the likes of Danny Kirby, Aidan Walsh, Neil Douglas, Alan Feeney, and Ciaran Naughton, Mitchels have the player power to over-run any team in the grade. Not that Ballina will be any pushovers. John Healy's side will have to do without inspirational goalkeeper David Clarke, who had not recovered enough to take any part in Mayo's All Ireland series campaign. Healy will be able to call on experienced players of the calibre of Ronan McGarrity, Pat Harte, Ger Cafferkey, and Eanna Casey; while Evan Regan could have a major impact up front if he gets going. This time last year Ballina were staring down the barrel of the relegation gun after a horrible season, but they have pulled themselves together this year and will not give up without a fight. But when all is said and done, Castlebar should just have too much for them.
The Mayo Senior championship was in overdrive last weekend (I am sure James Horan was waiting anxiously by his phone to ensure all his players came through their respective games) and while I was not surprised and had predicted most of the results, the drubbing Castlebar dished out to Breaffy left me a little shocked especially as I had them pencilled in for my “value bet of the week”.
Tony Duffy will be hoping that his stint in charge of the Mayo u21s is a bit more successful than the last man who sat in his seat, after moving up from three years in charge of the minor team. Duffy has taken over the side this year from Ray Dempsey, the same man he replaced at the u18 grade three seasons previously. Picking up u21 provincial titles was par for the course for Mayo under the Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes joint ticket in the latter part of the last decade, but for the past three seasons Mayo have not even reached a provincial final, being sent packing by Roscommon in each of the past three championships before the final.
This Saturday in Tuam Stadium (4pm) the Galway u-21 footballers take on old rivals Mayo in the Connacht semi-final.
It was only a matter of weeks ago that the curtain came down on the club scene in Mayo for 2012 and now on the second Sunday in January, the curtain is coming back up on the inter-county season for 2013. While the members of last year’s senior squad enjoyed their well deserved team holiday in Miami last week and the early part of this week, this Sunday in Ballinamore is going to be a very different experience from the sun and sand of South Beach.