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FAI Cup football makes a welcome return to Eamonn Deacy Park tomorrow evening (7.45pm) when Galway United host non league Wexford outfit, North End United, on the Dyke Road.
The club championship got under way last weekend with the clash of the round in group one between reigning champions Castlebar Mitchels and local rivals Ballintubber, both pre tournament favourites for the Moclair Cup.
Connacht Rugby’s traditional interprovincial festive fixtures begins on Friday when they take on the RaboDirect League leaders Munster in Thomond Park (7.15pm).
The senior season may have ended up in disappointment against Dublin, however, our minors had a truly remarkable year but it could have been so different. Back on June 22 we first set eyes on Stephen Coen, Tommy “Goals” Conroy, and co. They had an easy victory over Leitrim winning by 1-15 to 1-05 in McHale Park. The old saying that “no one game will make a season”, could not be further from the truth after Mayo’s clash with Galway on June 30 (the same day London shocked Leitrim). This was a remarkable game, Mayo were within inches of going out, (and remember there is no back door safety net for minors at semi-final stage) sheer persistence got them over the line in extra time on a final score 5-08 to 2-11. The Connacht final against Roscommon was a great spectacle. Brilliant goals, superb defending, and skill levels to match. Mayo sauntered into a big lead but Roscommon clawed their way back and came agonisingly close to snatching a draw in the dying seconds, it would have been robbery had Mayo not won it. A Connacht minor final is not to be sniffed at. Mayo then gave Westmeath a right tanking in the quarter final in Tullamore winning by 2-13 to 0-8 points, the rest of the country were beginning to take note. A real test awaited in the semi final against Monaghan, many bookmakers’ favourites for the title. This was no question the performance of the year from the minors. They blitzed their northern opponents, scoring a whopping three goals and 19 points in the process. Talking to Barney Rock during and after this game, he was very impressed. The only negative from this game was the unfortunate injury to Cian Hanley who would agonisingly miss the final. The final pitted Mayo against more Ulster opponents in Tyrone, who were very lucky to beat Roscommon in their semi-final. Mayo played some brilliant football, urged on by the huge Mayo support. The full forward line of Darragh Doherty, Liam Irwin, and Tommy Conroy scored 2-09 of the 2-13 total. We were given the scare of our lives when Tyrone pulled a goal back in the dying moments but the Tommy Markham Cup was won for the first time since 1985. The celebrations in Croke Park after the final whistle will be something I will never forget.
Connacht's Super-15 winning captain, Craig Clarke, is expected to make his debut for the province this weekend against Newcastle Falcons.
Welcome to my first column as a writer. For the rest of the summer at least, I intend to discuss, analyse and give my opinion on all matters GAA at club and inter-county level. Feel free to e-mail me any comments or opinions you may have. For the week that’s in it my mind in focused on one thing only and there’s no prizes for guessing what that is. Mayo welcome Roscommon to Castlebar on Sunday for the Connacht semi-final and a right to play either London or Leitrim in the Connacht final. It sounds a bit surreal, but yes, London could be in a Connacht final. With the current upheaval in Leitrim and four players designated to the scrapheap for disciplinary reasons I may just fancy a flutter on London to make the final. Leitrim have a small enough panel to pick from without losing players, most notably Wayne McKeon, arguably one of their best players, but that’s for another day.
It has taken a little over 210 minutes of championship football to get here. Leitrim, Sligo and Down all stood in the way, but were not up to the challenge. On Sunday things get very real, but this is what Mayo have been preparing for ever since the final whistle blew in the same venue in last year’s All Ireland semi-final against Kerry. They are back to where they want to be, their fourth championship game in a five game series they hope will end in victory and a place in the All Ireland final for the first time in six years and another crack at bringing Sam Maguire back to Mayo. But that is another battle to be fought at a later date, and all that will be on Mayo minds on Sunday is the game ahead of them.
I sent a text to a Dublin friend of mine at half time during Mayo’s match against Down last Saturday telling him that, for the first time ever while following Mayo teams in Croke Park, I was going to sit back, relax, and enjoy the second half safe in the knowledge that we had almost definitely secured our place in the last four.
It often takes a piece of individual magic to separate teams in a tight contest and so it proved in Pearse Stadium on Sunday. St Mary’s Leaving Cert student Fiach Ó Bearra stroked over a spectacular winner to see Micheal Breathnachs defeat an unlucky St Michael’s by 0-10 to 1-6.