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West Mayo neighbours dominate title race

Sport

FLASHBACK  Castlebar Mitchels' Barry Moran is pictured in action against Ballintubber's Cathal Hallinan during the 2010 Mayo SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile

Analysis
Edwin McGreal

SEVEN years on and Ballintubber and Castlebar Mitchels go toe-to-toe once more in a Mayo SFC Final on Sunday.
That 2010 decider was Ballintubber’s first ever senior final, while Mitchels were chasing their first senior title in 17 years.
It turned out that Castlebar would have to wait.
It wasn’t a classic final, by any means, and the final scoreline tells its own story, 0-8 to 0-5, but that mattered little to ‘The Boys from the Tubber’.
They made history but didn’t settle for just one piece of glory.
They returned to beat Mitchels in the 2011 showpiece and were on the brink of three-in-a-row in 2012, only for Ballaghaderreen to deny them in the final.
After losing those two finals in 2010 and 2011, Mitchels must have asked would they ever get over the line. Ballintubber beat them in the 2012 quarter-final and you wondered had their chance come and gone.
But since then Castlebar have won three of the last four Moclair Cups and are now chasing a hat-trick of county titles.
The fact that their old nemesis Ballintubber stand in their way adds to the intrigue ahead of this latest renewal.
The records prove just how dominant these teams have been as they’ve won six of the last seven Mayo championships between them (three apiece).
Only Ballagh’ broke their stranglehold in 2012.
Indeed, only four times since Ballintubber and Castlebar first faced off in the 2010 decider have any other club made the final. Ballagh’ did so successfully in 2012 while Breaffy were beaten finalists in 2013 and 2015 and Knockmore last year.
Ballintubber appear to be the only team who have Castlebar’s number in the Mayo senior championship, and they are the only club to beat the Mitchels in the knock-out stages from 2010 on.
They beat them in finals in 2010, 2011 and 2014 and in the 2012 quarter-final.
While Castlebar have lost group games in this time – this year against Ballina and in 2012 v Crossmolina – when it has been do-or-die, only Ballintubber have bested them.
That’s all the more reason that Garrymore’s draw with Mitchels last Sunday should be lauded.
It was the first time since Charlestown beat Mitchels in the 2009 semi-final that anyone but Ballintubber has got a result against Castlebar in a knock-out game in Mayo in the last eight seasons.
But while Ballintubber have been Castlebar’s nemesis on many occasions – beating them in each of their county final wins in 2010, 2011 and 2014 – the Tubber have lost to other clubs in that time too — Ballagh’ (2012), Knockmore (2013 quarter-final) and Breaffy (2015 semi-final).
Their 2016 semi-final defeat to Castlebar was the first time in this era that Mitchels beat them in a knock-out game. Castlebar did, of course, win a group stage clash between the two giants in 2014.
They won that battle but lost the war, Ballintubber avenging that defeat in the county final.
Success on Sunday for Mitchels would end a run of three consecutive final defeats to Ballintubber.
Both teams have been remarkably consistent in the group stages.
Defeats to Castlebar in 2014 and Hollymount/Carramore in 2016 represent Ballintubber’s only defeats in 24 group games from 2010 on. It’s the very same record Castlebar enjoy.
It’s remarkable consistency by both teams since the 2010 final, played under a shadow after the tragic deaths of Ger Feeney and Donal McEllin in the run-up to that final.
Ger Feeney, who played with both clubs, and watched his sons Richie and Alan star with Mitchels, would have been in his element watching them share dominance this decade.
And when you look at the average age of both teams, you can see how well primed each side is to stay at the top for a few years yet.
The average age of the Ballintubber starting team in their semi-final win over Claremorris was 27.3 years. For a club team, it’s a healthy mean.
Castlebar are younger still, the team that started Wednesday’s replay against Garrymore have an average age of just 25.67 years.
So while 2010 may have been the beginning, the end seems nowhere in sight for these two behemoths of the Mayo club scene.

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