SUNDAY’S treble was Castlebar Mitchels’ first in 65 years. Patsy Horkan would scarcely have anticipated a chasm so wide when he won the fourth of his nine county senior medals against Claremorris that August day in 1952.
As the Mitchels retraced some of the old lustre of the fifties on Sunday what memories it must have evoked for Patsy as he watched from the stand in MacHale Park.
He would not have counted on a full-back scoring two points. Full-backs did not move from their positions in those days. Nor did wing backs, or half-backs much.
That’s how much the game has changed. Backs have become forwards, and forwards backs. And it was two inspirational points from full-back Ger McDonagh that nailed down the Mitchels’ win on Sunday.
They have known lean times in the span of those years. Not a senior title was won for two decades during which for a period they slumped to an embarrassing nadir with a short spell in intermediate football.
All that dissipated on Sunday when team captain Rory Byrne accepted the Moclair Cup, emulating a similar achievement by his grandfather Tommy Byrne who was the goalkeeper and captain of the winning side of 1950. The trophy Tommy received was known then as the Ward Cup.
Rory played a captain’s part in Sunday¹s victory and has been one of the mainstays of the Mitchels’ success throughout the past couple of seasons.
But in essence it was a team victory.
All year the Mitchels were strong favourites to complete the treble. Over the last few weeks, following defeats by Breaffy and Ballina Stephenites, that expectation took a buffeting. But their own confidence never waned, even for a while after the interval when it seemed that Ballintubber were beginning to wear them down.
It was then the leaders stood up. All through, the duel between Barry Moran and Jason Gibbons was the highlight, and there was no doubt about the winner of the aerial battle.
The slimmed-down Moran had his best game for the winners for some time, pulling in three excellent points.
Gibbons, however, was by no means brushed out of the game. He has been at his best for a long time. The amount of ground he covered, and his insightful passing, will have been noted by Mayo manager Stephen Rochford who was in the audience, and has yet to decide whether to return to his post.
Danny Kirby was another to push himself in a game the standard of which was no more than mediocre but was redeemed by the accuracy of some of the scoring. Cillian O’Connor, tightly marked by Ger McDonagh, scored six points, five from frees, one from the right win with his left foot.
His brother Diarmuid did not leave a huge mark on the proceedings, thanks to the work of Ray O’Malley. But the one point he got with his left foot, after Cillian was dismissed near the end for two yellow card offences, was magnificent.
To Paddy Durcan was given the task of curbing the threat of Alan Dillon and his work was thorough and competent, and behind him Johnny Maughan, who has fitted into the team like a glove, and Donie Newcombe were solid and uncompromising.
Myles Kelly, David Clarke, Brian Murphy and Michael Plunkett formed a sturdy Ballintubber defensive unit that the Mitchels were unable to pierce. On no occasion was goalkeeper Brendan Walsh under any significant pressure.
It was those outside the perimeter of the attack who accounted for the bulk of the scores: Moran, Kirby, Eoghan O’Reilly and McDonagh — together with five from frees from the accurate foot of David Stenson.
James Durcan, before being dismissed for a black card offence, had reeled in two points, and his loss was severely fell afterwards.
But they recovered to wring out their finest success in six decades, a tribute to all, and especially managers Declan O’Reilly and Declan Shaw.
Cora set to take Aussies by storm
SHE has not featured in this column on many occasions much to the writer’s shame. But she has never been far from our thoughts. Who could ignore a footballer of the calibre of Cora Staunton?
No other woman across this country has matched her contribution to ladies football, not her scoring record, nor the constant high quality of her performances. She stands alone, her achievements simply incomparable.
For more than twenty years Cora has been the shining light of the women¹s game, the woman all other teams fear. No plan drawn up by any opposing manager down the years has managed to rein in the skills of the Carnacon cyclone. For years they have been looking forward to the announcement of her retirement.
Retire? Not a notion. Instead there she is bounding across to the other side of the world to test with the Great Western Sydney Giants the professional waters in Australia, still as eager, as ambitious and courageous as ever.
If she hadn’t already been one, Cora is now a celebrity, the first overseas woman to be drafted into the Aussies’ game. Attracted by her leadership qualities, she joins the Giants on a four-month contract, without neglecting Carnacon¹s pursuit of All-Ireland honours.
The Aussie mentors see in Cora the leader who will drive the Giants’ training standards. But the characteristics of this remarkable woman are such that she will be much more that a training template for her new young colleagues.
She will not be content until she has mastered the practical skills and technicalities of the new game. Footage from Sydney has already captured her handling and kicking the oval ball with some conviction. By December when she assumes her new role the innate talent of the Mayo star will have become unmistakeable.
Coming to the end of her career this is for her a new learning curve that will further her ambition and extend the period of fulfilment with which football has blessed her for the past two decades. May she continue to prosper in her new surroundings.
Mayo and Galway cross paths again
HOPES for an easy run in Connacht next season evaporated in the championship draw on Thursday night when Mayo were paired with Galway in the first round. Following their gruelling trek to the All-Ireland final last season, Mayo could not have asked for a more difficult start to next year’s campaign.
It is the sixth successive meeting of the two in the championship and their third in the early rounds. Mayo have lost to the Tribesmen for the past two seasons, and the loser of this fixture in MacHale Park must win some seven games before reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals.
As happened last year, the draw favours Roscommon whose first game will be a semi-final clash with either New York or Leitrim.
Sligo travel to Ruislip for their preliminary with London the winners of which meet either Mayo or Galway in the semi-final. The Connacht campaign must be completed in six weeks. Food for thought for managers!