Castlebar show their intentions
THE more we see of him, the more we are convinced that only at midfield is the talent of Castlebar’s Aidan Walsh fully employed. Pat Holmes wisely left the former minor star out of their championship opener at Kiltane on Saturday ... out of a contest, too robust a challenge, it seemed, for the fine skills of the young man.
But when the Mitchels were in desperate need of a boost in the final quarter, Walsh it was who helped turn the tide revealing vigour at Bangor to match any occasion.
Together with Seán Ryder and that foxy old stager Kevin Filan, the three were impact substitutions perfectly timed by Holmes to push Castlebar over the line when they had begun to limp dangerously towards the edge of the cliff.
Barry Moran sparked their recovery when he shook off a series of tackles before poaching their first point of the second half. It was a smidgen of the leadership James Horan has been coaxing from the big man for his county side. His was a good, solid performance – especially in the final quarter.
So how now stand the Mitchels after killing off whatever hopes Kiltane harboured of repeating the giant-killing act of last season, when Knockmore fell victim to their power?
While it is too soon to make any plausible evaluation of their ability to re-capture old glory, nobody can ignore the earnestness with which they have begun the season.
The return of Tom Cunniffe has added a greater dimension to their options, and a fit Danny Kirby is an undeniable asset. But it is the consistently hard graft of Richie Feeney and huge the productivity of Niall Lydon that is driving Mitchels right now. The two were the principal props of their win in Bangor.
The re-acquisition of Ronan O’Boyle is big bonus, and Holmes has also succeeded in converting one of his outstanding backs, Donal Newcombe, into a serious striker.
Visitors tread cautiously in Bangor, the cemetery of so many good intentions. And recalling the fate of Knockmore at the same venue at the same stage of the championship last season had Castlebar forewarned.
Even so, it took character to hold out against a side with a reputation for demolishing high fliers on their home patch. And even if the five-point margin does not fully reflect how tight it was, or how fragile Castlebar looked for a while in the second half, you could not fault their efforts.
In the shimmering heat of Saturday evening, the raw grandeur of Bangor was appealing. Emigration has drained the area of its youth over the years. And even for training purposes the full squad is never available, most of them outside the borders of the county. Yet stoically they carry on, the spirit of its people encapsulated in the club’s fight for survival against so much adversity.
For more than three-quarters of the hour they matched what Castlebar threw at them, and for a while their aggressive style drove at the heart of the mental frailties that have beset the Mitchels in the past.
They took no prisoners. Pat Deane, PJ Gaughan, Darragh Carey, Edmond Barrett, Ultan Corrigan, Mikey Sweeney and John Reilly left no one in doubt about their intentions. They just did not have enough players of that calibre to turn the tide, however, and they also met a side that seems at last to be facing up to the susceptibilities that have cost them dearly these past few years.
The progress of Pat Holmes’ charges will, however, be accurately measured only when they come face to face with the men to whom they have played second best two years in a row.
'Tubber lay down another marker
BALLINTUBBER showed no sign of a diminishing hunger when powering to a 14-point victory over their old rivals Breaffy at Clogher on Sunday.
We had it billed as one of the most attractive duels of the day, but of course that hinged on the fitness of Seamus O’Shea, and the big man didn’t make it. Whether he would have made much difference I’m not so sure, having watched the way the champions brushed aside the challengers, leaving no on in doubt about their determination to hold onto the Moclair Cup.
Breaffy fought nobly, but there was an inevitability about the outcome from the beginning. Even though scores were hard enough to come by in first half, Ballintubber, despite the sapping soaring temperatures of the afternoon, had the determined look of a side that will not easily relent in their quest for another title.
Playing now with the experience of veterans, they have formed a solid core of resistance to whatever is thrown at them, and on Sunday their half-back line of Myles Kelly, Tom Earley and Ruaidhrí O’Connor scarcely put a foot wrong.
Nor did Jason Gibbons or Danny Geraghty concede any ground to Peter Dravins and Tommy Canavan at midfield, perhaps Breaffy’s least troubled area. Up front the threat came not only from county stars Alan Dillon and Cillian O’Connor but equally also from Alan Plunkett, Damien McGing, Pádraic O’Connor and Damien Coleman.
Peter Ford will base no predictions on a victory this one-sided, and no doubt he would have wished for a stiffer challenge on home ground. But those who have elevated Castlebar Mitchels to title favourites might rethink their forecasts in the light of the champions’ display of power.
Two emerge from the chasing pack
ONE result on Sunday that was not envisaged was Ballinrobe’s victory over Crossmolina, an indication not so much of how the Deel Rovers have regressed, but how Ballinrobe have improved.
The South Mayo side have been lacking in heart these past few years and, decimated by injury, retirements and emigration, this was not expected to be a season any better.
To have ventured into enemy territory and come away with a win over the seven-times senior champions and former All-Ireland winners is a huge boost for the club. And while it will not advance them to favourites’ territory to win the championship, it shows they are on the right track, and a big threat to any side that would treat them lightly.
At the same time, the decline of a great club is always a matter of regret. Six years have passed since Crossmolina won the title for the seventh time, and they have not yet recovered from the loss of the Nallens. In fact, many of those who were on that last successful side are still playing, and the old verve is no longer what it once was.
Another inspiring result was Westport’s away draw with Ballina Stephenites which suggests that the league win of the seasiders over Knockmore was no fluke.
Tomás Tierney is welding a team of talent and physical strength that will be a test for any side, including the champions and the pretenders. It’s good to see new clubs emerging with the potential to oust some of the regulars. Westport and Ballinrobe are just two to watch this season.
Just a thought …
Saturday evening fixtures are becoming fashionable for the championship and Galway’s meeting with Sligo at Pearse Stadium on June 9 will answer one question: will it draw a bigger attendance that a Sunday fixture?