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Hat-trick on for champions Ballintubber

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Hat-trick on for champions

WE hadn’t figured on Ballaghaderreen reaching the county senior final this season. In fact we wrongly predicted that Castlebar Mitchels would swap places on the pinnacle with Ballintubber.
At their third attempt the Mitchels ought to have had the measure of the champions who had denied them in the last two finals. But when it came to the squeeze ­this time in the quarter-finals ­Castlebar hadn’t the heart for it.
Thus Ballintubber clambered back into their third final in a row following a late victory over Crossmolina in the semi-final.
Having already joined a special group of back-to-back title winners, the champions now stand on the doorstep to the pantheon of elite three-in-a-row title victors, a feat not realised in Mayo for thirty-six years.
Garrymore in 1976 are the last club to have won a trinity of senior titles. And the fact that so many top clubs in the county, including All-Ireland champions Crossmolina and Ballina Stephenites, have failed to achieve the distinction is an indication of the size of the hurdle that confronts the current champions.
Ballaghaderreen, although in senior football much longer than their opponents, have not yet enjoyed a brace of uninterrupted senior titles. Like the champions, they boast of two, their first in 1972, their last four years ago.
But they have underachieved. More was expected from a team of such diverse talents. Take a look at the stature of the men that hold key positions on that team — Phillip and Keith Rogers, Stephen Drake, Barry Kelly, James and David Kilcullen, Barry Regan, Joe Dillon and Andy Moran, a group of which any manager would be envious.
Yet in terms of outright success they have fallen disappointingly short. One senior title seems scant return for such sterling quality.
Their make-up hasn’t change much from that which landed the club’s second title four years ago.  Including subs, at least eleven of that all conquering side will tog out on Sunday, and the memory of the experience ought to stand to them.
But, like Mayo, they must make-do without Andy Moran. And if Mayo had reason to lament the absence of their captain’s leadership in the All-Ireland final how much greater is the feeling of loss in Ballaghaderreen! Moran has been the soul of their rebirth.
Even without Moran, Ballagh seemed to have had the semi-final tied down until Knockmore’s Declan Sweeney scared the living daylights out of them with a couple of breath-taking misses in the dying minutes.
Ballagh’ had the chances to kill off the game before that, but they went to sleep and let Knockmore back into it, a recurring flaw for which they almost paid a heavy price.
Ballintubber¹s escape was no less disquieting. They were within ten minutes of losing the title. They were eventually hauled to safety only by the experience garnered from their time at the top . . . which galvanised their reluctance to yield to high-spirited Crossmolina.
The champions have their own loss to grieve since Cillian O’Connor picked up a shoulder injury a couple of weeks ago. They missed him profoundly in the semi-final, and Peter Ford has no replacement of similar repute for the final. Alan Plunkett’s forced withdrawal because of injury was also a seismic blow.
The big battles will be played out at midfield where Jason Gibbons and Danny Geraghty lock horns with Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen. Gibbons is close to realising his full county potential and how he performs on Sunday will be significant. Geraghty has bulk and coolness and is also on the Mayo fringes.
But Kilcullen and Kelly are hardened competitors, muscular and experienced and have had outings with Mayo in the past. Kelly, the more mobile, is likely to be picked up by Gibbons with Kilcullen and Geraghty slogging it out around the centre. Little in the way of midfield flair separates the two pairs, but victory could be created in this sector.
Ballintubber are not as well fleshed out up front as Ballagh’s David Kilcullen, Andy Hanley, Joe Dillon and Barry Regan. Nor have Myles Kelly, Tom Earley, Liam Tunney and Cathal Hallinan experienced so concentrated a quartet of physical power this season.
But neither have the challengers a forward as influential as Alan Dillon is for his club. He is the cog on which the whole forward line turns, the one who can find solutions to whatever problem emerges throughout the hour.
Ballagh’ will try to tie him down, to negate his clout, but few have ever fully curbed his mercuriality. Without O’Connor, the burden falls heavier on Dillon, so it is up to Padraic O’Connor, Damien McGing, Kevin McGuinness, Damien Coleman and Alan Plunkett if he is fit, to lighten that load on their star player.
Four years ago the two drew in the quarter-final, but Ballagh’ won the replay easily and went on to claim the crown. They’ll have that in mind on Sunday.
Ballintubber, however, are two titles wiser since then. They are not at their best just now, but if they are to oust them Ballagh’ will have to show much more consistency than their semi-final revealed.

Charlestown back on top once again
YOU’VE got to hand it to Charlestown. A year after suffering the humiliation of relegation they are back in senior football.
They did not hang about feeling sorry for themselves after the drop. They regrouped, worked hard and were rewarded with a four-point win over luckless Burrishoole in Sunday’s Intermediate final.
Three successive county final defeats are hard to take. And the men from the west must be wondering what they have to do to regain a title they last won twenty years ago.
If they had maintained the pace and shape they set over the first fifteen minutes they would be celebrating today. But when Charlestown nosed ahead with a rather fortunate goal by Joe Owens eight before half-time you could sense Burrishoole hearts sinking.
They never did recover and although only four points separated them, the goal that would have re-kindled their early spirit did not materialise.
It was, however, a well-contested final, especially the first half. And Charlestown can thank the performances of Aidan Higgins at wing-back, Tom Parsons at midfield and Anthony Mulligan at full-forward for setting the example for their colleagues.
It was good to see Parsons produce the promise he had shown as an underage player. His fielding, his tackling and his work rate reached heights of which we knew he was capable, but which were rarely realised. On Sunday his was a performance that must tempt a recall by James Horan.
Another feature of the game was the return to Charlestown of one of their colourful and inspirational players of the past. David Tiernan has now entered the gloaming of his football career, but he was still good enough to be called off the bench to make a serious contribution in the final 15 minutes.
Burrishoole missed three points from frees in the early minutes of the second half which did not help their confidence. And while David Nevin, Darragh Drumm, David Keane, Liam O’Malley, Jason Doherty and Enda McManamon strove to make amends, they lacked the frontline power to break through the Charlestown defence.
the late paddy jordan
THE death of Paddy Jordan at the weekend removes another of that gallant gang of men who helped Mayo to their last All-Ireland victory in 1951.
Ballina man Paddy was not among the first fifteen of that Mayo squad, but he was prominent among the subs, a reliable old back-up warrior whose presence was equally significant as those in the limelight so long ago.
Peace to his gentle soul.

Just a thought …
LEAGUE finalists Mayo have drawn four home games for the Allianz sponsored event which re-commences in February. They will have visits from Kerry, Tyrone, Kildare and Donegal. They travel to Down and Cork.

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