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An unexpected final pairing in Mayo

Sean Rice

Seán Rice

CASTLEBAR finally got Ballintubber out of their hair. The Abbey men were the bane the Mitchels had been unable to shed. On several occasions it was Ballintubber who stood between them and success. When they eventually made the breakthrough, the Mitchels were too well aware that their neighbours had not been among their conquests.
This was the chance to wipe away the dark memories of those defeats. And while Ballintubber are not the power they once were, the Mitchels difficulty in getting by them was plain to be seen.
You would not have guessed that in the opening minutes when Douglas in a flash had scored with left and right boots to set the Michels comfortably on the road.
But although with the help of the wind, they struggled to copper-fasten that lead ... despite the fact that Ballintubber themselves were also struggling.
In fact, the former champs did not register their first score until Cillian O’Connor popped over their first from a free in the 22nd minute. He added another just before the end of the half leaving only four between them at the break .. a meagre margin for all of the Mitchels dominance.
It was, however, an indication of the decline of the Abbeysiders that not until second-half injury time could they manage their first score from play ... a goal by Danny Geraghty, when defeat was already ordained.
It was a scrappy game with a fair bit of customary friction between Mayo players on both sides. It did not live up to expectations either in quality or excitement, spoiled by packed defending that curtailed created scoring opportunities.
In winning, however, the Mitchels earned no right to enter the final as firm favourites. Despite an impressive start, nothing about them suggested they are the force that reached the All-Ireland final last season.
Knockmore will not be overawed by the performance of the reigning champions. Orchestrated by Kevin McLoughlin from midfield, they play the wings purposefully, where Keith Ruttledge is fast and incisive.
The possible match-ups are many and varied, and both managers have plenty of options. A potential battle is looming between McLoughlin and either Aidan Walsh or Barry Moran, neither of whom maybe sufficient supple to quell the threat of the Knockmore man.
McLoughlin is smart and elusive. He has the ability and the engine to pop up anywhere in the field and turn defence into sudden, swift counterattack.
Knockmore do not have an Aidan O’Shea to contend with, and it will be of interest how their tough centre back Andrew Keane tries to resist the attacking qualities of pint-sized Cian Costello.
Yellow-carded and then shown a red on Sunday for dragging Aidan O’Shea to the ground, Keane’s might be a much more difficult problem in dealing with the subtle, crafty Costello.
The battle between the Mitchels’ Ger McDonagh and Knockmore’s full-forward Kieran Langan could be decisive. And between Darren McHale and Paddy Durcan there ought to be an intriguing contest as the Knockmore man attempts to tease out any lingering disappointment from Durcan’s All-Ireland exertions.
On the other wing, Ray O’Malley will have his hands full in trying to suppress the thrusts of Ruttledge who was one of Knockmore’s top performers on Sunday. And there ought also to be a fair old scrap between Eoghan O’Reilly at centre half-back for Castlebar and the strong, accurate Colm Reape.
In defeating arch enemy Ballintubber, the Mitchels looked cumbersome, a side that could be caught out not by ordinary catch and kick skills but by a pacier, more nimble opposition.
Against Breaffy, Knockmore had all of those virtues as well as that old Knockmore fire that has stood to them so often in the past.
The experience they have gained in reaching the All-Ireland club final will stand to Castlebar, but they would be foolish to think that in Knockmore they face a side less determined or less skilled than themselves.
It is to be hoped it is a final worthy of the occasion and a lot better that the fare on show at MacHale Park last week.

Search for new Mayo talent goes on

MORE than once over the past six seasons, we have returned from defeats in Croke Park assuming the local senior championship to uncover that emerging star that would heave Mayo over the line next time.
More than once we have been disappointed.
Looking on at the weekend, few pouring out of MacHale Park embraced any hope of new talent springing from the semi-finals of the senior championship in which Castlebar Mitchels and surprise packet Knockmore qualified for the final.
Of the four teams in action, only Knockmore revealed any real itch for success with their deserved two-point win over favourites Breaffy.
Maybe we expected too much following the prodigious performances of Mayo in the All-Ireland final. Maybe the long wait for the completion of the championship, the difficulties experienced of players peaking too soon for rescheduled games, had blunted the cutting edge of their ardour.
Whatever it was, the county talent you would hope to see emerge from the top four senior teams was scant, and you could only wonder what went through Stephen Rochford’s mind as he begins to plan for the new season.
He might like to see in action again Keith Ruttledge and Darren McHale, two Knockmore players who played significant roles in toppling Breaffy, and most certainly Neil Douglas, who was the leading light in Castlebar’s six-point win over Ballintubber.
When Tommy O’Reilly rattled home Breaffy’s goal in the 22nd minute to take them within a point of Knockmore, expectations of victory it seemed were about to be fulfilled.
Up to that point Knockmore had done all the running. They had piled up seven points before Breaffy had their opener. But the goal against the wind (and against the run of play) seemed set to unleash the potential of the favourites.
By half-time just a point separated them and you felt that against the strong wind in the second half Knockmore would be overwhelmed.
Not a bit of it. Within minutes of the restart, Ruttledge and Peter Naughton had shot the North Mayo side into a lead of three points and, failing to exploit the wind advantage, Breaffy’s dream began to dissipate.
Knockmore defended like demons, Shane McHale, Justin Rice, Nathan Hardy and Marcus Park denying Breaffy any clear opportunity.
Kevin McLoughlin shone brightest of the Mayo stars on view in the two games, his deliveries deadly accurate, his burst of speed devastating at times.
An interesting duel emerged between Breaffy’s full-back David Gavin and Kieran Langan, and while the Knockmore man bagged a couple of points, he was foiled on many occasions by the tenacious defender.
Breaffy as always depended on Aidan O’Shea to dig out a win. But as ever the big man was the target of the abuse he so consistently attracts and which referees and linesmen ignore too often.
All round though there was no denying that Knockmore were the better side, more agile, quicker to the ball and fiercely determined.

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