IN the aftermath of the excitement generated by the county team all summer the club championships offered no insight into similar expectations. The talk all year had been of the Mitchels being odds on to capture their third title on the trot, their first treble in some sixty years.
It was left to the likes of Ballintubber, Breaffy and Knockmore to foil general expectations or at least to provide decent opposition to the Mitchels’ aspirations.
Doubts about their strength arose when the county champions lost a vital league match to Breaffy a couple of weeks back, and their final group game to Ballina Stephenites subsequently.
Was this the beginning of the end? Had the Mitchels lost some of their old lustre? Were joint managers Declan O’Reilly and Declan Shaw holding something back, or in fielding under strength sides were they playing with fire?
True, injuries and postponements had hampered their preparations, but no more so than other clubs. Only Barry Moran of the Mayo contingent, and he briefly, had sampled the club atmosphere before the first knockout test.
And when it became known that Knockmore were providing the opposition in that test in Ballina fears for the Mitchels title were given substance. Knockmore, perennial occupiers of the knockout series, had honed their preparations for a real tilt at the title by dismissing Westport in the group final. This was their chance.
And they spurned it. On Saturday their hopes became no more than another pipedream when the Mitchels regained enough of their old form to elbow them out of the competition.
In eliminating their principal antagonists in their first real test of the competition the champions had put an end to speculation that they were a spent force.
According to reports, however, they were not so imperious in ousting the North Mayo men. Were it not for the brilliance of Paddy Durcan, they say, they might not have survived. The Mayo star’s return was a godsend. His goal, the only one of the match was the catalyst.
While one tricky rival is out of the way, the manner of their win has not quite killed speculation about their true form. In the light of their big win over Ballina Stephenites last weekend, Garrymore present a new obstacle.
Up to this Garry’ would not have been considered among the more serious adversaries of the county champions.
Now assumptions are less certain. Their meeting in the semi-final on Sunday (1.45pm) is not the easy spring into the final that many expect. That old Garrymore fire is beginning to reignite. They come as outsiders believing the Mitchels are on a downturn. This could be interesting.
Following further events at MacHale Park last weekend the Mitchels are not now the overwhelming favourites to retain the title and that may well suit a side that is steeped in experience.
Breaffy caught cold by Claremorris ambush
BREAFFY is no longer in the frame. Their hopes lie in smithereens in MacHale Park, toppled in the whirlwind rise of Claremoris. The shock of their defeat still echoes around the county.
With big wins over Castlebar and Ballaghaderreen their stock had soared. But their dream is over once more and like Knockmore their perceived threat to the Mitchels has fallen by the wayside.
Claremorris came offering nothing but youthful opposition. And for long periods their shortcomings in experience were exposed. Without Seamus O’Shea and Michael Hall, victims of ‘flu, Breaffy purred along, but were never too far ahead to shake off their challengers.
Four points behind coming to the end of the third quarter might have dented the spirit of more experienced sides. But a young team with nothing to lose took on the might of Breaffy who had failed to capitalise on several goal chances through the course of the game.
And it was youth that wreaked the damage. Ten of them under 21 with no regard for reputations, youth that ran and tackled and foiled in bunches, leaving Breaffy scoreless for the final twenty minutes.
Having scented the possibility of an upset after James McCormack’s inspirational point, they clamped down on the opposition, tackled in numbers, swarmed over every Breaffy man, hounding them and wearing them down.
What also stood to Claremorris was that no star emerged brighter than any of the others. From Alvin McCallig in goal to Sean Diskin at corner forward, including the subs used, there was balance and uniformity and chemistry, all of them playing for one another.
No doubt it has been the shock of the championship so far. And there will be plenty of suspense in Claremorris as they await the outcome of the replay between Ballintubber and Hollymount/Carramore this Wednesday evening.
This was the match that chased the ordinariness out of the championship, the steady-as-you-go average standards tossed up in boring encounters. This quarter-final raised the bar.
Played at a blistering pace and a standard that left you breathless as both sides traded score after brilliant score it ended as every neutral would have wanted . . . in a draw.
Only on one occasion did Ballintubber trail in the second quarter when Kevin Feerick, nudged Holly’ ahead with one of his five well-taken points. Gradually the former champions inched in front and by half-time when four points ahead you might have given them the nod.
But the burning commitment of the south side ensured it would be no easy trot. The standard of the exchanges rose as both sides reshaped their challenge.
Ballintubber stood at fourteen points some eight minutes into the second half. Their opponents caught up ten minutes later, the scores from both sides of a different class.
From that moment on it was point for point, Ballintubber nosing ahead, Holly’ hauling them back. The former champions seemed to have clinched it when Alan Dillon fired over their seventeenth point on the stroke of full time.
But with almost the lack kick of the game, Conor Keane equalised and the quality of the score merited a draw.
All of Ballintubber’s forwards scored, Cillian leading the bunch with six points, Alan Dillon and Conor Finnerty bagging three apiece, all wrung from a fierce determination to get over the line.
Only three of Holly’s forwards racked up scores. But the sum of those three amounted to fifteen points, Darren Coen hauling in six, Kevin Feerick five, and Conor Keane four.
Coen’s bag was notable for the accuracy from distance and angles of some of his points; one from play near the end when he chipped the ball into his hand on the run up the right wing and swung over a point was of a quality too rarely seen throughout the county.
The winners of Wednesday’s replay will meet Claremorris on Sunday in the semi-final. They will be expected to progress, but so soon after the replay it may eat into their fund of energy.
Claremorris will not complain.