Having tread parallel courses all year a final meeting between the two goliaths was inevitable. In their respective counties each had been the one to beat . . . and each had proved unbeatable. The ultimate test for both arrives on Sunday when they clash at Tuam and when the season for one will finally stutter to a halt.
Connacht challenges between Castlebar Mitchels and Corofin are becoming refreshingly common. Strands of county rivalry reflect the intensity of their clashes and the unpredictability of the outcomes.
The pity is that games of this nature run into winter when underfoot conditions are heavy, the weather off-putting, and with only the supporters of the two teams finding the energy to travel.
Corofin have dominated football in Galway for many years and nobody personifies the spirit that drives them more than defender Kieran Fitzgerald who holds twelve county senior championship medals, equalling the record set by former club mate Trevor Burke.
Only one Mayo man is credited with similar success. The late Josie Munnelly garnered most of his dozen in the forties and fifties with Castlebar Mitchels, a record unlikely to be emulated in the county where the championship is now so hotly contested.
There was no national club championship in Munnelly’s days, but with that same kind of tenacity that propels the Corofin man, Munnelly, at the age of 42, won an All-Ireland junior medal with Mayo twenty-one years after playing in the team that claimed the county’s first senior All-Ireland.
Make no mistake, this has all the makings of a gigantic struggle. It will be their fourth meeting since 2013 and their second final. The Mitchels had a point to spare in their first clash, a semi-final in Tuam.
They followed up with victory by five points in the Connacht final in 2015, also in Tuam. Last year, in the penultimate game before Christmas, Corofin avenged that defeat with three to spare after extra-time at MacHale Park.
Tuam, therefore, has been the luckier of the venues for the Mitchels and having celebrated three titles back-to-back for the first time in over six decades they are hoping to continue in that vein with their third victory at the same venue over the Galway men.
It is the hurdle at which many think they might stumble. Six experienced members of that winning side of 2013 have left including the Feeney brothers, Neil Lydon and Tom Cunniffe.
Bar a tweak here and there, Sunday’s side will be on the same lines as that sent out against the Galway champions in the semi-final last season. The central figures remain Barry Moran, Paddy Durcan, Neil Douglas, Eoghan O’Reilly Ger McDonagh and Donie Newcombe.
Not much change either in the home lineout. Micheál Lundy, Colin Brady and Martin Farragher have nudged their way into the team and strengthened it.
Michael Farragher and Ronan Steede negotiate around midfield and that ought to be an interesting area of conflict where Moran and Aidan Walsh, sometimes Eoghan O’Reilly, operate for the Mitchels. Tough exchanges are expected with little room for finesse.
Ger McDonagh at full back against Martin Farragher ought to present an interesting duel. But the real dangermen in the Corofin attack are Ian Burke and Jason Leonard. Both account for the bulk of the scores. So the scrap between Newcombe and Burke alone will be worth travelling to see.
The outcome of other gigantic tussles between Gary Sice and Paddy Durcan, Johnny Maughan and Leonard, and Neil Douglas and Ciarán McGrath will be decisive. Douglas has not yet rediscovered the form that terrorised defences in the last few years. This is his chance to reinvent the old adventurous Douglas.
Their tough game with St Brigids’ will have sharpened Corofin and they are clear favourites to succeed. Castlebar maybe a little light up front but they compensate in speed and invention, and in an attack conscious back line that can open channels for James Durcan, Cian Costello, David Stenson and Danny Kirby to squeeze through for winning scores.
Ireland go down under Aussie surge
Despite a vastly improved second test, which they lost by three points, the winning of the International Rules series posed insurmountable difficulties for Ireland once they lost the first test by ten points.
That first defeat was due more to setbacks beyond their control, but they made a valiant effort on Saturday to retain the Cormac McAnallen Trophy. For most of the eighty minutes they had the measure of the professionals, but were unable to maintain the intensity in the final quarter when Australia came from behind to steal the game.
Ireland had their chances to win, but too much delay between idea and execution played into the hands of the Australians. Hesitation while in possession even for split seconds invited crushing tackles at which the home side were adept.
But it was good to see Mayo men leading the charge at the start of Saturday’s test. Team captain Aidan O’Shea and Chris Barrett, whose rating has soared this season, were vital links in the two goals that wiped out the deficit in the early minutes of the game.
New ground for Lahardane
In winning the Connacht Junior final on Sunday, Lahardane produced a quality beyond the norm in Junior football. You would not have thought they had never won a county Junior title before, much less a Connacht crown, so skilfully did they navigate around hotly tipped Sligo champions Ballymote.
Speed was their fundamental asset but the manner in which they won possession, tackled and played for one another revealed maturity rarely observed in first timers.
Against the wind in the first half they were confident and polished . . . maintaining their shape after conceding a goal in the opening seconds and another in the final seconds of the half.
Trailing by four points at the interval they cast aside any semblance of nervousness and in no time at all had raced into a lead. Using the wings to good effect their fast breaks out of defence had the Sligo champions stretched to breaking point.
And the alertness of their captain Gary Naughton in exploiting a poor Ballymote clearance to grab their only goal exemplified their conviction.
The midfielder together with Tony Dever provided Lahardane with a vital central edge. And with defenders Conor Coleman, Philip O’Malley, Matthew Queenan and Chris Rowland neutralising Ballymote’s danger men, their front men needed no encouragement to make the breaks count.
Their spread of scores is an indication of the influence each had on the attack in general. None was less important to the whole than the other and almost all contributed to the score total. Adrian Leonard accounting for five points, Shane Loftus and Cormac Reilly three each with James Maughan and Keith Loftus adding one apiece.
Essentially it was a victory for character and team craft. And credit for all of that must go to their manager John Maughan for coaxing from his charges the confidence to make best use of their natural qualities.