IT didn’t end as they would have wanted. But it was not for want of effort. Truth is the Mitchels met a side not only better equipped, but with reserve talent that matched Corofin’s first fifteen and which far exceeded the strength of the visiting bench.
The Galway champions held all the aces in this battle of the Connacht titans.
And yet for the final fifteen minutes of the match they were held scoreless as the Mitchels whittled away their five-points lead, exposing a mental weakness at odds with their physical dominance.
It should not have come to that. Corofin’s strong, tenacious forward line had stretched the defence to breaking point. And still they failed to put Castlebar away.
Inexplicably, the Mitchels found a way back as they did in a previous encounter when it seemed they were also about to bow out. It could have been the brilliance of the opening goal by Aidan Walsh, but more likely the abiding memory of their previous slip-up that paralysed Corofin and, simultaneously, inspired the Mitchels in those exciting final minutes of normal time.
It was David Stenson who commenced the climb back for the Mitchels with a point that reduced Corofin’s lead to four. Minutes earlier Eoghan O’Reilly and Neil Douglas had lit a little candle of hope for the large Castlebar following with a brace of points deftly executed.
But after Corofin’s crackshot Jason Leonard and Martin Farragher cut off that mini-revival, Stenson renewed the Mitchels’ assault on the lead. Then Paddy Durcan intervened to thwart Colin Brady of a clinching goal.
The Mitchels’ swept down field. Douglas, playing his best football for some time, cut that lead further from a free, and Stenson still further, after good work by O’Reilly. It was down to two points. The 3,000 strong attendance held their breath. And for the first time in the match Corofin were in disarray.
They were into injury time when Douglas reduced the lead to a single point and when the full-forward was fouled seconds later it was left to David Stenson with his ice-cool nerves to send the game into extra time from a free.
It was great theatre. But the evidence was already clear that extra time favoured the home side. Fresh legs boosted their reserves of energy. Six subs of almost equal quality to those they replaced was an advantage Castlebar could not match.
Less than four minutes of extra time had elapsed before fatigue set in and Corofin the raced into an unassailable lead.
But to earn a draw showed character and courage in keeping with the resolve that had earned Mitchels their first three consecutive county titles in 65 years. Nobody played below his own high standard.
Although under severe pressure the defence as a unit held tight, Donie Newcombe, Eoghan O’Reilly, Paddy Durcan and Ger McDonagh stretched but unyielding. Barry Moran stood strong and determined at midfield, his high fielding a notable feature of the game. And that opening goal by Aidan Walsh was the start of which outsiders dream.
Up front Cian Costello did trouble the Corofin defence no end, Neil Douglas rediscovered his old form and David Stenson’s composure in the most challenging of situations was admirable.
The Galway men had strength in depth and an aggression that carried them some way. There was no doubt about their superiority. But they could have been caught in normal time.
Dylan Wall, Liam Silke, Micheál Lundy, Jason Leonard, Martin Farragher and Colin Brady were excellent all through. And the man who greatly influenced extra time was 33-years old Gary Sice.
All Connacht wishes them well as they go in search of another All-Ireland.
Old Railway Cup reaches the end of the line
IT was once among the highlights of the GAA season, the finals on St Patrick’s Day drawing huge crowds to Croke Park. Somewhere along the line interest waned in the inter-provincials. Now only the participants draw any real satisfaction from the games. For the general public the lustre has long been shed.
The coup de grace was finally delivered to one of the oldest of GAA competitions with the decision of the Connacht Council last week to withdraw from the inter-provincials.
It died hard. In a bid to save it no stone was left unturned. For decades, around this time of year it was the topic of conversation when the selection was announced and counties boasted about their representations on the team.
Known then as the Railway Cup, it commenced in 1927. Four Mayo men, Paddy O’Beirne, Dick Creagh, John Forde and Mick Mulderrig represented Mayo on the first Connacht team which was beaten by a Munster side made up entirely of Kerrymen.
In 1934 Connacht won the first of their ten provincial titles. No fewer that eight Mayo men won places on that historic side — Tom Burke, Paddy Quinn, Purty Kelly, Patsy Flannelly, George Ormsby, Jackie Carney, Gerald Courell and Paddy Moclair.
Mayo was similarly honoured the following year although they failed to retain the title. But in 1936 their first All-Ireland title success was reflected in the ten members of the team who helped the province to regain the Cup.
Similar waves of satisfaction poured through the county in 1951 when ten members of the All-Ireland winning side helped Connacht to further Railway Cup success.
Those were: Paddy Prendergast, Sean Flanagan (capt), Henry Dixon, Eamonn Mongey, Padraic Carney, Joko Gilvarry, Mick Mulderrig, Tom Langan, Peter Solan and Mick Flanagan.
National club championships did not exist in those years, but the advent of that competition drew an upward surge of interest in reverse proportion to the decline of the Railway Cup. Nudged out of its St Patrick¹s Day slot the downturn was irreversible.
They changed the title to ‘inter-provincial’, found new sponsors, moved the competition to venues in all the provinces and further afield in a failed bid to revitalise the event. Ballina staged the semi-finals and final on an October weekend in 1988.
Selection on the inter-pros meant a lot to players from counties other than Mayo, Galway and Roscommon who had opportunities of provincial championship success with their counties.
For the less lucky, Connacht representation was a rare badge of honour. That opportunity is now gone for those from the weaker counties, and a shutter has been erected on another competition that once held warm memories for people throughout the province.
Time to take a rest
SO the pen takes a rest. The curtain comes down on another season full of joyful recollection. Throughout the year we saw men and women engage the spirit of Mayo in wonderful contests across the fields of Ireland and reach ideals of sportsmanship and vitality that so many others would love to emulate. They have done us proud. Before long they will have returned to begin another season. In the meantime we take this opportunity to wish them and all readers of this column the compliments of the season and a further year of joy and fruitfulness.