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Plenty to ponder

Sean Rice
peter ford
TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE Peter Ford and Tommy O’Malley watched on as their Castlebar Mitchels team crashed to a five point defeat away to Claremorris last weekend in the Mayo SFC. Pic: Ray Ryan

Claremorris emerge from the pack


Sean RiceSean Rice
IT is not the fall of Castlebar that caused the biggest surprise of the championship at the weekend, more the rise of Claremorris. We had been pointing to dark horses for the Moclair Cup in recent weeks, and Claremorris was not among them.
Saturday’s defeat of the Mitchels has changed the landscape. Claremorris, who have not won a senior championship for 37 years, now head their group, unbeaten in two games. Old favourites are beginning to pale.
They’ll not thank this column for belatedly elevating them to contenders for the championship.  But fielding three players sitting their Leaving Cert is an indication of the new enthusiasm springing up at last in the South Mayo capital.
They may not have the experience to go all the way this season but their win over Burrishoole in Newport in the opening round should have alerted us to their potential.
Without regular star, Mickey Mullins, they were still too good for Castlebar, and the five-point margin did not truly reflect their dominance. The quality of play emanating from the Feeley brothers, and from Alan in particular at left half back, from Ger Brady and Brian Gallagher has brought hope for an imminent renaissance in Claremorris that would swing the balance of power back to south Mayo. Maybe next season!
Signs of a dip in Castlebar’s form emerged the previous week when they lost to Ballina at McHale Park, their first defeat of the league. Having overcome the county champions in the opening round, the Mitchels betrayed the form they had displayed since the beginning of the year.
Even so, Claremorris was an obstacle they were expected to surmount, and their collapse has come as a staggering blow to their confidence. They will travel warily for the next round to Burrishoole.
Sunday’s defeat revealed some mental frailties that often come to light only in tough exchanges. It is a weakness on which Peter Ford and his selectors will have to concentrate before football in the county town is restored to full glory. It’s a painful step-by-step process. But they have begun.
LOUISBURGH LAMENT LOSS OF STAR PLAYER
NO team has felt the loss of one man more severely than Louisburgh for Austin O’Malley. No team has lamented the loss of their star more deeply. O’Malley had been to Louisburgh what Ciaran McDonald has been to Crossmolina, Andy Moran to Ballaghaderreen and Conor Mortimer to Shrule. He was their inspiration.
Louisburgh have borne his absence bravely. They have striven to conceal his loss with enhanced personal performances. But no turn they take on the field conveys the conviction of a side that has bridged the gulf his absence has created.
No team can afford, of course, to depend on one man because of the risk of injury if nothing else, and Austin O’Malley has had his share of injuries. But rural clubs often bank on one singular talent to spur the rest.
Team leaders are marked men, sought out for special attention by opponents in order to negate their play. Austin O’Malley is equipped to survive most of this type of buffeting with skills that can ride tackles, and carve out scores with either foot. For Louisburgh he was their special one. With him on board this might have been a year of high achievement.
Now that he has left for other pastures, they are not the threat to other sides that his presence would have presented. The team is not without a cluster of competent players able to hold their own in any company. Marcus O’Malley, Darragh and Stephen O’Grady, Martin Nee, the O’Tooles and the experienced Alan Mayberry lack nothing in terms of determination or dedication.  But without the guidance of O’Malley they are lost.
The thing is that in most of their matches they have not lacked for heart. They give the impression that they are a threat. They create good chances, but do not have the power up front to make them count.
The poverty of their forward line was in evidence at Ballinrobe on Saturday when of the four points they scored three were from frees. Their wides amounted to a frugal three compared to Ballinrobe’s eleven. But by the 52nd minute only four points separated them. At the end of the remaining eight minutes the gap had widened to nine, however.
For the final game of their group they make the journey to Crossmolina and nobody is expecting miracles. There the curtain is expected to fall on their championship aspirations.  And there is no other Austin O’Malley on the horizon just yet.

KNOCKMORE LOSE LITTLE IN DEFEAT

YOU can take away their star players, but you can’t take away their heart. The manner in which Knockmore found the inner strength to turn their fragile beginning into a thrilling finish is a measure of the traditional steel they have inherited.
If you are not one of them you will not know how much pride propels them. To watch them storm back into the game and, with a makeshift side, to make Crossmolina fight every inch of the way for victory was to stand in admiration of the granite of which the Knockmore men are made.
They have been without Trevor Howley all year, their inspiration, who has been laid low through injury. His absence on Sunday was aggravated by the absence of some of their league side ­ who have gone to America for the summer - on whom they had been banking for the championship.
No doubt they were depleted, and on the basis of their slow start they were also deflated. Systematically, the Deel Rovers reduced their defence to shreds. The old cream had come to the top again, as fresh as if in the first flush of youth. In a manner that scoffed at ripe old age the Nallens, McDonald, Rochford and McGuinness buzzed enthusiastically about the place, setting the pattern for the younger men.
In a canter they had whipped up a lead of seven points, and you wondered would the Knockmore men be left scoreless and embarrassed at the end of the half.
Not everyone among the largest attendance at any championship match this season prepared themselves for the annihilation, however. No Knockmore follower did. And none of them was surprised, therefore, when Peader Gardiner, Aidan Kilcoyne and Gerry Higgins set up Graham O’Hora for the goal that sparked their resurgence.
It led to a classy finale and a match full of excitement and entertainment. In the end the spoils went where they belonged. But the pride of a parish remained unblemished.

BREAFFY REMAIN IN CONTENTION
BREAFFY are clipping away nicely. Hot on the heels of their draw with Shrule/Glencorrib, the men in blue-and-white carved out a win over Kiltane the size of which has people considering them for a decent assault on the championship.
Big and strong, and built around the brilliant O’Shea brothers, Marty McNicholas and Colm Lyons — back after a long lay-off — Breaffy are making the right noises at the right time.
Ballintubber, too, made some amends for their loss to Charlestown by winning their duel with Moy Davitts. But Shrule/Glencorrib without the injured Conor Mortimer lost by five points to Ballaghaderreen. Not even a brilliant performance by his brother Trevor could compensate for the loss of their scoring ace.