THE bruising battle at James Stephens Park honoured no side. Too much history between them smouldered under the surface. In a matter of minutes it erupted and Ballina and Crossmolina are now counting the cost.
Deep in the debris of the bitter exchanges lies doubt about Ronan McGarrity’s fitness for the Connacht final. A couple of red cards were flashed and seven yellows as little spiteful battles broke out around the pitch. The wonder is, though, that the Mayo star was the only victim of the reckless aggression that pocked this game.
Facial injury forced McGarrity to retire immediately and there will be some anxious moments in the Mayo camp this week as the extent of the injury is assessed.
Neither side can escape blame for the hostilities so markedly evident in this championship meeting. For each a win was vital as both seek a return to old glory. But there was nothing glorious about this confrontation.
Flaring tempers continued to feed the tension. Many of the incidents were off the ball and behind the back of referee John Hughes. If the new rules — so narrowly defeated at Congress — were in operation many more would have joined Gabriel Walsh and Liam Brady on the sideline.
Their dismissal climaxed an atmosphere of grim antagonism. Walsh had just replaced Henry McLoughlin when his frontal charge on Paul McGarry was met with the red card in the second half.
Liam Brady got his marching orders for striking Tom Nallen in the 45th minute. Arising from that incident the Crossmolina full-back was shown a yellow card, one of seven waved by the referee as the bitter exchanges continued to boil over.
Not every player was involved in the ugly exchanges, but those who were managed to spoil the game which, shorn of hostility, had the ingredients to be a thriller. Some good football did manage to survive and rise above the personal outbursts.
Crossmolina welcomed back their linchpin Ciaran McDonald with a rousing cheer from supporters as he entered the arena in the second half, his knee wrapped in a heavy bandage. And to their delight the maestro responded with a trademark point with his first touch. He added another from a free as he eased back into the game, shadowed everywhere by Ger Cafferkey.
His introduction came at a vital time. Ballina had failed to score in the first half, but three unanswered points by Liam Brady and a more determined all round effort on their part predicted a tight finish.
McDonald’s point, Crossmolina’s first of the second half, had a telling effect. It reinforced their commitment and by the end they looked very much a side in serious contention for a return to the top.
CASTLEBAR MITCHELS SHOW SOME PROGRESS
CASTLEBAR Mitchels marked their return to winning form with a blistering first half against Aghamore at the end of which they led by ten points.
The team was not without its surprise placings. And you wondered how the selectors managed to convert two deep-rooted defenders, Eamon Kennedy and Adrian Roache, into attacking wing forwards almost over night.
But it worked. The game was only two minutes old when Roache streaked in from the left wing and stuck the ball in the net. That move alone was enough to justify the selectors’ decision.
Kennedy, a veteran of many a campaign, also fitted in nicely, scoring two points and coming close to bedecking his forward debut with a goal.
Their debuts were overshadowed, however, by the performance of their inside men Neil Douglas and Aidan Walsh, who scored eleven points between them, six by Douglas, and gave the Aghamore defence a torrid time.
Shane Fitzmaurice, their midfield veteran, and Ger McDonagh, provided a stream of ball for the forwards as they built that unassailable lead.
Castlebar had learned from their league tie with Aghamore how fragile big leads can be, and for a while the East Mayo side looked capable of repeating their league recovery especially when Adrian Freeman broke through for an inspirational goal in the 46th minute.
But the move of county minor captain Walsh to centre half forward, allied to some excellent defending by fullback Alan Feeney, cemented Castlebar’s confidence.
Aghamore did narrow the gap with a late goal from a penalty by Alan Freeman, but they might have caused a bigger headache for Castlebar if they fed their big forwards with long ball. Outfield they over indulged in short passing play, but their two goals originated in the long direct ball.
Without Barry Moran and Tom Cunniffe, Castlebar showed promise and toughness. They are still a long way from the finished article. But they are getting there.
CLAREMORRIS FALL TO EARTH HEAVILY
ELSEWHERE shocks rolled in. Claremorris were defeated by Kiltane and are almost certainly out of the championship race. A team tagged by many as the dark horses of the competition have fallen to pieces. The manner in which they overwhelmed Castlebar in the first round of the league suggested a formidable side destined for at least the final stages of the championship.
Their crash to Ballintubber was the first real sign of their sudden decline. Yet, they were favourites to regain some lost ground in Kiltane. But then, should we not have been wiser about the pitfalls that Kiltane pose in Bangor. No reputation is safe there. Bigger names than Claremorris have fallen in on that pitch.
Garrymore almost performed a similar feat on their home ground. In holding Charlestown to a draw, the red shirts from the south have opened up their section to reappraisal.
Charlestown, among the favourites to regain the title, felt the full tug of Garrymore’s home independence. Drawing inspiration from the ghosts of old heroes, Garry’s young side seized the moment to announce that they are a growing force in Mayo football. Castlebar are warned.
Ballintubber’s defeat of Moy Davitts must now install them among the favourites to contest the final stages. Having already qualified for the quarterfinals they have shown steady and impressive progress in the last two years.
Moy Davitts were no push-over. They came in high spirits, having beaten Ballina in the league the previous week. Ballintubber met their challenge head on, however, and to have emerged from that physically tough encounter will have them well prepared for any opposition.
The victory of Shrule/Glencorrib over Breaffy has earned the South side a place in the quarterf-inals, a place they were so narrowly denied last year. Ballinrobe’s dreams crashed in Knockmore and the victory of county champions Ballaghaderreen over Burrishoole was marked by Andy Moran’s remarkable nine points from play. That’s one for the Mayo selectors who have installed Moran at left wing back on the county team.