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Injuries likely to tilt balance

Sean Rice
Injuries likely to tilt balance

Sean RiceSean Rice

IT never did take off this season. Summer has come and gone and the springtime promise of the senior championship failed to bloom. Now only the final can redeem it.
You would be hard pressed to single out any one contest above the ordinary.
Mediocrity reigned.  The campaign lumbered on systematically, but ingloriously. And one can only hope for some degree of recompense from Sunday’s slog-out.
Charlestown and Knockmore are worthy finalists. All through the season the East Mayo side left few in doubt about their intention to reach another decider. And with laudable resilience they return to the final for their third successive attempt to win a trophy they last held in 2001.
It requires something special to bounce back so unwaveringly.
Knockmore were less optimistically considered for a place in Sunday’s final.
They lagged behind Ballaghaderreen, Crossmolina, and Shrule/Glencorrib in general estimation. When you check their record you wonder why.
While twelve years have elapsed since garnering the last of their eight county senior titles, the North Mayo side have not been languishing these past few years. Two finals, two semi-finals and two quarterfinals since 2001 constitute a record of no mean achievement.
It was to Charlestown they lost the final of 2001 — a replay best forgotten.
No one begrudged Sarsfields that success. It was only their second title in 99 years. But a third appears almost as difficult to capture, and Sunday’s may be the last chance for some of their long-serving old soldiers.
David Tiernan captained the successful side eight years ago, and his influence has not diminished. Accumulated wisdom and cuteness are his chief attributes nowadays and compensate for whatever agility has been sapped by the years.
In addition to ‘Ginger’, nine further members of the Moclair Cup winning side still form the beating heart of Sunday’s outfit.  Colm Maye, Patrick Walsh, Tony Mulligan, Tom Parsons and Daragh McMeel are the exception.
It is not a year Knockmore would care to recall. But for five members of the current side, Sunday’s final is an opportunity to atone for 2001. Peter Clarke, Declan Sweeney, Stephen Sweeney, Damien Munnelly and Kevin O’Neill left that one behind … in a whopping 14-points defeat.
It’s not in the nature of the club to concede so easily. In a history of more than half a century heart and willpower have been synonymous with Knockmore. That rare collapse in 2001 left a mental scar they want to erase.
Statistics show they have been building steadily towards that goal. But they were not thought ready for the final just yet — not expected to pass Crossmolina in any case, who in taking out Ballaghaderreen in the quarter-final were installed as the foremost side.
Knockmore proved a bridge too far, however. The old verve and passion were back. They were confident and organised. And while only four points separated them in the end, the scoreline was rather kind to Crossmolina.
Charlestown were less impressive in their semi-final win over Castlebar, and it took a penalty near the end to shake off the inexperienced Mitchels. On the basis of their respective semi-finals, Knockmore seemed the better bet to regain the title.
Like most managers Ciaran McBrien would probably prefer if Sarsfields were outsiders. Any semblance of favouritism is what no coach wants in a final.
But Charlestown have worn that tag well all season and there is no reason why it should now become an obstacle at the final hurdle.
Since their semi-final victory, circumstances have conspired to lower the odds on Knockmore. The loss of Damien Munnelly, has been exacerbated by a recurrence of the shoulder injury that has plagued Aidan Kilcoyne for months.
Thus the pendulum swings back eastwards. The big test for them now is how well their key figures measure up to what remains of Knockmore’s rediscovered vitality. Can David Tiernan and Tom Parsons outplay Stephen Sweeney and Peter Clarke in the middle of the field?
Parsons is the youngest of the four and should sway the balance in favour of Charlestown. But his inconsistency is a cause for concern, and if it were only for the rescue of his county career a more vigorous performance is vital on Sunday.
The clash of Kevin O’Neill and Aidan Higgins ought to make for an interesting outcome, two old county stars battling each other in the autumn of their careers. Either one could be a decisive figure.  O¹Neill was a major force in Knockmore’s trek to the final. But can he make up for the loss of Kilcoyne and Munnelly?
As ever defences are crucial. Knockmore’s withstood a sterner test in the semi-final. Whether they can check the thrusts of Richard Haran, or Mark Caffrey, or Tony Mulligan is now the challenge.
The absence of two prominent forwards from the opposition is a big incentive for the border team. Their real spur to victory may come, however, from the fear that this may be the last opportunity for ‘Ginger’ and many of his comrades.
Tourmakeady to take Intermediate crown
THEY might have preferred Belmullet, but Tourmakeady it is, and when they meet in the intermediate final on Sunday, Westport will find it difficult to dampen the soaring confidence of the Gaeltacht side following their victory over Belmullet in the semi-final.
The experience and formidable physical strength of men like, John Heneghan, the Walshs, the Prendergasts, and the Naughtons eventually wore down a tired Belmullet on Sunday, and they will be hoping for a similar performance to deny Westport this weekend.
It promises to be a cracker. And although for the most part young and inexperienced, Westport are not without serious talent.
The league may not be a true measure of their worth, but recently I watched them play county senior finalists Charlestown and Crossmolina — who were then co-favourites to regain the senior title - and they showed lots of courage and common sense.
Although slow to adjust to the speed and craft of both senior sides, when they did get a handle on the game, Westport’s character was commendable and the big guns were forced to pull out all the stops to avert defeat.
Martin Connolly’s charges were then without James Gill who had been troubled by injury all season. His return is a huge boost. And together with Kevin and Dessie Keane, Liam Joyce, Niall O¹Malley, Lee Keegan, Ryan Cafferkey, Eugene O’Toole, Lewis Cawley and the experienced Stephen Broderick, they will be hoping to exploit any unwieldy side of Tourmakeady’s qualities.
Strength and fitness, however, are massive assets and the Gaeltacht men have that in abundance. Direct ball to the full-for ward line has been a successful facet of their play on which Ciaran Walsh, Michael Ronayne and Anthony O’Neill thrive.
The wise old head of Brendan Prendergast is the mainstay of their defence and around him David Prendergast, Michael John Walsh and Pat Heneghan are also solid and uncompromising.
It’s a game of mostly youthful enthusiasm against seasoned campaigners. A win for Westport is not beyond the bounds of possibility. On their form against Belmullet, though, the Gaeltacht side appear to possess the greater amount of weaponry.
After six Sundays on the trot, weariness finally caught up with Belmullet. Last week I wrote that Seamus Cafferkey and Eoin Sweeney had sought Crossmolina as their venue for the quarter-final replay with Cill Chomain.
The joint managers were put out about that because they did not ask for the change of venue from Bangor, and I am now putting the record straight that the fixture was made by the County Board.

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