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Club landscape takes shape

Sean Rice

Club landscape starts to take shape

Sean RiceSean Rice
INTEREST in club championship is deepening as hopes fluctuate. Uncertainty still stalks the favourites, for while Ballaghaderreen are heading the prophets’ list of predictions to take the senior title, the old, traditionalists are still hanging in there, prowling, shadowing, nibbling at the confidence of the pretenders.
Ballaghaderreen firmed up their claim to the title with a comprehensive victory over Garrymore on their home ground on Sunday, but although none has been as impressive as last year’s runners-up, the seasoned old warriors are still in the running. They have not illuminated the football scene so far this season, but Crossmolina or Ballina or Knockmore have not gone away.
Charlestown cleared away some of the clutter surrounding their hopes with a bright, breezy performance over a disappointing Louisburgh on Saturday evening. They are unlikely to overstate their chances of regaining the title because of the paucity of the opposition, but their ten-point margin is a timely boost.
They were worth watching if only for the performance of Tony Mulligan at full-forward. We have been following his development in that position, and the manner in which he won possession and took his scores leaves no one in doubt about his county potential.
Charlestown used him intelligently with a suitable supply, and Mulligan won most of what came directly towards him. His high fielding, nimble turns and 1-5 from play were notable features of his game. His performance must of course be measured against the strength of the opposition and the Louisburgh full-back position alternated between Tom McDonnell and Brendan Heneghan. Both are experience and dependable defenders, yet neither was able to subdue the Charlestown man.
Mulligan will meet stiffer opposition in the quarter-finals and his reputation will have gone before him. That will be the big test of his ability and his temperament, but he ought to be studied by county senior management because the potential exists there for a flowering of his talents.
I’m not so sure that Charlestown have the all-round quality needed to wrest the county title. They looked good at the weekend, but Louisburgh did not provide them with the stern test we had expected. Why they started Austin O’Malley at left half-forward is baffling when he might have been much more effective in his customary central role.
If O’Malley were selected at full-forward, maybe Tony Mulligan would not have earned all the kudos. When the Louisburgh man took over as leader of the attack in the second half he did display a lot of the flair that was missing from the sector. But it was too late. Charlestown had established a firm foothold. The Higgins were in full flight, and their confidence soared. Whether they can reproduce that form in the quarterfinals is another question.
Burrishoole provided the champions with a rare fright on Saturday. Unsung and unfavoured, the Newport men travelled to Crosmolina and dished out a warning not only to the champions, but to anyone who cares to listen, that they must not be taken lightly. They lost by four points, but at one stage had Crossmolina searching desperately for a winning formula. They got it, but sweated for it.
Why Burrishoole should be dismissed from contention for county honours is difficult to understand when they have the likes of Conor Moran, Liam O’Malley and Colm McManamon in their midst. Yes, that Colm McManamon. The old veteran is still thrilling them with his football ability . . . and at midfield which is the preserve of younger, more agile and speedy performers. His strength and his fielding prowess have in no way diminished, and he brings experience and influence to his younger team mates. Nobody should rule them out.
Edmond Barrett was the toast of Bangor on Sunday when his late, late point denied Breaffy a place in the play-offs, one of the shock results of the weekend. Away from their home ground, Kiltane were the outsiders of this duel. All of their best results were earned in Bangor, and it was thought their journey to Breaffy would be in vain.
But Shane Lindsay and Edmund Barrett and John Scanlon and Tony Gaughan and Rory Corrigan were determined to bring the series to an end in style. They played their hearts out and with Sean Carey back in action after injury, there was a bite to the team that stunned the home side.
Carey is one of those players who swim successfully against the tide. Nothing deters him. Inexorably, he drives on against the odds and has been the heart of Kiltane teams for years. They deservedly qualify for the quarterfinals alongside Knockmore from Section D.
CASTLEBAR MITCHELS looked to have had the measure of Knockmore for their tussle at MacHale Park. But once more the capital blew it. They were the better team throughout most of the hour, and they created enough chances to bag the winning scores. But anytime they came within distance of the goalposts they seemed to be aiming elsewhere. Their extravagance, which included a missed free in front of the posts, cost them dearly.
On this performance Knockmore will not fulfil their hopes. But they are a team who often comes good as the year progresses and you can expect greater determination from them in the play-offs.
Statistics conspired to eliminate Shrule/Glencorrib from the play-offs. If the men on the border won by one point more, or lost by one point fewer, they would have qualified. In the circumstances they beat Claremorris by 1-14 to 0-9 . . . yet failed to reach the quarter-finals.
Whether the result would have been different if the Mortimer brothers were in the team for the full hour remains to be seen. And that was the talking point after the game. Neither Trevor nor Conor were selected to start for what is thought to have been disciplinary reasons.
Both came on during the course of the game, but nobody will ever know if Shrule would have qualified if both were on for the full hour.
Ballina Stephenites had five points to spare over a Westport side desperately anxious to clock up a morale boosting victory before bidding adieu to the championship.  James Gill and his colleagues made a brave bid to bow out in glory, but Ballina – by no means the All-Ireland winning Ballina – had still enough power to nudge out the seasiders. They are improving with every match and will be a force for any opposition in the play-offs.
Looking like winners early on, Ballinrobe were forced into a draw with lowly Moy Davitts, earning their first point of the competition. They retain their senior status, however, and will be grateful for that alone.
The Intermediate match of the day was to have been in Ballintubber. But Hollymount failed to mount a sustained challenge to the young, eager home squad. Led exquisitely by Mayo star Alan Dillon, Ballintubber  were rarely troubled.
They played with passion, pursued every opportunity relentlessly and looked like a side going places. But, like Charlestown, the opposition was poor, and Ballintubber may have flattered to deceive. You can assess only what happens on the field of play, however, and on their own beautifully developed grounds Ballintubber were clearly the masters.

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