FOUR quarter-finals, one a classic, one lop-sided, two turn-offs; one replete with the hot thrill of excitement, one a confirmation of common opinion, the others unremarkable for either result or performance.
We got to see three, but the classic between Crossmolina and Charlestown eluded us. If the replay next Sunday measures up to the drama of the drawn match the wait for the championship to take fire will have been worthwhile.
Ballaghaderreen’s defeat of Kiltane at Ballina served to confirm only what the evidence has so far provided . . . that they are still on course for the title. The Erris men failed to uncover any flaw in the make-up of the favourites, failed to offer only the most slender of hope to other pretenders that there is a way to derail the Ballagh’ express.
That scintilla emerged briefly in the second half when Kiltane, inspired by Sean Carey, took on a more aggressive role, and managed for fifteen minutes to disrupt the smooth flow that had gushed from the East Mayo side throughout the first half.
Of course, Ballaghaderreen were home and dry at that stage. Leading by thirteen points, they had eased on the pedal and the need to hammer home their absolute control had become less urgent. But the chink was there, and if Carey’s bustling type of game had any real support, it might have won them a couple of stimulating scores.
In a way, Ballaghaderreen will take no great satisfaction from an eighteen-point victory. They might have learned more from a serious challenge game. What opposition Kiltane had to offer was too easily brushed aside, and scarcely what they needed for their semi-final preparation.
From the throw-in they hit Kiltane like a tornado. Within thirty seconds Barry Kelly had the opening point, and in four minutes they were as many points in front. Bar the occasional uncontrolled raid by the Erris men, the flow was one way.
They moved in swarms, without having it all their own way in the centre of the field. True, James Kilcullen and Barry Kelly were industrious as ever, but Andy Hanley complemented their performances with his tireless work around the middle of the field, setting up attacks and joining in their execution.
Of course, the rest of the attack were in customary majestic form. As a unit they were utterly efficient, interchanging and mesmerising in their movements. The two Morans, Andy and Derek, and the two Hanleys, Pierce and Andy, together with Barry Regan all moved in unison, making space for the scorer.
In the half-back line of Stephen Drake, David Kilcullen and Declan McGarry many of the scores originated, and the force of their strong deep runs squeezed the resistance out of the Kiltane defence.
The evidence of the authority they enjoyed lies in the fact that Kiltane scored only one point from play, and when the second-half assertiveness of the Bangor men petered out, their luck went with it. Full-back Thomas Gallagher got himself sent off for a clash with James Kilcullen and Shane Lindsay had a penalty saved brilliantly by Ollie Flanagan in the dying moments of the game.
Burrishoole’s chances of victory died before the game started. Once it became known that Colm McManamon was missing, an air of inevitability suffused the outcome. Without their leader, Burrishoole’s young team would find the occasion a little suffocating.
Whether the experience and leadership of McManamon would have changed the result is debatable. Knockmore were livelier that at any other stage of the championship, fit, fast and determined. The old battling tradition was not lost on what is a relatively young side.
Sharp and incisive they found their forwards with smart, and accurate kicking and, led by Damien Munnelly and Aidan Kilcoyne of the Mayo senior panel, those forwards were difficult to control.
Munnelly, at full-forward, was the most prolific, but the forward who really caught the eye was Patrick McHale, who had previously played with Ballina Stephenites. While most of Munnelly’s scores were from frees – too many too easily conceded - all of McHale’s points were from play, all splendidly woven.
Not only that, but their back line, superbly marshalled by John Brogan, Trevor Howley and Graham O’Hora, stamped out the danger that budded early on from Brian Keane, and Alan and Michéal Moran. And although the match was never beyond retrieval, Martin Connolly’s men at the same time never threatened to destabilise the confidence of their opponents.
When Michéal Moran rammed home their goal early in the first half a thriller seemed possible, but the manner in which Knockmore hit back, the comparative polish and skill with which they moved left no room for doubt about their superiority.
Mind you Burrishoole did not concede easily, the battling qualities of Liam O’Malley, Conor Moran and Sean McManamon driving them on, but the psychological loss of Colm McManamon was too much.