KELLY’S EYE ON THE PRIZE Belmullet’s James Kelly, who won an All-Ireland Under-21 medal in 2016, is a versatile and quality footballer. Pic: Conor McKeown
1 Who they beat
A BELMULLET win on Sunday would not represent a shock at this stage of the competition but certainly would have at the outset. They were 80/1 outsiders a few months ago and, after a trawl through the winners of the Moclair Cup, we have to go as far back as Hollymount’s win in 1990 for a comparable triumph if Belmullet pull it off on Sunday
Indeed, Holly’s 0-8 to 0-7 win over Knockmore that day might be the type of scoreline that, if successful, Belmullet would win by on Sunday, minus their obligatory goal or two.
To win this year’s title, Belmullet will have to have beaten last year’s winners (Knockmore) twice; last year’s runners-up (Breaffy) and this year’s title favourites (Westport) in one of the most competitive club championships in recent years.
If you put that route to success in front of even the most partisan Belmullet fan before the championship, they’d have struggled to argue for success.
But now they’ve beaten each of those three teams and deserved to do so in each game.
The job in hand now is to beat the best of them a second time.
2 A miserable defence
IT’S quite likely Charlestown were disappointed with their tally of 0-12 in their opening round draw with Belmullet.
Looking back now, it was quite the haul as no team have matched it … yet.
Since that game in Fr O’Hara Park, Belmullet have kept Knockmore to 1-4, Aghamore to 1-8, Breaffy to 0-8 and Westport to 0-9.
Included in there is, in our opinion, the two best sets of forwards in the county, those of Knockmore and Westport.
The numbers do not lie. Belmullet have made it extremely difficult for opponents to get into any sort of momentum in attack and build up a head of steam.
It’s part of an overall strategy, of which more anon, but looked at in isolation, it shows just how tight, tenacious and tough they are defensively.
Marshalled by the excellent Eoin O’Donoghue at six, with quality defenders like Colin Barrett, Shea O’Donoghue, Owen McHale and James Kelly to call on, along with a work-rate that sees every player become a defender when Belmullet do not have possession.
It was exemplified by Ryan O’Donoghue’s wonderful turnover of Westport’s Mark Moran on the Belmullet ‘45 that led to an Éamon McAndrew point late in the semi-final.
That summed them up,‘all for one and one for all’.
3 Ryan O’Donoghue
SPEAKING of Ryan O’Donoghue … The improvement in this player all year has been a joy to behold. He grew in Cillian O’Connor’s injury enforced absence for Mayo and appears to be getting better and better with every club game.
A comparison in playing style with Peter Canavan — made on our Mayo News Football Podcast by Ballaghaderreen’s Moclair winning captain, Stephen Drake — is apt. He has an edge to him that compliments his elusiveness, football intelligence, deceptive strength and ability to come up with the big moments.
We think in low scoring games, as Belmullet’s clashes have been, his ability to bend games to his will becomes more pronounced and perhaps that’s exactly the aim of Belmullet’s approach. It’s certainly working.
Against Westport, he found himself marked by the best defender in the country of the last decade in Lee Keegan. Keegan was very good, but O’Donoghue still exerted a huge influence. Knockmore are superb as a unit defensively but whether they’ve anyone capable of doing a job like Keegan is debatable.
If it is low scoring, O’Donoghue has shown time and again in this campaign he can be the man when the need is greatest.
4 All round quality
YOU can make an argument for Belmullet being reliant on the O’Donoghues, Ryan and namesake Eoin. Indeed, their league form this year showed how much they missed them when on Mayo duty, when Belmullet were nearly relegated in a division where they were the only senior team.
Limiting their influence is the first thing that Knockmore will seek to do.
But you ignore the impact of the supporting cast at your peril.
They’ve quality all around the field. You can tell that by the fact that players of the calibre of Marty Boylan and James Kelly (who played in Mayo’s Under-21 All-Ireland win in 2016) have been only coming on in many games.
Year on year they’re competitive at ‘A’ grade in underage competitions.
As a club they’ve a remarkable ability to produce county minors. In the current squad, Daithí Cosgrove was a minor wing-forward last year while at the other extreme, his uncle Henry Gaughan was there in 2003.
Sixteen years after playing in goal in an All-Ireland Minor Final, Shane Nallen has married years of outfield play to become a very modern goalkeeper.
Owen McHale is a player with a huge future; he was a star on the Mayo minor team of two years ago.
Evan Ivers and Fionnán Ryan are a very durable midfield. They have plenty of quality.
YOU do not go on a run like Belmullet have without huge reserves of self belief.
They took on Knockmore, Breaffy and Westport with absolute confidence not that they could win, but that they would win. On the face of it, in form terms, there was little sign of it coming.
Perhaps it is something in the DNA up there. We recall nearly two decades ago Erris United going on a magical FAI Youths Cup run to become the first Mayo club to win a national title.
It wasn’t the old ladies of the game in Mayo like Celtic, Westport United or Ballina Town who did it, but Erris.
They didn’t care for tradition, they had utter conviction in their ability and they went all the way. Players like Chris Barrett, Shane Nallen and Henry Gaughan were involved.
Much like this team, they were not cowed by reputations.
The impact of Damien Mulligan and Peadar Gardiner in the management team cannot be underestimated either. Not alone are Belmullet playing with great purpose that shows Mulligan designed a bespoke game plan to play to their strengths, but they are playing with the confidence of winners.
With All-Ireland club medals, along with a handful of Moclairs, Mulligan and Gardiner have done it all in the club game as players.
This would be a most remarkable achievement in management.