TIGHT MARKING Castlebar Celtic’s Luke Kelly tries to shield the ball from Manulla’s Richie Dalton, as James Dunne (left) watches on. Pic: John Corless
Castlebar Celtic 1
J Hunt 37
D McCracken 65, 69
TWO fine goals by man of the match David McCracken were enough for Manulla to seal (or maybe that should be ‘steal’) the points at Celtic Park on Sunday morning.
The locals were 1-0 up at half-time, in a tame enough affair, and looked to be well on their way to a comfortable win. For some reason they didn’t perform for most of the second half and they let the visitors back into contention.
Celtic did the same three weeks ago in the Connacht Cup against Ballinasloe Town, so the perils of such a strategy should be fresh in their minds. They were missing a few players, to be fair. But so too were Manulla. Indeed, most teams have to cope with amateur players not always being available.
A fine Manulla performance was driven mainly by phenomenal spirit and simple graft.
“It was a great performance,” their manager Aiden Dunleavy told The Mayo News. “The boys really dug in and deserved the win.” He was not wrong.
For Stevie Gavin, the affable Celtic manager, the worry must be why Celtic surrendered so easily.
“We had enough quality on the pitch to see it out and we didn’t,” he said.
“We only have ourselves to blame. There’s not really much more to say.”
Celtic dominated the first half but had to wait until the 37th minute to go in front.
Jason Hunt finished clinically, as he had threatened to do all morning. Manulla had a few chances before that, and Celtic can thank the excellent Stefan Hester, who denied Lorcan Conroy in a one-on-one situation.
Conroy should have scored earlier, and Aiden Dunleavy Junior got in behind Johnny Walsh and might have put Manulla in front inside the first few minutes, were Hester not on top of his game. Dunleavy had to depart injured soon after, and his pace and skill were missed.
Immediately after the break, Luke Kelly nearly doubled Celtic’s lead and Hunt and James Basquille threatened. Conroy had another good chance for the visitors and Richie Dalton also came close. Gradually, Manulla began to take control in the middle, and the half-time switch of McCracken from the wing to centre forward paid dividends when he found the net on 65 minutes to equalise. McCracken’s drive from the edge of the box gave Hester no chance.
Four minutes later, McCracken put Manulla in front. He had over-hit a corner and the excellent Andrew Shally pulled it back for Darragh Byrne to nod on. McCracken was now at the edge of the box and his shot was too strong for the Celtic goalkeeper. Stevie Gavin was right: Celtic had only themselves to blame.
The Hoops had a go for the last ten minutes. Paul Walsh, Ben Murphy and Hunt all had shots saved or over. All were from distance; Shally marshalled his defence expertly to ensure Manulla held out. Celtic substitute, Paul Walsh, was red-carded by referee Damien McGrath at the death. It made no difference, Manulla had the game already won.
Stevie Gavin said it wasn’t the end of the world.
“The league won’t be won or lost today,” he said. “This is football. We move on now and pick ourselves up and go again next week in the Westaro Cup against Ballyheane. It’s a good game for us to get us back on track.”
Matchwinner David McCracken said it was a tough match.
“The heat was intense and played a big factor. We couldn’t really get going in the first half. We went one down but we kind of grew into the game in the second half. We knew the game was there for us if we pushed on.”
Manulla captain, Andrew Shally, thought his side were unlucky to be behind at half-time.
“I thought we had better chances in the first half,” he told The Mayo News. “I said to the boys at half-time: ‘if we can all work great in the second half, we’ll get back into it’. I think our work-rate is exceptional. The fitness levels of the boys this year is really good. We have a lot of youth in the team, and if you have boys that are willing to empty the tank every game, you will always be in with a shout. Dave McCracken was excellent today. Look how much running he did in the first half. He just doesn’t stop. The work ethic this year is exceptional.”
S Hester, R Nevin, B Hay, D Aherne, J Walsh, B Murphy, C Hunt, I O’Reilly, J Basquille, J Hunt, L Kelly.
Subs: D Ruane, P Walsh, D Livingstone, E Keane, P Basquille, P Hopkins.
J Livingstone, S Martin, G Jennings, A Shally, T Groarke, J Dunne, D McCracken, D Byrne, L Conroy, A Dunleavy, R Dalton.
Subs: D Heneghan, J Clarke, E Gilligan.
Referee: D McGrath