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Champions continue on upward curve

Sport

ONE MAN AND HIS DOG  One of Ballinrobe’s best-known supporters, Tony Walkin Snr, is pictured with his dog ‘Michael D’ at last Sunday’s Mayo Intermediate Championship match between Ballinrobe and Parke at Flanagan Park. Pic: Conor McKeown

Seán Rice

GINGERLY and methodically Ray Dempsey introduces his young bench players to the rapids of senior football. Only when the game is safely won, and pressure is absent, does he release his most promising youngsters to sample the rigours of the big game.
It’s a successful process, tempering them gradually against the toughness of senior football, helping them to progress their skills and at the same time keeping the regulars on their toes.
Guys like Adam Naughton, Aidan Orme, Declan Melvin and his own son Conall have benefited from this school of Dempsey philosophy.
In Liam Durcan on Sunday we saw another of his proteges called from the bench. And it must have given the manager no end of satisfaction to watch Darren McHale finish a ball to the net that was drilled sweetly to him by young Durcan.
Soon the young man will become a regular on Dempsey’s first team, and the coolness with which he delivered that pass suggests there’s another Knockmore star in the making.
It may be some time— and there are many mountains to climb — before comparison will be drawn with Kevin McLoughlin. For years the Mayo star has been setting goals for aspiring young footballers. And on Sunday he must have exceeded his own highest standards.
When Knockmore were struggling to find their form against Aghamore in the first half their 34-years-old midfielder was showing the way.
Moving around the field with the agility of a minor, he orchestrated the play with his darting runs and accomplished left foot. Even when the champions were dominating the second half, McLoughlin was still their tireless strategist.
You would have expected a winding down performance from a man who has bestrode the peaks and the pitfalls of Mayo football for well over a decade, and who has met the challenges with unbridled tenacity.
On Sunday on his home pitch he lit up the play again.
He and Knockmore had six points to spare over an Aghamore side that refused to bow tamely to the champion’s more potent football.
When Darren McHale broke through for the winners’ first goal in the second minute it looked all over even then. But they found it difficult to extend that impressive start. And if it didn’t look inadequate, their half-time total of 1-3  was less than might have been expected from the county champions.
Aghamore had shown courage and no little skill in securing a fighting draw by the end of the half, their six points well spread among the players.
Things picked up after the break when the big men of Knockmore took fire, and Shane McHale, Aidan Orme, and Darren McHale found their form. In fact, by the time Fergal Boland got Aghamore’s first score of the second half, Knockmore had notched two further goals.
The first was a cracker from Aidan Orme in the 44th minute, hit while off balance into the far corner of the net. Four minutes later came Darren McHale’s second, set up by Durkan, which virtually sealed it.
They looked good when eventually they got on top with Sean Holmes and Adam Naughton strong in defence, and the rest tagging along nicely.
Aghamore were unlucky to lose Conor Kilkenny with a foot injury more than halfway through the first half. And all was surely lost when their captain James Lyons was binned for a handtrip a few minutes later.
Yet without patronising them, they battled on gamely, none more spiritedly than Conor Byrne, Fergal Boland, Ross Egan and their youngest player Tom O’Flaherty who turned in a fine performance at left-half back.
That courage was reflected in their final three points which reduced the Knockmore lead to six, a margin that looked impossible a few minutes earlier.

Kilmeena come storming back
A THUNDERSTORM in St Brendan’s Park saluted their entry to intermediate football on Saturday evening, and Kilmeena responded with a storm of their own.
History tilted towards Kilmaine. Previous encounters between them had gone the way of the South Mayo men. And here, too, they were favourites.
And when Jarlath Mullin stalled the early momentum of the All-Ireland junior champions with a brilliant goal in the eighth minute, the hosts wobbled for a while.
They had got off to the best of starts, crashing into a four-point lead: a ball bundled over the goalline by Seán Ryder and a point by Darragh Keaveney.
But Jarlath Mullin led Kilmaine’s fight back. Lining out at full-forward, but straying outfield, he posed immense danger with his jinking thrusts through the centre.
And his goal was just reward for prompting his team’s early command of the game. Availing of a cross from his brother Kevin, Mullin found a crack in the defence and struck the ball smartly from an angle into a corner of the net.
It shot them into the lead. And as the storm began to rage and followers scurried for shelter, the advantage swung towards the visitors in the blinding rain.
And then, adjusting to the challenge of their opponents and the elements, Kilmeena stirred. Reminiscent of their glory days in Croke Park, they began to string together aggressive movements.
And in the final ten minutes of the half their leaders emerged. Jarlath Mullin had been reined in, Jack Carney got stuck in at midfield, Keith Joyce and John Ryan stanked the defence and Sean Ryder, their captain, led by example.
Ball flooded the full forward line. And under pressure from Darragh Keaveney, John McGlynn and Joey Smyth, the Kilmaine defence looked distinctly shaky.
By half-time the hosts had taken the lead.
More benign weather greeted the second half, but not Kilmaine’s tough luck when injury cost them their full-back David Hughes, just after the break.
More than six minutes elapsed before the game resumed after the luckless defender was removed by stretcher.
As if in empathy with the injured player Kilmaine came thundering back, none other than Jarlath Mullin leading their charge.
A move begun by midfielder Geoffrey Sheridan found its way to Mullin via Tomas Fahey. This time the full-forward was left of goal and with his left foot he rifled the net again.
The goal shot them back into the lead.
But somehow it failed to douse the growing confidence of their opponents or the unerring foot of Darragh Keaveney from play and from frees.
In the final minutes of the first half he had boosted Kilmeena’s control with a magnificent point from the left wing with his left boot.
And fourteen minutes into the second half he repeated that outstanding score with a similar shot, this time from the right wing with his right foot. A skill perfected by few footballers.
It set Kilmeena on the road to dominance. Slowly, competently they imposed their will on the game, their captain setting the pace with his counter-attacking play and a brace of sterling points from play.
A well deserved victory that eases them into the bigger struggles to come.

 

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