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Mitchels blow title race wide open

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SHARING THE MOMENT Castlebar Mitchels joint manager Barry Moran congratulates Mark Cunningham after Sunday’s Mayo SFC quarter-final win over Knockmore at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park. Pic: Castlebar Mitchels GAA

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Edwin McGreal

GIVEN that it was once their home ground, it’s hard to credit that it was the 2019 Mayo SFC semi-final defeat to Ballaghaderreen since Castlebar Mitchels were last in MacHale Park.
They failed to get out of their group in 2020 and work on MacHale Park last year meant they were eliminated from the championship at the quarter-final stage in Claremorris to Garrymore.
“[The game against] Ballaghaderreen was a tough day at the office for us all,” veteran Mitchels midfielder Ger McDonagh said afterwards. “It’s a long, long time for us not to be back on this pitch. It is just great to be back here in those dressing rooms again, back playing knock-out football.”
It’s a dressing room where the likes of he, Pontoon Road neighbours Neil Douglas, Donie Newcombe and Rory Byrne and Paddy Durcan celebrated four county title wins from 2013-2017, as well as three final defeats.
But as he looks around the dressing room now, a lot of soldiers from those teams have moved on.
Indeed, if you only compare with 2019, only five players started both games and of the five subs Mitchels brought on against Ballagh’, only two are still involved – joint-managers Barry Moran and Neil Lydon.
“Teams come in cycles, don’t they? We’re in a cycle at the moment and there’s a fine crop of young lads that’s coming through at the moment. The old cliché, there’s a nice blend of youth and experience. They’ve plenty of legs and we’ve maybe more stuff in the head, but it’s a good mix.
“It’s just great, they give us great energy and we just try to inspire them to be leading the right role. But to be honest, they’re pulling the strings too, they’re setting the standards a lot of the time too so it’s great,” said McDonagh.
Given how young they are, it was a breakthrough result for Mitchels, announcing their arrival back at the top table after a fallow couple of seasons.  
Joint-manager Barry Moran admitted as much afterwards.
“What we were trying to do today was just get a performance, and we didn’t want to overcook it or anything like that. You take out Ger McDonagh and you take out Donie Newcombe, our average age was 21 years of age. You need a win like this to cement where you are at. I think this will give the group belief to show that they can go out and do it and I think it is brilliant and it shows the amount of work that these boys have put in,” he said.
He was full of praise for man of the match Ethan Gibbons. He scored four points off the bench the previous week against Garrymore, earning him a late inclusion in the starting team. The 23-year-old fully justified the call-up with seven points, five from play.
“Ethan is a great lad and what we respect so much about him – we pick the team on form – and it doesn’t matter who it is or anything like that. Ethan is in form right now and we’re just delighted he’s on our side and not someone else’s, he was brilliant today.”

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