KEEPING THE HEAD DOWN Ballyheane’s Diarmuid O’Connor pulls away from Castlebar Celtic’s Fionn Mahon during Sunday’s Calor Gas Super Cup semi-final at Celtic Park. Pic: John Corless
Castlebar Celtic 4
Slevin 15, Loftus 27, 35, 40
A GOAL by Joe Slevin on his full Celtic debut and a hat-trick by Jordan Loftus saw off Ballyheane and set up a Super Cup Final meeting of Castlebar Celtic and Kiltimagh-Knock United in a month’s time.
Celtic are in a tremendous run of form and will go into the final as favourites.
Ballyheane lined out with returning GAA players Paddy Burke (Breaffy) and Michael Fahy (Castlebar Mitchels) in midfield. They were joined in the starting line-up by Mayo and Ballintubber GAA star, Diarmuid O’Connor.
Jack Tuffy (illness) and Seán Kilcoyne (concussion) were absent.
On the slippery surface of Celtic Park, the homeside took control of the game early on and did the business in the first half, going in 4-1 up.
This was a comprehensive display by Celtic and confirms their position as the best team in Mayo at the moment. They lined out without the influential Johnny Cocozza who picked up a knock at training on the previous Thursday, but Slevin proved a more than capable replacement.
The ex-Claremorris man brings strength and experience to a young Celtic midfield and is a shrewd signing by Stevie Gavin. That strength saw him power past the Ballyheane defence and drive home after fifteen minutes to put the hosts in front.
Slevin could have had two more had the bounce of the ball favoured him, but instead it was Loftus who took over the goalscoring duties.
His first came after 27 minutes when he got on the end of Jason Hunt’s cross, aided greatly by the ball getting held up in a puddle near the Ballyheane goal.
The visitors were incensed that the goal was allowed to stand, claiming that the natural flight of the ball was impeded by the water pond. Referee Damien McGrath was having none of it and pointed to the centre-circle. Celtic’s 2-0 lead lasted only a minute when Nathan Reilly-Doyle headed the ball downwards causing confusion in the Celtic goalmouth.
Ben Edeh got the decisive touch to halve the margin.
Ten minutes before the interval Darragh Ludden fouled Jason Hunt in the box, conceding a penalty in the process. Jordan Loftus saw his spot-kick saved by Luca Meldrum, but the young keeper couldn’t hold on to the ball and Loftus pounced to tap in.
Celtic’s striker completed his hat-trick when he got on the end of a pass from Fionn Mahon – the youngster having made a brilliant run from midfield.
The second-half opened with three explosive minutes.
Man-of-the match Ioseph O’Reilly handled the ball in his own penalty area but the excellent Stefan Hester went the right way, saving Jack Rochford’s penalty. A minute later Celtic’s Jason Hunt was dismissed for a tackle.
The remainder of the second-half was scrappy – mainly due to the wet surface. Ballyheane had a few chances but Celtic were very solid at the back and held their ground.
The match was competitive; along with the red card, Damien McGrath also waved the yellow eight times. But there were no bad fouls, it was just a combination of a slippery surface and the hunger of a cup tie between local rivals.
Ioseph O’Reilly said it was a massive win for Celtic.
“The past few weeks show what we can do when we have the full squad available,” he told The Mayo News. “We have great quality now. The last two years the team has been in transition, but it’s time for us to go and win a bit of silverware now.
“We were pleased not to concede a goal in the second half, when we were down to ten men. “We had to work that bit harder. And that’s the way it is with this team now, players have to work harder to make it into the match-day squad, never mind the starting eleven. So now it’s about consistency.”
Declan Flynn, the Celtic coach, said he thought his side were good value for their win.
“We prepared well for it. We have a big squad of quality players to pick from. When we went a man down, we just adapted. We didn’t panic and our fitness levels stood to us.”
Ballyheane manager Ashley Stevenson thought the scoreline wasn’t a fair reflection of the first half. “They definitely edged it,” he said, “but not that much. In the second half we had four chances, two one-on-ones and a penalty, but it just wasn’t our day.”
Along with O’Reilly and Loftus, Slevin, Hester and Hunt were excellent for Celtic.
Fahy and Edeh were best for Ballyheane.
S Hester, B Hay, M Howley, I O’Reilly, J Walsh, O Groarke, F Mahon, J Slevin, J Loftus, J Hunt, D Howley.
Subs: B Walsh, B Murphy, M Rattigan.
L Meldrum, J Rochford, D Ludden, C Redmond, J Cunningham, M Fahy, D Purcell, D O’Connor, N Reilly-Doyle, P Burke, B Edeh.
Subs: A McHale, R Morris.
Referee: D McGrath