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Castlebar can overcome Clann again

Sean Rice

Seán Rice

THE dream of an All-Ireland title is a reasonable consequence of an undemanding county victory . . . but to predict it at this stage is a little extravagant.
The Mitchels, to be sure, are contenders for an All-Ireland title, but with no greater right of claim to that honour than Corofin the holders, or the champions of many other counties, or indeed of Clann na nGael whom they meet next Sunday in the Connacht semi-final.
The Mitchels travel to Hyde Park with high hopes of reaching the provincial final, having established their standing and consistency as the leading side in Mayo this season.
But they also travel uninformed about the quality of the opposition, unaware of the standard reached by Clann na nGael, their strengths and weaknesses and whether they have been lifted by the rising tide of Roscommon football.
And only on the field of play can that be answered.
The Roscommon champions are not brand new challengers for the Connacht crown. Before hitting a nadir that persisted for almost two decades, they were among the top clubs in the country, festooned with an honours list that included nineteen senior titles, eight won between 1984 and 1991.
They were kingpins in Connacht in that period, too, winning seven titles and reaching the All-Ireland final on four occasions, but failing to get over the line in all four.
They were backboned by Mike Keegan, Liam Dunne and Eamon and Tony McManus who also wore the county jersey with distinction. Older Roscommon folk will remember, too, with pride names of former county stars P.J. Shine, Tony Kenny and the Watsons whose skills were developed and honed at the Clann na nGael grounds in Johnstown.
So while the team with which the Mitchels do battle may be relatively inexperienced, they will be drawing on the legacy of old heroics for inspiration. And on home ground they are a threat to Castlebar’s aspirations.
The two have had close tussles in the past.
In the Connacht final of 1988 Clann beat Castlebar by two points at MacHale Park. Five years later they drew in the final, but the Mitchels won the replay by a single point before progressing to the All-Ireland final, which they lost to Nemo Rangers.
So in a way Sunday’s is a renewal of old hostilities, and the Mitchels’ confidence is buoyed by their runaway win in the final of the league on Sunday over Crossmolina.
The game held no real interest for the Deel Rovers men who had already secured their place in Division 1A next season. But to win so easily with a second string team is an indication of the strength of the game in the capital and the consistency with which they have dominated the county all season.
In that strength of course may reside also a hidden hazard . . . the onset of complacency. Lack of tough opposition in their championship and league finals might tend to induce a false sense of superiority, a feeling that they are better than whatever opposition presents itself in Connacht.
It is the challenge by those on the periphery of the team that has kept the first choice players on their toes. No regular, however experienced, can afford to slacken his effort. Someone is waiting in the wings to take his place.
Barry Moran, Tom Cunniffe, Eoghan O’Reilly, Richie Feeney and Niall Lydon were rested for Sunday’s final league game, and the remainder of the main side replaced during the course of the game. They were scarcely missed so eager and lively were their replacements.
While the strength of Clann na nGael cannot be measured until they meet on Sunday at Hyde Park, Castlebar’s performance in the county final holds out hopes that similar tenacity and determination will carry them through to the final.
Breaffy may not have provided the desired resistance, but the grit and determination of the defence centred round Eoghan O’Reilly, Alan Feeney, Tom Cunniffe and Donie Newcombe, was like nothing we had seen before.
That new dimension to their play has raised high expectations of further progress on Sunday, but it will take all we have seen and more to nail down victory. The flair and invention shown by Barry Moran, Aidan Walsh, Neil Douglas, Shane Hopkins, Danny Kirby and Richie Feeney ought to be enough to see them through.

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