THEY met in Tuam two years ago in difficult conditions. In a tough, uncompromising Connacht semi-final, Castlebar edged out hot favourites Corofin, and progressed to the All-Ireland club final the following spring.
Sunday’s is the first clash of those titans since the Mitchels won that duel in the rain and wind, and Corofin are now All-Ireland champions. But while they did overcome Mayo kingpins Ballintubber last season on their way to the summit, how they lost to Castlebar the previous year still rankles.
It’s a score they hope to settle on Sunday in a fitting provincial finale between the top sides in the province. Having come through their county campaigns with relative ease, the two now offer the prospect of thriller.
Corofin are hot favourites to succeed ... even to go all the way again. No other club in Galway has won more honours over the past couple of decades. Almost effortlessly they have brushed aside all opposition on the way to Sunday’s final, lending credence to predictions that they will retain the Connacht crown.
Their second-half slump against Clann na nGael has blemished somewhat the track record of the Mitchels’ season. But it should not cloud their potential.
All year they have been the outstanding side in Mayo; their only disappointment that no opposition was an adequate test of their true strength. And it may be for that very reason that they did not handle the Clann resurgence very well in Hyde Park. Tough opposition hones fine edges.
While the quality of Clann’s football was unknown to Castlebar, that is not the case with Corofin. The Mitchels are fully aware of the immensity of the challenge they face, and the standard the Galway men have reached in winning the national title.
Only in the All-Ireland final last year did the Mayo men encounter opposition of similar standard, and it is that goal they have got to reach in order to sweep the champions off their perch.
Inexperience cannot be an issue since Castlebar have in place the same six backs who defied Corofin’s best efforts two years ago. In fact, at least 12 of that side will be lining out on Sunday. Goalkeeper Ciaran Naughton, and corner forward James Durcan of that side are now on the bench. Tom King is the only absentee.
In contrast, Corofin’s lineout contain’s only seven of their 2013 team. Corner forward Martin Farragher (who scored 3-2 in the semi-final against St Mary’s) was a sub that day, while Micheál Lundy cried off before the start. The two are now lethal forwards.
Neil Douglas, Shane Hopkins and the experienced Richie Feeney bring their own assets of power and craft to the Mitchels’ forward line. Danny Kirby has added a new dimension to the attack this season.
In a game where the distinction between backs and forwards is diminishing, it is not easy to point to any one duel as being decisive. But the outcome of the battle in the middle third could be influential.
Interest sprouts around Barry Moran and Ger McDonagh and how they might fare against Ronan Steede and Michael Farragher in the centre; how Gary Sice, Lundy and Jason Leonard do against Ray O’Malley, Eoghan O’Reilly and Patrick Durcan; and whether McGrath, Cunningham and Aidan Burke can rein in the spirited challenges of Shane Hopkins, Niall Lydon and Aidan Walsh.
Then there is the highly significant outcome of the duels between Tom Cunniffe and Ian Burke, and Donal Newcombe and Martin Farragher to be considered. And whether the Mitchels’ will again be forced to turn to subs Cian Costello and James Durcan in a bid to swing the game in their favour.
Castlebar are comfortable as outsiders, and if they can reproduce the form that snuffed out the challenge of Breaffy’s strong men, they are in with a shout. The difference is that Corofin, unlike Breaffy, are strong all over. It’s a matter of knowing how to find the nerve and the sinew to compete with them everywhere ... for an hour.
All-Ireland final documentary was an eye-opener
“THE more things change, the more they are the same.” That old dictum from French novelist Alphonse Karr came to mind listening to the miked-up comments of David Coldrick as he refereed the recent All-Ireland final.
We have all had favourite referees in our day ... guys we knew would allow us away with infringements other referees would not tolerate. We leant on their generosity, knew they would listen when we feigned a foul or when a timely shout brought play to a halt ... things you would not dare commit in front of sterner officials.
What we never encountered was a referee calling us by our first names as David Coldrick did the players under his charge in the All-Ireland final.
It was an eye-opener and it was clear the contestants on both sides were accustomed to the referee’s high level of tolerance – and to the distance some were prepared to go to plead innocence having committed the most blatant of fouls.
The exposé was broadcast in a television documentary, ‘All-Ireland Day’, about the preparations that go into All-Ireland football finals and specifically into the recent decider between Dublin and Kerry.
It was also an insight into the modus operandi of referee Coldrick. You felt he was too lenient in dealing with the protests of the players, that it was not his place to plead with them to behave, that being on first-name terms with them was too close a relationship for him to be fully impartial.
There was no need for the Meath official to argue with Diarmuid Connolly about his dangerous tackle or with Kieran Donaghy whether he was or was not fouled in the square.
He should not have tolerated players getting stuck in his face for every offence he punished. Philly McMahon was a dab hand at it, all with the express purpose of influencing not that decision but the next.
Kerry, Donegal and Dublin players are masters of such intimidating tactics and, to be sure, referees with the tolerance levels of Coldrick are influenced and will, perhaps unconsciously, compensate by ignoring the next foul.
Sterner control would forestall such interference. In his pocket the referee has the remedy. He has red, black and yellow cards. He can also move the ball from the free kick nearer to the goal, as so many do.
We in Mayo learnt a harsh lesson from referee Pat McEneaney, but to give him his due, the Monaghan man would not countenance the intrusions of players that the television documentary exposed.
Perhaps if he consulted with his umpires, Coldrick might not have had to inform Donaghy that he had not seen the gouging incident of which the Kerryman correctly complained.
From the distance of the stands, whinges appear to go unnoticed by match officials. In this one, there was a virtual tête-à-tête out there on the pitch between David Coldrick and the offending player, a situation that is not to be recommended in the interests of credibility and impartiality.