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Castlebar Mitchels light up Saturday night

Sean Rice

ALL SMILES Castlebar Mitchels fans Colette Fahy and Jessica Fahy and Kayla and Aisling Burke celebrate their team’s success in the Mayo SFC Final last Saturday evening. Pic: Michael Donnelly

Seán Rice

IT was no advertisement for dreamers. Castlebar Mitchels seem so far ahead of the pack that the rest are floundering ... in despair perhaps of ever bridging the gulf.
All year the Mitchels have been uninspired, doing enough to get over the line, but revealing no promise of the flare that distinguished their football on Saturday evening.
You wonder what observations occupied the minds of the Tourlestrane and Corofin managers leaving MacHale Park at the weekend, having watched Paddy Durcan and Neil Douglas demolish whatever hopes Knockmore carried into this unequal contest.
It was not the cracking county final we expected. No drama, no nail-biting excitement, just an uninterrupted flow of quality football at full spate ... sweeping with it the false hopes that Knockmore had established in their semi-final success.
And after it all you were left to wonder how those who aspired to the title feel right now. Where exactly stand Breaffy, who a few short weeks back were thought to offer the stiffest challenge to the Mitchels’ hopes of retaining the title ... speculation that vanished in the wake of their surprising collapse to Knockmore in the semi.
And what happened to the quality football with which Knockmore downed the Breaffy men? On this occasion none of it was evident. Their sprightly start with points by Seán Ruttledge and Peter Naughton soon spluttered to a halt as the Mitchels took over.
At midfield the omens were obvious when Barry Moran set an aggressive precedent. With greater energy and authority than on previous occasions he, together with Aidan Walsh, established a firm launch pad for success.
And even though only two points separated the sides at the interval, the quality of their tackling, their diligence and enterprise were convincing indicators of the mastery being set by the champions.
It all came fully together after the break when the principal duels were sorted and the hopes Knockmore had placed in key men dissipated.
Paddy Durcan’s eclipse of his county colleague Kevin McLoughlin left the challengers rudderless. In the process, Durcan lit up the game with his haul of 1-3, the goal from his left foot curling into the top corner of the net and tilting the game irrevocably in one direction.
So, too, Neil Douglas in claiming 1-6 from his tussle with Shane McHale, four from frees. In the build-up by Fergal Durkan and Barry Moran to its execution, the goal ten minutes from the end was a delightful piece of invention.
The full-forward repaid Moran by contributing to the midfielder’s goal a minute after scoring his own with a clever close-in cross that delivered the coup de grâce to a disappointing Knockmore challenge.
Fergal Durkan did not figure on the score sheet, but he played an essential role in opening up the Knockmore defence for his colleagues.
At the other end of the field, Kieran Langan, such a pivotal performer in the Knockmore attack, found no freedom from full-back Ger McDonagh to cause any stir in the Mitchels’ camp.
Throughout the season their tight defence has been the cornerstone of Castlebar’s progress. And in the final, goalkeeper and captain Rory Byrne, Donie Newcombe, Shane Irwin, Ray O’Malley, Eoghan O’Reilly and Shane Hopkins, shipped in from the front line, sustained that firmness.
Their defence is in fact their powerhouse, but it also poses the question – does it in some way camouflage imperfections up front?
Of their total of six points in the first half, two of them came from half-back Paddy Durcan, the first and the third, both inspirational scores. And throughout the hour, further scores originated in counter-attacks from the same quarter.
Other than the brilliant Douglas, no other forward raised a flag ... until David Stenson came from the bench late in the game.
That could be a worry for the Mitchels as they prepare for their Connacht tussle with Sligo champions Tourlestrane on Saturday.
And if managers Eamon O’Hara and Gerry McGowan decides to erect a blanket defence as resistant as when he managed Ballaghaderreen last season against the same opposition
Saturday’s promise is for another dour, foul-ridden fixture with star players singled out for special attention.
That’s why managers Declan Shaw and Declan O’Reilly would have wished for sterner resistance from Knockmore, for a greater test of a forward line in which lack of physical strength might yet become their Achilles heel.
If they survive their duel with the Sligo champions, Corofin await them in Castlebar. That will be the litmus test of the Mitchels’ true capacity.
But for the moment they are out of reach in Mayo.

Westport’s young lions roar to victory
WESTPORT deserves a special column for their singular achievement in clawing their way back to senior football.
In many ways theirs was a more praiseworthy triumph than that of the Mitchels, who were firm favourites to retain their title.
Westport were outsiders based on the premise that, having defeated Shrule/Glencorrib in the semi-final three days earlier, insufficient time remained to have their funds of energy replenished.
But, like Knockmore in the senior final, Kiltimagh also left behind facets of the character that had classified them as hot favourites for the title and for promotion to senior fare next season.
Anyone looking on first time would have been forgiven for guessing Kiltimagh, not Westport, had played the semi-final the previous Wednesday, so sluggish and out of sorts were the East Mayo men.
In contrast, Westport were like men inspired, young lions chasing every opportunity, tackling ferociously and producing a brand of football of which any senior side would be proud.
Having played out of their skins in the first half against the wind, we waited for the expected fatigue to take hold. But while they slowed somewhat after the break Kiltimagh, inexplicably, were unable to exploit that drop in tempo.
The pace they set from the beginning was their key strategy. Kiltimagh, who had more time to prepare, were clearly taken aback by the hurricane acceleration of their opponents, the accuracy of their foot-passing and their aerial skills.
With Mayo stars Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane providing the fundamentals ­models of conviction,­ the rest of the requirements fell into place with James Walsh, Niall McManamon, Liam Ketterick, Keelan Dever and Brian McDermott answering the call and confining Kiltimagh to a paltry couple of points.
Three points ahead at the interval having played against the wind, the question looming at the break was could Westport sustain their breathtaking pace.
They didn’t fully, but although Mattie Cummins, Donovan Cosgrave, David Lydon and Ronan Malee brought wisps of hope to their play, Kiltimagh sadly somehow failed to ignite.
As if fuelled by some outside force, Westport powered on relentlessly, Fionn McDonagh starring up front, Phil Keegan, Colm Moran, Lewis Cawley and the rest contributing hugely to a fine win.
They have earned their promotion. Welcome back, Westport, to senior football.

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