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Fatigue catches up with Castlebar

Sean Rice

HARD TO WATCH Castlebar Mitchels fan Karen Cunningham watches the late drama unfold in Sunday’s Connacht Club SFC semi-final at MacHale Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Seán Rice

HAVING fallen at the final hurdle last March, the dream of returning to Croke Park so soon might have been a bit extravagant. Nevertheless, Castlebar Mitchels took favourites Corofin to extra time before surrendering their Connacht crown on Sunday.
A summer’s evening would struggle to beat the excellent conditions that greeted the protagonists at MacHale Park, but for long periods the football failed to match those conditions.
Only in the final ten minutes of an otherwise lifeless normal time when it seemed that the Galway champions, so superior all through, might once again fall short in their joust with the Mitchels did any sense of excitement enter the contest.
Up to that, Corofin were the more complete outfit, stronger and more evenly balanced. But the Mitchels were hanging in, refusing to concede. And when Neil Douglas thrust them into the lead from an exquisite free with his left foot in the 55th minute, a rustled home victory seemed possible.
The shock rippled through the play of the Galway champions and forced them to raise the level of their performance a further notch. But in injury time David Stenson grabbed the equaliser that sent the game into extra time.
And in truth, that final spurt was the Mitchels’ last hurrah. Six weekends in a row of vital games had taken its toll. Minds as well as limbs had ground to a halt. There was no more to give. The dream was over.
But in fairness Corofin were the better side – strong in defence, where the Silke brothers and Kieran Fitzgerald guarded their goal area determinedly; at midfield, where Daithi Burke and Ronan Steede were strong and resourceful; and up front, where all but one of their forwards scored.
The Castlebar score-sheet bears no comparison. Neil Douglas with ten of their total of 14 points, eight of them from frees, was, as he has been throughout the season, their helmsman. And that was the difference between the sides.
The Mitchels lacked that sort of balance. Cian Costello with a point was the only other member of the starting six forwards to score. To his credit, David Stenson let it be known why he should have made an earlier entrance, when he grabbed two.
That, apart from Paddy Durcan’s point­ their only score from play in the first half, was the sum of the Mitchels’ front line contribution. Durcan, confined to curbing Gary Sice, executed his duties satisfactorily, but might have been of even greater benefit if released to make his usual input to the forward division.
Corofin were far more economical in the first half in particular when not a single wide was recorded against them compared to the Mitchels’ eight, many of them shot from distance in frustration ... their kickers having run out of ideas how to pierce the Corofin defence.
Their defence was Castlebar’s strongest section. Their captain Rory Byrne guarded his goalmouth efficiently. And Donie Newcombe was once again their outstanding player. No game is left without his footprint at corner back. His consistency has been a hallmark of the Mitchels’ progress all year.
Ger McDonagh at full back was solid, and Eoghan O’Reilly and Paddy Durcan other pillars of dependability. Although they had their moments at midfield, Aidan Walsh and Barry Moran were less productive than their counterparts Daithí Burke and Ronan Steede, fatigue finally catching up on them.
So a year in which important competitions are once again packed into the final weeks of the season ends unsatisfactorily for the Mitchels, thanks mainly to the success of the county’s senior side. But they need the rest and can be reassured that the emergence of young promising talent in other competitions is the foundation of continued success.

Peter Horkan celebrates glory days in Chicago
NOSTALGIA was the over-riding emotion last week in Chicago where the Horkan family of Castlebar and Turlough gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of their eldest sibling Peter, a fomer Castlebar Mitchels football star.
High on the list of memories, no doubt, were Peter’s football achievements, especially when presented by his brother Seán with a scroll from Castlebar Mitchels paying him tribute for his role in the club’s county championship success more than 60 years ago.
Peter lined out at midfield in 1950 when they beat Ballina Stephenites at Foxford, and scored one of the Mitchels’ three goals to record the first of five successive county senior titles for the club. By all accounts it was a rough-and-tumble affair, as games between the Mitchels and their greatest rivals were in those days.
Tommy Ainsworth recalls that final vividly. Noted for his style and accuracy, Tommy was no more than 16 years of age when asked to join the substitutes for the final.
“I had just come from the cinema the previous night when I was met by club officials Gerry McDonald and Dick Morrin with a request to come to Foxford as a sub.
“I agreed, but insisted on cycling to the game, having already decided to take the bike.”
What he witnessed at Foxford was a brawl. The only structure on the field was the mearing fence. There were no seats, no shelter of any kind. A single rope separated the crowd from the playing area. The series of trips and punches between the German football 11 and a team of prisoners in the film ‘Escape To Victory’ was mild by comparison with the dust-up in Foxford. Fists flew, cogs tore into bare flesh, and players writhed in agony.
For the newest and youngest Mitchels substitute looking on, the hostilities were so fierce that when called to replace an injured player, Tommy Ainsworth took the advice of a friend on the sideline and refused to join the warfare.
The Mitchels emerged bloodied but victorious, and Peter Horkan had won the county’s coveted senior medal, setting them on a roll of five in a row, and a total of seven to the end of the decade.
Two years later, Tommy sustained an injury while playing for the Mitchels in a gold medal tournament game against Tuam Stars which had him hospitalised for more than six months and out of football for a further 18 months.
Not long after returning from injury, Ainsworth was back in hospital again with a collapsed lung sustained in a league match against Claremorris. But a further six weeks in hospital did not deter the young Castlebar star from returning to the game he loved.
He would go on to win five senior medals with the Mitchels, an All-Ireland junior championship with Mayo and two All-Ireland medals with Castlebar Post Office.
Those men of the fifties were a breed apart. Peter Horkan’s brother Patsy was one of the club’s outstanding backs, collecting nine senior championship medals with Castlebar Mitchels, a figure surpassed only by the late inimitable Josie Munnelly, who amassed an unparalleled 12 senior medals with the club ... and one senior hurling award.

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