Holmes eager for Castlebar to end long wait for glory
TWELVE months on and the most obvious difference at Castlebar tomorrow afternoon will be on the sidelines.
Psychologically, however, Castlebar Mitchels are the ones looking to end a wait for a Mayo SFC title, and the tragic backdrop that dominated last year's final preparations has eased somewhat.
In the opposite corner are the first Ballintubber team ever to try to defend a county title.
They could have seen it as a weight on their shoulders, but instead the club want to capitalise on a potential golden era. A year on from making history with their first win, they want their first two-in-a-row.
Wearing the bainisteoir bibs are two men who took over from the managers who guided their teams to the top table last season.
Anthony McGarry has taken over the reins from James Horan at Ballintubber, while former Mayo manager Pat Holmes replaced ex-Sligo and Galway supremo Peter Ford in Castlebar.
At Ballintubber, ambition was the question. Having quenched a thirst that had lasted 115 years, there were sceptics wondering if it could have been backed up.
"When I took over, my first question in mind was whether this group was still hungry for more," McGarry says.
"I found out at an early stage that they were, that they are ambitious and that the hunger is still there.
"They are an improving side. The age profile suggests that, but it has been written that Ballintubber have gone to the well a couple of times.
"There are a good few more buckets of water to be collected. I don't think the well is dry yet. The players are still improving."
In Castlebar, it has been 18 years since Holmes and his team-mates conquered Mayo and Connacht. Since then, the club has dropped to intermediate and returned.
Last season they came up against their neighbours with the weight of the deaths of Ger Feeney (father of Richie and Alan) and Donal McEllin (uncle of Tom Cunniffe) in the Inishbofin drowning tragedy on their minds and they couldn't handle their opponents as they came up short.
The work the club and Ford's management team put in is paying dividends now, says Holmes, as Mitchels return to competing for the Moclair Cup on a regular basis.
"I inherited a very, very good team who played in a county final last year," he says.
"There was a lot away from football which put football in perspective last year and then you had a situation on the day where you had a very good Ballintubber team who didn't allow Castlebar Mitchels to play last year.
"Castlebar came a long, long way last year. A number of years ago they went to intermediate, so to come back from intermediate football and now to be competing with the top teams in the county -- which is where Castlebar should be -- Peter, Tommy O'Malley and Declan Shaw did an excellent job.
"Have we brought it on any further? Only time will tell that.
"A lot of people think a county title is overdue, but you have no divine right to win anything. You need good players and you need good structures.
"I believe that the club over the last couple of years have put good structures in place and we have a very good bunch of footballers.
"But that doesn't guarantee success, you need a bit of luck on the day and you need to play better than the team you're playing against.
"People would say it's long overdue or whatever, that you would expect Castlebar to be competing on a more regular basis, but they haven't and that is just the way it is."
The extra spice tomorrow will come from the local element in the proceedings.
Not only will the likes of Alan Dillon and Young Footballer of the Year Cillian O'Connor be expected to light up McHale Park, they'll be doing it against men they grew up with. "They've played against each other, gone to school with each other all the way up. They'd have socialised with each other and some of them even live with each other, so its that close," McGarry says.
Those friendships will go out the window for 60 minutes tomorrow. There's history to be made.