O'Connor heroics fire Ballintubber
Back-to-back county titles set McGarry's men up for even greater ambitions
Published 24/10/2011 | 05:00
Ballintubber spent the first 99 years of their existence without ever laying a hand on a Mayo senior football championship trophy.
Now they have done so twice in as many years courtesy of another hard-fought win over Castlebar Mitchels in McHale Park yesterday.
This one should give Ballintubber just as much satisfaction as their landmark success last year for different reasons.
The former Clare hurling manager Ger Loughnane once said of his great team of the 1990s that they won their first title for the county but their second was for themselves.
Ballintubber's players may have identified with that sentiment last night.
With different pressures, defending a title can often be more onerous than claiming it for a first time and on this occasion there was plenty to suggest that Castlebar would avenge the three-point defeat from 12 months ago.
But when it mattered most Ballintubber had the class up front to deliver a second successive championship win and in Cillian O'Connor, the country's newly crowned Young Footballer of the Year, they have an attacking talent with a head on those young shoulders to match.
As Ballintubber manager Anthony McGarry, the former Mayo wing-back, suggested afterwards, those commodities don't often come together in perfect harmony in the county.
"Cillian is a fabulous player with a fabulous attitude, the feet are firmly on the ground at all times. We in Mayo have difficulty getting talented players with the head to match," suggested O'Connor.
After picking up his award on Friday night, it was straight down to core business for O'Connor yesterday and McGarry had no concerns on that front.
"You could forgive him for having his head elsewhere but he was more focused than anybody," he said.
Despite scoring 1-4, O'Connor still had to cede Man of the Match to Castlebar midfielder Barry Moran, who delivered a towering aerial performance in difficult conditions to bring his team to the cusp of victory.
Ballintubber goalkeeper Brendan Walsh was surely another contender for the individual award after a string of fine saves to deny Castlebar a second goal.
Danny Kirby, Sean Ryder and Neil Douglas (twice) were all denied by Walsh at crucial moments during the game.
McGarry attributed the win to what he felt was his side's superior teamwork.
"I felt heart and teamwork were decisive. I thought we had a bit more teamwork in us. I've been talking to my peers in Mayo at different clubs and they were saying Castlebar had the little edge but I knew we had the edge in teamwork. We had a bit more togetherness and a little bit of luck."
The game was only 50 seconds old when it had its first crucial piece of action, a Castlebar move that developed from a free awarded to their goalkeeper Ciaran Naughton and travelled the full length of the field for Kirby to apply a decent finish.
Tom Cunniffe, Donal Newcombe and Aidan Walsh all played crucial roles in a build-up that suggested a confident and incisive Castlebar was at hand.
O'Connor underlined his great strength from dead-ball play when he landed a monster 50-metre effort that cleared its target impressively on six minutes.
Castlebar, however, through the productivity of the midfield partnership of Barry Moran and veteran Shane Fitzmaurice, along with the ceaseless running of Alan and Richie Feeney and Tom Cunniffe from deep positions at the back, kept Castlebar on the front foot.
When Neil Lydon curled over a wonderful point from a very tight angle on 16 minutes, last year's beaten finalists found themselves 1-3 to 0-2 clear at that point.
But Ballintubber hit the next 1-3 unanswered and that was the most important surge in the game as they established control.
O'Connor got the goal and it was somewhat fortunate as he gathered a sublime long delivery from the ever alert Alan Dillon, who pulled the strings all afternoon for Ballintubber.
O'Connor appeared to lose his footing as he lined up his shot but still managed to squeeze it between full-back Alan Feeney and Naughton to reduce the deficit to a point, 1-3 to 1-2.
By the break Ballintubber were 1-5 to 1-4 ahead but it had been attritional in difficult conditions, with some 26 frees awarded (14 to Ballintubber), the same number as the second half for a total of 52.
Ryder restored parity four minutes into the second half but only after Walsh had denied a probable goal after Kevin Filan's threaded pass.
Douglas also had opportunities but had a propensity to take too much out of the ball at the wrong moments.
In the end the difference was those little touches of class provided by O'Connor and Dillon, though Alan Plunkett and Gary Dillon also contributed handsomely to the effort around the half-forward line.
Ballintubber led by two points once more when Dillon landed a huge point on 41 minutes for a 1-7 to 1-5 lead, but two Filan frees brought Mitchels level again.
O'Connor stepped up at that stage, however, and restored the two-point advantage once more with successive points from play.
Castlebar couldn't be shaken off though, and with Moran's influence growing, they got level again, 1-9 each, through Kirby and Filan from another free.
With three minutes remaining Ballintubber substitute Damien McGing delivered the coup de grace by rounding Alan Feeney for the last score.
This was the point of no return.
McGarry took over from the current Mayo manager James Horan and now wants to take the team further than they have ever been before.
"When we spoke last February I asked what the target was. The guys said just to be at the top. But realistically I knew this was a minimum. We need to build on it and we need to take it a step further than we did last year.
"The guys were disappointed, they didn't do themselves justice against Killererin. Obviously winning a first county they took their eye off the ball."
The lesson has been learned.
Scorers -- Ballintubber: C O'Connor 1-4 (2f), A Plunkett 0-2, A Dillon, G Dillon, J Gibbons, D McGing 0-1 each. Castlebar Mitchels: K Filan 0-5 (4f), D Kirby 1-1, N Lydon 0-2, S Ryder 0-1.
Ballintubber -- B Walsh; G Loftus, C Hallinan, P Earley; T Earley, D Geraghty, R O'Connor; M Hoban, J Gibbons; G Dillon, A Plunkett, A Dillon; P O'Connor, K McGuinness, C O'Connor. Subs: D McGing for McGuinness (38), M Nestor for G Dillon (58).
Castlebar Mitchels -- C Naughton; D Newcombe, A Feeney, E O'Reilly; R Feeney, T Cunniffe, S Ryder; B Moran, S Fitzmaurice; N Lydon, N Douglas, S Hopkins; D Kirby, A Walsh, K Filan. Subs: A Roache for Hopkins (42).
Ref -- R Gurren (Aghamore)