True grit helps Castlebar hold off Crossmaglen and find way back into club football final
Castlebar Mitchels 0-13 Crossmaglen Rangers 0-12
Castlebar Mitchels showed incredible resolve to withstand heavy Crossmaglen Rangers pressure in the last 10 minutes to advance to their second All-Ireland club football final in three years.
On the rack for most of the first half when Crossmaglen really should have put them away, the Mayo champions asserted themselves with resurgence around midfield to put themselves in a winning position when Barry Moran booted over his second point in the 57th minute.
But they had to defend that one-point lead for the last seven minutes as tensions spilled over, a sideline altercation developed and the game ended on a bitter note.
With Paddy Durkan, who had scarcely trained since the Connacht final win over Corofin because of injury, leading the charge Castlebar chased down an early 0-7 to 0-2 deficit.
Crossmaglen's 19-year-old midfielder Oisin O'Neill had been dominant and with Jamie Clarke firing over three points they were cruising at 0-8 to 0-3 by the 23rd minute.
That lead should have been greater as a Clarke goal attempt went inches wide in the fourth minute while substitute John Murtagh had a shot taken off the line by Ray O'Malley at the other end as half-time approached.
In response Durkan grabbed his second point at the other end and that four-point swing was a real psychological lift for Castlebar as they trailed by just 0-8 to 0-5.
They were level within minute of the restart, Durkan, Neil Lydon and Danny Kirby all kicking points to put the pressure on the six-time All-Ireland champions.
But Clarke hit two more points and by the 40th minute they were back in front, 0-10 to 0-9.
Moran grew in stature around midfield where Kirby and Ger McDonagh were also a forceful presence while the driving runs of Eoghan O'Reilly and Durkan from the back gave them real momentum.
The lead changed hands after that, first an O'Neill free edging Cross ahead before a pair of frees from Douglas, who was later black-carded, put Castlebar on the front foot again.
Aaron Kernan had Cross level again in the 55th minute but Moran punched another hole in their defence at the other end and they couldn't recover from that.
Referee Eddie Kinsella ran the gauntlet of Cross ire afterwards, having awarded some 30 frees against them.
But joint-manager John McEntee refused to use that statistic as an excuse for their failure to advance.
Scorers - Castlebar Mitchels: N Douglas 0-6 (6fs), P Durkan 0-3, B Moran 0-2, N Lydon, D Kirby 0-1 each.
Crossmaglen Rangers: J Clarke 0-5, T Kernan (1f), O O'Neill (1f) 0-2 each, S Kernan, C Cumiskey, A Kernan (f) 0-1 each.
Castlebar Mitchels: R Byrne; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, D Newcombe; P Durkan, E O'Reilly, R O'Malley; G McDonagh, B Moran; S Hopkins, N Lydon, N Douglas; S Keane, R Feeney, D Kirby.
Subs: F Durkan for S Hopkins (40), C Costello for Lydon (46), James Durkan for Keane (54), A Walsh for R Feeney (55), D Stenson for Douglas BC (63).
Crosmaglen Rangers: P Hearty; P McKeown, A Rushe, J Morgan; P Hughes, M Aherne, A Kernan; O O'Neill, J Hanratty; M McNamee, S Kernan, T Kernan; J Clarke, K Carragher, C Cumiskey. Subs: J Murtagh for Carragher inj (7), S Finnegan for McKeown BC (35), P Stuttard for McNamee (40), R Kelly for Murtagh (57), D McKenna for Stuttard (61)