CILLIAN O’CONNOR bounced back from his recent knee injury scare to propel Ballintubber into the semi-finals of a Mayo SFC race blown wide open by the earlier exit of champions Knockmore.
Returning from a three-week lay-off, the two-time All-Star showed plenty of his old target man cuteness as 14-man Ballintubber edged out a disappointing Breaffy by 2-11 to 0-14 in Castlebar.
O’Connor pushed his team ahead on 24 minutes when he reacted sharpest to a bouncing ball in the Breaffy goalmouth, out-jumping Mayo colleague Rob Hennelly to fist the opening goal.
Two ahead at the break, Ballintubber then overcame a potential hammer-blow red card for former Mayo midfielder Jason Gibbons. A second goal came on 54 minutes, sub Ciarán Gavin finishing off a flowing move, proved priceless.
And even though Breaffy kept pushing deep into stoppage-time, O’Connor converted his own free with the last kick to finish with 1-4 (3f) and TG4’s Man of the Match award.
“Ugly win, but you’ll take it,” said O’Connor, who dismissed his goal as “a bit of a fluke”.
Ballintubber will now face Ballina Stephenites, who annihilated Claremorris by 4-13 to 0-7. The mismatch contained one surreal sub-plot: Mayo defender Pádraig O’Hora set up the first goal for Dylan Thornton despite having his ponytail apparently pulled by a despairing back, with the Claremorris keeper stranded outfield.
It was much closer in MacHale Park, where a youthful Castlebar Mitchels ended the reign of two-time champions Knockmore; Ethan Gibbons’ seven-point haul inspiring a 0-12 to 0-11 win.
With provincial holders Pádraig Pearses also ousted – losing their SFC quarter-final to Roscommon Gaels by 1-11 to 1-6 despite a flying start – it means that both of last season’s Connacht club finalists have been toppled on the same weekend.
Kilmacud Crokes, who eventually ended Pearses’ All-Ireland quest back in January, are still standing firm in the capital.
Robbie Brennan’s crew were forced to start their SFC semi-final without Paul Mannion after the prodigal Dub underwent ankle surgery. But having conceded the opening 1-1 to Thomas Davis, they would only cough up a further two points, winning by 0-12 to 1-3. The baton of Crokes talisman passed seamlessly to Galway star Shane Walsh, who helped himself to 0-8.
The previous evening, Na Fianna stormed past favourites Ballyboden (1-14 to 0-7) to reach their first Dublin football decider in 17 years.
On the hurling front, Brian Cody may have departed the Kilkenny throne, but he is now just 60 minutes away from helping to steer James Stephens to a county SHC title on Noreside.
With Cody on board as a selector, ‘the Village’ edged out city rivals Dicksboro in a semi-final cracker, winning by 2-18 to 1-18 to reach their first decider since 2019.
Conor Browne’s 50th-minute goal proved decisive for Stephens, whose last senior coronation came in 2011.
It was much more straightforward for Ballyhale Shamrocks in their delayed quarter-final. Chasing a fabled five-in-a-row, Ballyhale overwhelmed Clara by 1-27 to 0-15.
Adrian Mullen’s ninth-minute goal set the one-sided agenda; Mullen (1-7) and fellow Cat Eoin Cody (0-6) scored 1-13 between them, and they will now face Tullaroan in next Saturday’s semi-final.