Thursday 22 February 2018

Brilliant Ballyboden leave the best wine until last

Castlebar unable to recover from early barrage as misery continues for Mayo teams

The Ballyboden St Endas players celebrate with the cup (SPORTSFILE)
The Ballyboden St Endas players celebrate with the cup (SPORTSFILE)
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Near the end of post-match press conference Ballyboden St Enda’s manager Andy McEntee was asked if the new All-Ireland champions would start fifth favourites for the forthcoming Dublin championship.

Ballyboden 2-14 Castlebar 0-7 AIB All-Ireland Club SFC final

McEntee suggested they might be sixth. “Every game we win, we seem to drift.”

The conversation was tongue-in-cheek both ways of course but there was a particular undertone to it.

For whatever reason they haven’t come across as the most convincing Dublin and Leinster champions; certainly not in the same way that St Vincent’s had been.

Andrew Kerin, Ballyboden St Endas, shoots to score his side's second goal, from a penalty (SPORTSFILE)
Andrew Kerin, Ballyboden St Endas, shoots to score his side's second goal, from a penalty (SPORTSFILE)

Even at half-time here, as they led by eight points, they were still only considered fourth favourites for their 2016 defence in Dublin on one bookmaker’s list.

Just about everyone bought into the idea that Ballyboden weren’t of the same standard as some of their predecessors and that Castlebar Mitchels, two years on from their last final defeat to Vincent’s, were a more hardened and determined team.

Wins on the way over two of the previous four All-Ireland champions, Corofin and Crossmaglen, supported that. Sub-consciously Castlebar may have fallen into the trap of believing it too. It was the perfect ambush.

Ballyboden got the start their opponents needed more. It was ‘shock and awe’ in the opening quarter as they raced 2-3 to 0-0 clear and the psychological toll was too much to overcome for a Castlebar team that imploded beyond belief.

So many of them couldn’t do anything right. Simple handpasses from experienced players with inter-county backgrounds couldn’t find their target in those early stages and, like a virus, the malaise spread out of control.

Castlebar joint-manager Declan O’Reilly talked about their team not wanting to be “another Mayo stat” but their collapse is so pointed against the expectation that surrounded them that it may be a new benchmark for the county. Twice now they have come to Croke Park for an All-Ireland final and failed to deal with the athleticism of a Dublin team.

Barry Moran, Castlebar Mitchels, in action against Robbie McDaid, Ballyboden St Endas (SPORTSFILE)
Barry Moran, Castlebar Mitchels, in action against Robbie McDaid, Ballyboden St Endas (SPORTSFILE)

It completed a hat-trick of defeats for Mayo teams in this year’s All-Ireland club finals and was the biggest losing margin in a senior final (excluding Garrycastle’s 15-point replay defeat to Crossmaglen in 2012) since Nemo Rangers’ 18-point win over Garrymore in 1982.

Ballyboden were immense, smart and efficient in everything they did. To deliver so big on the biggest day, after living dangerously for so much of the campaign, crowns everything they have achieved over the last few months.

All 14 points they scored were from play and their discipline was reflected in the absence of an even a yellow card in 60 minutes of football.


They used pace and attacking width to draw out Castlebar and it worked a treat, McEntee’s selection of Ryan Basquel and Stephen O’Connor throwing their opponents sufficiently to gain an edge.

“It didn’t help things,” reflected O’Reilly. “In saying that, essentially it was the scores that they got more than anything else.

“I think after that we were rattled a bit. We knew about one change and there were two changes that weren’t announced and it took us a few minutes to get to grips with them.”

Ballyboden were without the suspended Declan O’Mahony and lost Michael Darragh Macauley to a leg injury, picked up last week, in the 34th minute but were unfazed by their absence as they finished in such style.

It was a day for unsung heroes. Corner-back Bob Dwan had policed Diarmuid Connolly very effectively in the Dublin final and picked up Richie Feeney here, tracking his movements outfield.

By the 36th minute Dwan had three points scored and Castlebar were withdrawing a player who had played in an All-Ireland senior final only four years earlier.

“Bob is a fantastic athlete,” reflected McEntee. “You’re taking a risk when you bring him out the field. He thinks he’s a forward!”

In the other corner Shane Clayton gave a masterclass in fundamental defence, blocking, using his body effectively at close quarters and making key interceptions with precision timing. Castlebar couldn’t lay a mark on him.

With captain Darragh Nelson routinely making the yards out of defence, their platform was very solid.

The game was less than 90 seconds old when Ryan Basquel  ripped through the Castlebar defence to set up brother Colm for the opening goal. Instantly, it was evident how pace could set these teams apart.

“There’s a lot of space out there and we decided very quickly that we’ve a lot of pace and you might as well make the most of it,” said McEntee.

By the 13th minute they were 1-3 to 0-0 clear, Colm Basquel extending the lead courtesy of an assist to Ryan this time for the third point.

When Tom Cunniffe hacked down Aran Waters, switched to midfield in O’Mahony’s absence, for a penalty Andrew Kerin dispatched calmly to stretch the gap to nine. Memories of the 2006 and 2012 All-Ireland finals came flooding back for Mayo folk.

At least in both years there was a response, however brief in 2006. But here it was too fractured to manifest into anything. For a team that overcame a five-point deficit against Crossmaglen, it was inexplicable.

Only Paddy Durcan, and later substitute James Durcan, managed to penetrate to any effect.

Neil Douglas landed a ‘45 to open their account on 19 minutes but there was little flow to their play, Neil Lydon drawing a magnificent fingertip save from Paul Durcan who pushed it on to the post.

Durcan’s addition to Ballyboden has been a critical ingredient to their success and the range of his kick-outs were in full view here, at one stage almost producing ‘back spin’ to send Colm Basquel away for O’Connor’s point. By the break it was 2-5 to 0-3 and, in truth, it might have been much more.

Castlebar needed to restart fast but Ballyboden hit the first four points to extend the lead to 12 and kill any faint hope of a comeback.

Nothing reflected the difference more than the third in that sequence, O’Connor flying past Ray O’Malley at such pace to set up Keaney.

McEntee, who had brought in Irish rugby coach Joe Schmidt, Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and former high performance boxing coach Billy Walsh in to speak at various stages, reflected on the Ballyboden players experience of success on big days as a factor.

“We’ve a lot of guys with a lot of big-game experience. Even the younger fellas have it with Dublin minors, Dublin U-21s. I suppose that’s a plus for us and then the experience of Hiney, Keaney and Shane Durkin.”

Arguably the biggest club in the country now have the title to match.

Scorers – Ballyboden St Enda’s: A Kerin 1-2 (1-0 pen), C Basquel 1-1, B Dwan 0-3, R Basquel, S Durkin 0-2 each, MD Macauley, D O’Reilly, S O’Connor, C Keaney all 0-1 each. Castlebar Mitchels: N Douglas (1 ’45), A Walsh 0-2 each, P Durkan, J Durkan, N Lydon all 0-1 each.

Ballyboden St Enda’s – P Durcan 8; B Dwan 9, S Hiney 7, S Clayton 9; S O’Connor 7, D Nelson 7, S Durkin 8; MD Macauley 6, A Waters 7; D O’Reilly 7, C Basquel 9, R McDaid 7; A Kerin 7, C Keaney 6, R Basquel 8. Subs: C Flaherty for Nelson blood (26-30), S Lambert 6 for Macauley inj (34), S Molony for R Basquel (59), D Davey for O’Reilly (59), D McCabe for Waters (61), S Gibbons for McDaid (62).

Castlebar Mitchels – R Byrne 7; T Cunniffe 5, A Feeney 6, D Newcombe 6; P Durcan 7, E O’Reilly 6, R O’Malley 5; G McDonagh 5, B Moran 5; S Hopkins 5, N Lydon 7, N Douglas 5; S Keane 5, R Feeney 5, D Kirby 5. Subs: F Durkan 6 for Hopkins (24), C Costello 6 for Keane (36), J Durcan 7 for Feeney (36), A Walsh 6 for Douglas (41), S Conlon 5 for O’Malley (45), R Burke for Newcombe (50).

ref – Conor Lane (Cork)

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