Wednesday 13 November 2019

Brother faces brother as parish rivals go to war in Mayo county final

Eoghan O'Reilly, Castlebar Mitchels, left, alongside his brother Tommy O'Reilly, Breaffy
Eoghan O'Reilly, Castlebar Mitchels, left, alongside his brother Tommy O'Reilly, Breaffy

Christy O'Connor

Tom Reilly moved from Monaghan to Castlebar with the Bank of Ireland in 1979. He joined Castlebar Mitchels and spent most of his adult career with the club.

He captained them to the 1994 All-Ireland club final. Two years later, Reilly came on as a sub for Mayo in the 1996 All-Ireland final replay defeat to Meath.

Reilly's career wound down soon afterwards but his sons, Eoghan and Tommy, had already picked up the baton with the Mitchels. By the time the family moved from Kilkenny Cross to Kilnock on the Balla side of Breaffy village, Tommy had drifted away from the Mitchels.

He concentrated on soccer with Castlebar Celtic for a couple of years until a group of Breaffy friends asked O'Reilly to play with them at U-16 level. Since both clubs are based in the one parish and no actual parish boundary exists, there was no issue when Tommy O'Reilly applied to transfer from Castlebar to Breaffy.

There is an agreement between both clubs that players in the parish can play for whoever they want. If a player is looking to transfer to the other club, there is a six-month cooling off period in case they want to return. Tommy didn't. Despite his family's close connections to the Mitchels, O'Reilly was forging a new identity on a new path.

He and his brother had different surnames to their father for a reason. Tom Reilly had his name mistakenly put down on his birth cert by his father as Tom O'Reilly. The rest of the family were Reillys and a piece of paper didn't change his status. Yet when he married Maeve Canning, she officially became Maeve O'Reilly. Their sons had the same name.

The brothers had played against each other a number of times until the inevitable happened two years ago when the clubs met in the county final, which Castlebar won. Two years on, they meet again. Except this time, there is a new twist. Tom Reilly is now a Breaffy selector.

Despite his Mitchels background, having sons on both teams for the 2013 final allowed Reilly declare neutrality. This time around, he has no choice. He isn't just picking a side - he's on a side. When he's talking football tactics on the phone at home, Reilly has to look over his shoulder to make sure he's not revealing any internal secrets to Eoghan.

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The O'Reilly situation is unique but close connections and interconnecting stories are inevitable with two clubs in the same parish, especially an urban one with a large town. Declan O'Reilly (no relation), joint-manager of Castlebar, managed Breaffy in 2013.

O'Reilly's family moved from Castlebar out to Breaffy when he was young but he and his older brother Conor continued to play with the Mitchels. Their three younger brothers - John, Cormac and Martin - played with Breaffy. Despite Declan's involvement now, he received a text message after the semi-final telling him that his younger brothers' allegiance wasn't going to change.

There are ties everywhere. Neil Douglas, a Castlebar forward, is a first cousin of Colm Kelly, a Breaffy defender. In the 2013 final, Breaffy's Alan Durcan lined out against his cousin, current Mayo senior Patrick Durcan.

Breaffy captain in 2013, Marty McNicholas, a former Mayo player, is a brother-in-law of recently retired Castlebar Mitchels long-serving midfielder, Shane Fitzmaurice, another former Mayo player. He is married to McNicholas' sister Majella. However, their kids are Mitchels fans much to their uncle's, and mother's, annoyance.


The clubs are so cheek by jowl that no business, even each team sponsors, can align totally with one team. The majority of ads in the local papers are wishing good luck to both teams.

The modern rivalry between both clubs has also been shaped by more than just proximity and familiarity. Cultural and historical circumstances have set a new agenda; one club craves what the other has invariably always had; the top dog wants to stay on top, especially when their close neighbours are desperately trying to take their place.

Castlebar are seeking a 29th title. Breaffy are still trying to win their first. Although they were promoted to senior at the turn of the millennium through the leagues, Breaffy were back Junior by 2003. After winning a Junior title in 2003 (only their third in history), they won a first Intermediate crown the following year.

At the same time, the Mitchels were in the horrors, having been relegated to Intermediate a few years earlier. In 2005, the year the Mitchels won Intermediate, being a grade below Breaffy that season was still something the locals would have never thought was possible.

Prior to 2013 Breaffy had never even made it past a senior quarter-final. They crossed that threshold until running into a Castlebar wall. Now they're looking to reach a new frontier by knocking that wall down.

Breaffy's run to the final in 2013 was unexpected. They were also largely untested prior to the final in comparison to the arduous route Castlebar had to take. After losing successive finals in 2010 and 2011, and bombing in the 2012 campaign, Castlebar were primed in 2013. They were also driven on by two decades of hurt.

When Castlebar lost their footing so close to the summit in the 1994 All-Ireland club final, they tumbled to the bottom and landed in a heap. They lost that year's county final to Hollymount and didn't appear in a final again for 16 years.

Twenty years went by in a blink. When they finally got back on top in 2013, it ended the longest drought Castlebar had experienced since the early part of the last century. The chains were cast off. The Connacht club championship was liberation. They reached another All-Ireland club final.

The Mitchels made it back to another county final again last year but lost to Ballintubber. They are keen to make up for that disappointment but they're meeting a completely different Breaffy team now to the 2013 outfit.

An older generation of players have moved on. A batch of young guns which won the minor title in 2013 have stepped up. Five of that team started the semi-final, two more came on, while 11 are in the squad. This time around, Breaffy have been sufficiently road-tested and battle-hardened by a tough campaign. They put Ballintubber to the sword in the semi-final.

And they know their opponents inside out. Literally.

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