Saturday 16 December 2017

Feeney lifts title in poignant tribute

Ballintubber 0-8, C'bar Mitchels 0-5, Mayo SFC final

IF this is the best that Mayo football has to offer on its showpiece county senior final day, then the outlook is bleak indeed for the foreseeable future.

And yet, despite the turgid nature of a forgettable afternoon's toil and sweat by victorious Ballintubber and losers Castlebar Mitchels at McHale Park, judgement should be tempered by common humanity.

Three deaths within the last two weeks affected the Mitchels and, to a lesser extent, Ballintubber.

Alan and Richie Feeney of Castlebar Mitchels lost their dad Ger in the same boating accident that cost Tom Cunniffe's uncle Donal McEllin his life.

Ger was also an uncle of Ballintubber captain John Feeney, who at least brought some pleasure to a section of the Feeney clan by lifting the Moclair Cup aloft on behalf of his club at the end of the game.

And then Mitchels coach Tommy O'Malley lost his twin brother Gerry, with the funeral taking place last Tuesday.

It perhaps cast a sombre air over what would otherwise have been a hugely anticipated country v townies clash of a historic nature.

Ballintubber, in the club's centenary year, were playing their first county senior final, while Castlebar Mitchels are 125 years old this year and were back in the final for the first time since 1994.

Lots to get worked up about there in normal circumstances, but the unprecedented build-up to this decider generated so much emotional turmoil that it had to have drained the mental energy of the players.

All we know for sure is that Castlebar Mitchels were a pale shadow of themselves, while Ballintubber stuttered along in a tension-filled first half but rallied better to win a low-scoring final.

Once referee John Hughes blew the whistle to start the match, the rival managers, Peter Ford of the Mitchels and recently appointed Mayo manager James Horan, were thinking only of the hour's football ahead.

They had done all they could to prepare their players, but on the pitch it was a litany of wides and unforced errors by players on both sides.

A half-time score of 0-3 to 0-2 in favour of Ballintubber speaks for itself.

Mitchels' corner-forward Neil Douglas opened the scoring after three minutes, and Ballintubber's Alan Dillon, who ended up getting the man-of-the-match award, popped over an equaliser in the 10th minute.

Douglas added one more point in the 25th minute for Mitchels, while Alan Plunkett and Alan Dillon notched two more scores for Ballintubber.

Thus, we had a one-point game at half time -- but if both sides had taken advantage of the chances they had created, it could and should have been 1-7 to 1-6 instead of three points to two.

Ballintubber's defensive screen, for which they are renowned, worked very well in thwarting the attacking thrusts of the Mitchels, not only in the first half, but all through the game.

In that aspect, Mike Nestor, wearing 13 but operating as a very effective defensive sweeper, played a key role.

Ballintubber had a setback when they lost goalie Noel Gibbons to injury after 28 minutes, but sub Brendan Walsh proved a more than adequate replacement.

Surely the second half would bring fireworks? Eh, no. Not a one.

What did happen was that Ballintubber started brighter than their opponents, and ground their way grimly to a four-point lead by the 54th minute.

They missed some opportunities, but fewer than Castlebar, and the points by Padraig O'Connor, Cillian O'Connor (two) and sub Damien Coleman put plenty of daylight between the sides at 0-7 to 0-3.

Castlebar's only response in that period was a point by Neil Douglas six minutes into the second half.

He was to get one more score for his team in the 59th minute, and Ronan Burke also got on the scoresheet three minutes into time added on for injuries.

That was it for Castlebar, while an Alan Plunkett score in the 64th minute clinched the match for Ballintubber.

BRILLIANT

James Horan summed up the feelings for the winners afterwards as he declared: "It's brilliant for a club like us, brilliant for the team and brilliant for the parish.

"It's our first time in a hundred years to win this. You can see the delight in the players. A great relief and sense of occasion for people," he said.

At half-time the game was anybody's but Horan revealed: "There was no panic at half-time because we were doing all the right things.

"We got one point from our first 10 shots in the first half, but we were doing the right things, so we just needed better shot selection in the second half.

"We got that, and upped our work rate up a little bit and made it hard for them, so we just got over the line. It was torture and probably a very poor game to watch but we're just glad to get out of it with the win," he said.

Castlebar manager Ford was crestfallen after the match but wasn't offering any excuses.

"We were stuck to the ground. Very flat from the word go. We kind of knew we were in trouble after the first 15 minutes," he said.

"Just too many lads not performing. They all wanted to win, they all wanted to play well. You've got to be right on the day.

"Ballintubber came right and we didn't, so no complaints. We could have been beaten by more."

Scorers -- Ballintubber: A Dillon 0-2 (0-1f), C O'Connor 0-2, A Plunkett 0-2, D Coleman, P O'Connor 0-1 each. Castlebar Mitchels: N Douglas 0-4, R Burke 0-1.

Ballintubber -- N Gibbons; G Loftus, C Hallinan, P Earley; T Earley, J Feeney, R O'Connor; D Geraghty, J Gibbons; G Dillon, A Dillon, A Plunkett; M Nestor, P O'Connor, C O'Connor. Subs: B Walsh for N Gibbons (28), D Larkin for J Feeney (37), D Coleman for P O'Connor (39), D McGing for G Dillon (50), T Kilcoyne for A Plunkett (64).

Castlebar Mitchels -- C Naughton; R Feeney, A Feeney, E Reilly; D Newcombe, P Kelly, R Burke; S Fitzmaurice, D Sloyan; D Kirby, N Lydon, T Cunniffe; A Walsh, B Moran, N Douglas. Subs: G McDonagh for D Sloyan (36), E Tiernan for S Fitzmaurice (55), E Tiernan for S Fitzmaurice (55), E Kennedy for D Kirby (58), F Durkan for N Lydon (62).

Ref -- J Hughes (Kilmaine).

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