Holmes joy as Castlebar turn history on its head
C'bar Mitchels 2-8 Corofin 1-10
The GAA cycle is never-ending and now, 20 years after playing a pivotal role in Castlebar Mitchels' only provincial success, Pat Holmes is on the cusp of leading the club back to glory as a manager.
Castlebar have failed to come out of Mayo since that success in 1993, but at Tuam Stadium yesterday they looked like an outfit revelling in being liberated from their county; they were worthy winners over a Corofin side bidding to reach their fifth Connacht final in eight years.
Maybe the bookies, who priced Castlebar as 3/1 outsiders, paid a bit too much heed to history.
Corofin, even with the infusion of a lot of youth, have always had a battle-hardened shell that makes teams earn their victory and Castlebar were pushed to the wire before they escaped from Tuam with victory in a cracking contest despite the wind and rain.
Castlebar can now end Mayo's year on a high and for all the recent dominance by the Green and Red at inter-county level, no club from the county has come out of Connacht since Ballina Stephenites in 2007.
Holmes said Mitchels paid little heed to the bookies and that the two goals they nabbed in the second quarter, from Ritchie Feeney and Neil Lydon, were the key scores of the game, helping them lead by 2-4 to 1-5 at the break despite playing against the wind.
"The two goals were crucial – goals win games, and they brought us right back into it and gave us a cushion at half-time. We knew Corofin were going to have to come out after half-time and try and carry the ball against the breeze," he said.
"They played all the football in the first quarter, they got the goal and it looked like the bookies had got it right; but we knew there is great character in this side and we knew they would dig deep and they did dig deep in the last 15 minutes of the first half and came out after half-time and continued it."
Corofin's early dominance yielded a goal from their best player all season Gary Sice, who collected a high ball and blasted home after eight minutes.
Castlebar goalkeeper Ciaran Naughton kept his side in the game when he denied Alan O'Donovan moments later, but the Corofin man pointed the resultant '45' and Sice landed a free to give the Galway champions a 1-3 to 0-1 lead after 14 minutes.
But then the game was turned on its head. Castlebar worked a series of handpasses up the field against the wind and gaps opened in a Corofin defence badly missing the influence of former Tribesmen defender Kieran Fitzgerald, who was injured.
Castlebar would probably have been content with a point but as each pass was slipped inside, the opportunity of a goal arose and Neil Douglas handpassed across goal for the excellent Feeney to fist home after 17 minutes.
Corofin suffered another massive setback four minutes later when Donal Newcombe soloed through to crack an effort off the crossbar before Lydon pounced to dispatch the rebound to the net to leave the Mayo champions leading by 2-4 to 1-5 at the interval.
Sice pulled back a point three minutes after the restart but Castlebar won the third quarter by 0-3 to 0-2 as the conditions deteriorated.
Tom King, who kicked four frees and one point from play, put four between them with 12 minutes left, although Castlebar failed to score after that.
Corofin piled on the pressure but the Castlebar defence was solid, with Tom Cunniffe, who had a great second half, scrambling one ball off the line.
Corofin got the margin down to a point deep into stoppage-time but they couldn't save the day to set up another battle with old rivals St Brigid's.
Instead, that honour will fall to a Castlebar side who are revelling under the guidance of Holmes as much now as a manager as they did two decades ago when he was leading matters on the field.
Scorers – Castlebar Mitchels: T King 0-5 (4fs), R Feeney 1-1, N Lydon 1-0, R O'Malley, J Durcan 0-1 each. Corofin: G Sice 1-3 (0-2fs), I Burke 0-4 (3fs), A O'Donovan ('45'), R Steede, J Canney 0-1 each.
Castlebar Mitchels – C Naughton; D Newcombe, A Feeney, T Cunniffe; R O'Malley, E O'Reilly, P Durcan; A Walsh, B Moran; N Douglas, G McDonagh, T King; J Durcan, R Feeney, N Lydon.
Subs: S Hopkins for J Durcan (55), D Joyce for Douglas (59).
Corofin – T Healy; M Comer, P Kelly, A Lawless; B O'Donovan, G Higgins, L Silke; R Steede, K Comer; G Sice, A O'Donovan, M Farragher; I Burke, J Canney, R Burke. Subs: A Burke for B O'Donovan (30), D Burke for R Burke (30), M Lundy for A O'Donovan (42).
Ref – P Neilan (Roscommon).