McDonagh points way as Castlebar Mitchels complete hat-trick of titles
Mayo SFC Final: Castlebar 0-15 Ballintubber 0-13
There was just over 10 minutes to play when Ger McDonagh pointed to put Castlebar Mitchels into the lead for the first time in the game at MacHale Park yesterday.
It felt like a significant score. Castlebar were playing with the wind down the home straight and it looked like they had timed their run just right.
Still, Ballintubber refused to die and pulled themselves back level in injury-time.
When the game was on the line, it was McDonagh who wandered up from defence to edge his side back in front. He slipped as he kicked it, but the strike was true. The ball sailed between the posts and Ballintubber's resistance had finally been broken.
"I swear to God, if he hit it 10 more times he'd miss it, but he got it on the big day and we're delighted," McDonagh's team-mate Barry Moran laughed afterwards.
"Ger had a massive game and he's a massive leader in the squad. He's not involved in the county and he's one of the lads that leads it on every night in training. I'm delighted for him."
It wasn't a classic county final, between two sides who have hoovered up six of the last seven Mayo titles, but there was no shortage of honesty.
Mitchels were playing their third game in seven days, having only come through their semi-final last Wednesday, but if the legs were heavy, it didn't show.
Aided by a significant breeze, they got over the line in the final quarter to complete the hat-trick for the first time since Garrymore did it in 1976.
The vast majority of the game's drama was squeezed into the final 10 minutes. Ballintubber trailed by a point when a brilliant team move gave Diarmuid O'Connor a sight on goal. His effort was excellently blocked by Castlebar captain Rory Byrne.
The defending champions then edged two in front through a fine Eoghan O'Reilly point and when Cillian O'Connor was sent off after picking up a second yellow, Ballintubber's race looked run.
However, they found a way back. Alan Dillon landed a close-range free before Diarmuid O'Connor split the posts with a brilliant left-footed effort to tie the game up going into injury-time.
McDonagh, though, took his chance to wander forward and kick the decisive point before David Stenson landed the insurance score to secure a 31st title for Castlebar.
"They are a phenomenal bunch of men," joint-manager Declan O'Reilly beamed afterwards.
"It's three in-a-row now and it is something we did target because all of the top-class clubs in this county have nearly got there but didn't. And we said, 'lads why don't we chase this down and see if we can get it?'
"I think it was the '70s since it was last done and there are teams in Mayo that have won All-Irelands since then, so that was our target - the county championship.
"It was going to be hugely difficult because they are cumulatively on the road so long. There is wear and tear, (you wonder) is the appetite there. All those things we can only answer on the pitch and we got the answers there today."
O'Reilly went on to point out that the club have lost 14 of the 29 that togged out for the county final two years ago.
"It's emigration, injury, age, work commitments, it's a variety of things," he said.
"Every one of them top men, but they couldn't commit. Now 14 have moved on in two years and that's why I thought we did exceptionally well to win that county title (last year) and come back again this year.
"You'd be so proud of them and the commitment they give. They travel from all over the country and there is never a question asked. We challenge them, they challenge themselves and the new players that have come in have really added to it."
The first-half saw Ballintubber take a 0-9 to 0-7 in at the break, with Cillian O'Connor landing five of his side's points.
Castlebar's cause was dealt a blow when they lost James Durcan, twin of Patrick, to a black card. Durcan had landed two points and was causing Ballintubber no end of trouble.
However, they kept in touch, never letting the gap go beyond two points, with Moran kicking two important scores to help ensure they were within striking distance at half-time.
From there they did enough in the second half to make a little piece of history and move into a Connacht quarter-final against Mohill of Leitrim in a fortnight.
"We've a two-week break, but we won't even think about that because the last five weeks has been relentless, game after game and then the midweek game," O'Reilly said. "Fatigue for the management is serious so the players must be exhausted. We'll certainly enjoy this."
Scorers - Castlebar Mitchels: D Stenson 0-5 (4f), B Moran 0-3, G McDonagh, J Durcan 0-2 each, N Douglas, E O'Reilly, D Kirby 0-1 each.Ballintubber: C O'Connor 0-6 (5f), A Plunkett 0-2, J Gibbons, M Plunkett, D Coleman, D O'Connor, A Dillon (1f) 0-1 each.
Castlebar Mitchels: R Byrne; J Maughan, G McDonagh, D Newcombe; R O'Malley, P Durcan, S Irwin; D Kirby, E O'Reilly; J Durcan, B Moran, C Costello; D Stenson, N Douglas, A Walsh Subs: C Kyne for J Durcan (30 BC), N McCarney for Irwin (42).
Ballintubber: B Walsh; G Loftus, B Murphy, M Kelly; D Clarke, M Plunkett, D Coleman; J Gibbons, D Geraghty; P O'Connor, A Dillon, D O'Connor; A Plunkett, C O'Connor, S O'Malley Subs: S Broderick for O'Malley (41), J Geraghty for Loftus (45).
Ref - D Corcoran.