Moran inspires Castlebar glory Third time lucky for town side as Mitchels bridge 20-year title gap
Castlebar 1-11 Breaffy 0-8 (Mayo SFC final)
For one of the most storied clubs in Mayo with such a large population to draw players from, 20 years was too long to wait for a county title.
But two decades on from their 1993 success that featured John Maughan at centre-back, Castlebar Mitchels finally cashed in on years of promise with a granite-like performance against neighbours Breaffy in Elvery's MacHale Park.
It wasn't an afternoon for the faint-hearted, with the pitch surface almost unplayable in parts and driving wind and rain whipping down from darkening skies to really test the players.
But Castlebar, beaten in the finals of 2010 and 2011, were prepared for everything this time and the harder it got the more they seemed to revel in it as Breaffy ran out of ideas, momentum and eventually the will to carry on.
Castlebar have had a monopoly in Mayo underage football in recent years. In pursuit of a fourth successive U-21 title, which they will be expected to deliver in the coming weeks, they have also put their name on the last three county minor titles, so the importance of franking all that success on the biggest stage of all could not be underestimated.
With Ballintubber and Ballaghaderreen falling earlier in the competition, the path was clear for them to finally bring a prolonged famine to an end. Having beaten Breaffy in a group match by 12 points in June, the psychological edge was with them.
Managed by former Mayo player and manager Pat Holmes, they held their nerve impressively in the second half to comfortably defend a five-point interval lead (1-6 to 0-4) against the wind.
The importance of the win was crystallised by Holmes afterwards, noting how underage success doesn't always offer cast-iron guarantees.
"It doesn't always happen to a town team, maybe it should have happened prior to this. Twenty years is too long for a club that has the history and heritage of Mitchels," he acknowledged.
Those words were reiterated by their towering county midfielder Barry Moran, who won his battle with Mayo's primary centrefield pairing in 2013, Aidan and Seamus O'Shea.
Moran kicked two points, one off either foot, in the first half and dug deep with so many important catches and tackles in a highly congested and combative middle third where numbers were swelled by withdrawn attackers. Moran's success, with the assistance of Aidan Walsh and Danny Kirby at different times, was the critical element in Mitchels' success.
Seamus O'Shea had started impressively but Aidan was never able to leave his mark on the game and finished as an isolated target man at full-forward where Breaffy had lacked a real focal point.
"It was a massive battle in the middle of the field," said Moran. "Myself and Aido and Seamie, we always give the best against each other and they would be the first boys to shake hands coming off the pitch."
Moran hadn't trained properly for three weeks because of a hamstring injury picked up prior to the semi-final against Knockmore and was unsure of his participation.
"The warm-up was my fitness test. My mind was all over the place when I hadn't done anything today, but I got through it," he said.
Holmes praised his players for committing to staying at home this season and resisting the temptation to move away.
"The last number of years we had a few players going to America because they had no choice but this year they all decided they were going to stay around and work hard," he said.
And he also noted that all the players involved were home-grown, an unusual imbalance for a town club.
The new champions, playing with the wind, put behind the setback of a missed penalty by Neil Douglas after only four minutes when he was fouled himself after an incisive move involving Alan Feeney, Tom King and Neil Lydon.
Within five minutes of that miss they had recovered when Kirby, who operated throughout between midfield and attack, booted home a loose ball after the Breaffy defence dealt poorly with a Douglas '45'.
Breaffy got some traction through Seamus O'Shea but they were always chasing as Castlebar settled, with Tom King, captain of the Mervue soccer team that lost a first division play-off on Friday night to Longford Town on penalties, leading from the front and the Durcan twins, Patrick and James, also impressing.
Wing-back Patrick, who will only sit his Leaving Cert next year, is one of Mayo's brightest prospects who will surely find a place in James Horan's 2014 squad.
By the break Castlebar had a firm hand on the title, and with Alan and Richie Feeney and Tom Cunniffe providing the hard edge in defence, they were able to keep a tight rein on Breaffy's lightweight forwards.
Liam Irwin did give them some trouble but as it progressed Castlebar got stronger, with King making gains when he ran at Breaffy defenders and Douglas showing plenty of creativity around the half-forward line.
Breaffy were still just three points adrift as full-time approached but when Shane Hopkins fired over a 58th-minute point their resistance snapped and King and Neil Lydon followed up with points to ensure the scoreline reflected the balance of play much better.
The O'Reilly household had been guaranteed success with brothers Eoghan (Castlebar) and Tom on opposite sides in an usual division.
It was a notable moment too for Castlebar's veteran Kevin Filan, who was introduced with two minutes remaining. Filan missed the 1993 success because of college commitments in England and spent the next 20 years pursuing an elusive county medal.
"It's a long time coming there was a lot of hardship over the last few years with losing in 2010 and 2011. But hunger is a great motivator," he said.
He spoke for all of them.
Scorers – Castlebar Mitchels: T King 0-4 (2fs), D Kirby 1-0, B Moran, N Lydon 0-2 each, J Durcan, N Douglas, S Hopkins all 0-1 each. Breaffy: A Durcan 0-4 (4fs), L Irwin 0-3 (1f), S O'Shea 0-1.
Castlebar Mitchels – C Naughton; A Feeney, T Cunniffe, E O'Reilly; R Feeney, P Durcan, D Newcombe; A Walsh, B Moran; N Douglas, D Kirby, G McDonagh; J Durcan, N Lydon, T King. Subs: S Hopkins for McDonagh (37), D Newcome for Joyce (49), F Durcan for J Durcan (53), R O'Malley for A Feeney (60), K Filan for Lydon (61).
Breaffy – R Hennelly; K Scahill, M Hall, D Gavin; C Kelly, M Jennings, B Howley; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; G Jennings, T O'Reilly, R Martin; L Irwin, A Durcan, M McNicholas. Subs: B Jordan for Kelly (38), C O'Shea for O'Reilly (42), E Conroy for McNicholas (49), P Collins for Howley (53).
Ref – L Devenney (Ballina)