Moran makes his mark in frantic finale as Castlebar pass stern test of nerve
Castlebar 0-13 Crossmaglen 0-12
It was, ventured Castlebar Mitchels joint-manager Declan Shaw, like nothing they had experienced before in this campaign.
But when they had to stand up in this tense, thrilling and ultimately embittered AIB All-Ireland club football semi-final, they found something that even they might not have been fully sure was in them to propel them to a second final in three years. Five points down twice in the first half, Crossmaglen Rangers with two goals at their mercy in that period, Castlebar managed to hang in somehow and grind their way into contention.
That they reduced Crossmaglen to just a pointed free from Aaron Kernan in the closing 20 minutes was testament to the resilience they generated. The Mayo champions won in a manner their illustrious opponents themselves have prided themselves on for the last two decades. There can be no greater compliment than that.
This was club football at its absolute best. The game simply didn’t draw breath to pause. Every ball was fought for with a manic fervour and the quality of kicking and point-taking was extraordinarily high for the time of year and frantic nature of the contest. Tensions eventually spilled over in the closing stages when a disputed sideline beside the Castlebar dugout drew in far too many players and backroom team members.
“As somebody said to me out there, there was no football played in the last four minutes at all,” recalled Shaw. “There is awful pressure out there, it was tense on both sides and there is so much at stake. You can understand that tension. Crossmaglen are a great team and they don’t throw in the towel too easily.”
That so many got caught up in it will once again draw attention to sideline access which the GAA tried to deal with during Liam O’Neill’s presidency but it has since, clearly, lapsed again.
“They (Castlebar) obviously didn’t want the sideline kick taken,” suggested Crossmaglen joint manager John McEntee. “They were trying to disrupt that. That doesn’t bother us. We had opportunities to hit the free after that, it still didn’t work out for us.”
The tensions didn’t die away afterwards either. Water was squirted in the direction of the Crossmaglen dugout, a member of the extended Crossmaglen backroom team climbed onto the roof of the dugout pointing an accusing finger in response before wise heads prevailed.
In the middle of the pitch referee Eddie Kinsella felt the ire of some Crossmaglen players dissatisfied with his performance. Kinsella had awarded some 30 frees against them (16 went in their favour) but again McEntee wasn’t clutching at that ready-made excuse.
“There were certainly too many fouls given and too many of them within scoreable range,” he said. “That was a serious problem we had. It wasn’t our intention to foul, it definitely wasn’t. We went out with honesty and endeavour to tackle as best we can. That wasn’t the way it was perceived.”
Kinsella got a lot right, especially on advantages, but a few crucial ones were highly questionable too, most notably the free given against Paul Hughes that allowed Neil Douglas to plant a 38th-minute equaliser (0-9 each) and then a free awarded to substitute Aidan Walsh when he ran out of road and was surrounded by three Cross tacklers in the closing minutes. A free the other way could, ostensibly, have swung momentum the other way.
But Cross post-mortems won’t dwell on that. How they let Castlebar off the hook in that opening period will eat away at them far more.
They had been completely dominant at midfield where Oisin O’Neill, the son of former Cross player and All-Ireland-winning joint-manager Gareth and nephew of Oisin McConville who has just turned 19, showed so much class and composure against far more grizzled opponents.
With Stephen, Aaron and Tony Kernan linking superbly just off that Cross had a platform for dominance and they thrived.
Jamie Clarke picked off three points in the opening 23 minutes, two from outrageous angles that were virtually impossible to defend for Tom Cunniffe, while a fourth-minute goal attempt rolled just inches outside the post.
At the other end, Castlebar had no outlet and no conviction. Danny Kirby had some minor successes but it took wing-back Paddy Durkan to land two super points and keep them in touch. Arguably the game’s key moment came just before half-time when Ray O’Malley cleared sub John Murtagh’s shot off the line with a quick counter leading to Durkan’s second point and just a 0-8 to 0-5 deficit.
“It was a four-point turnaround. And that was probably a psychological boost to them going into half-time,” said McEntee. “It didn’t dampen our spirits going in to the second half. It just might have helped theirs.”
Within minutes of the restart Castlebar were level. Durkan stepped up again for a third point followed by Neil Lydon and Kirby. Having lost nine of their 14 first half kick-outs (they won four of Crossmaglen’s nine) Castlebar asserted themselves much better through Barry Moran, Ger McDonagh and Kirby.
“Barry Moran stood up, he didn’t have the best first half. He stood up at half-time, realised he wasn’t playing well at half-time and really would turn things around in the second half. We have some great characters there too. We knew they’d dig deep,” said Shaw.
The lead changed hands after that but the gap was never more than a point. Clarke brought his tally to four but Douglas kept picking off the frees (despite one bad miss) while Moran chipped in with two during his intermittent spells at full-forward.
He got the winner in the 57th minute but they still had seven minutes to hold out. Impressive defence from O’Malley, Donie Newcombe and Eoghan O’Reilly saw them through but in that time four of their players required treatment while the sideline scuffle also smothered Cross’ momentum.
Scorers – Castlebar Mitchels: N Douglas 0-6 (6fs), P Durkan 0-3, B Moran 0-2, N Lydon, D Kirby 0-1 each Crossmaglen Rangers: J Clarke 0-4, T Kernan (1f), O O’Neill (1f), S Kernan 0-2 each, C Cumiskey, A Kernan (f) 0-1 each.
Castlebar Mitchels – R Byrne; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, D Newcombe; P Durkan, E O’Reilly, R O’Malley; G McDonagh, B Moran; S Hopkins, N Lydon, N Douglas; S Keane, R Feeney, D Kirby. Subs: F Durkan for S Hopkins (40), C Costello for N Lydon (46), James Durkan for Keane (54), A Walsh for R Feeney (55), D Stenson for Douglas (BC, 63).
Crossmaglen Rangers – P Hearty; P McKeown, A Rushe, J Morgan; P Hughes, M Aherne, A Kernan; O O’Neill, J Hanratty; M McNamee, S Kernan, T Kernan; J Clarke, K Carragher, C Cumiskey. Subs: J Murtagh for Carragher inj (7), S Finnegan for McKeown (BC, 35), P Stuttard for McNamee (40), R Kelly for Murtagh (57), D McKenna for Stuttard (61).
Referee – E Kinsella (Laois)