Preview by Paul O’Malley
County JFC ‘A’ Final
Kilmaine v Castlebar Mitchels ‘B’
Saturday, October 12 at 7pm
in MacHale Park, Castlebar
This year’s final of the county junior ‘A’ football championship, which is to be played under floodlights at MacHale Park next weekend, features two teams who have both leapt their way over potential banana skins at different stages of the competitione.
For Kilmaine, theirs came as recently as their dramatic semi-final win over Kilmeena and for Castlebar Mitchels’ ‘B’ team, it came during the group stage where they laboured to victory over Cill Chomain to secure a quarter-final berth.
Prior to the win over Kilmeena, Kilmaine had cut a marauding path through the group stage. They put Tourmakeady and Killala to the sword with wins of 21 points and 16 points respectively and were looking a force to be reckoned with. Even in the dead rubber with Ballintubber ‘B’, they fought tooth and nail, and despite scoring only one point in the opening fifteen minutes of that game, they came away with a decisive five-point victory.
Their quarter-final victory over Westport ‘B’ was by eight-points and came in not so favourable playing conditions in Ballyheane but once again the Green and Red had dominated proceedings to progress in the competition.
Kilmaine’s semi-final was described at the most recent monthly meeting of Mayo County Board as one of the finest games that the county junior football championship has produced over the years. In contrast to the last eight tie, this game was played in the sunshine at Breaffy GAA pitch and was tight right down to the final whistle.
A key man for Kilmaine that day was Oisin Mullin, the Mayo under-20 star, who linked up play extremely well in the second half and was a creative force for his side in the face of stiff opposition from Kilmeena.
Throughout the championship, scores have been provided from the likes of the reliable Cathal Murphy, Michael Hession, who hit 1-1 against Westport, and Adam Barrett, who struck five frees against Kilmeena. There is a feeling that given their impressive tally in the competition to date (8-66), they won’t fear Mitchels who nonetheless, like themselves, come with a great blend of youth and experience in their ranks.
A leading figure and provider of experience in the Mitchels camp this season has been former Mayo midfielder Barry Moran. Moran was playing inter-county football at the very highest level as recently as two years ago and has been a standout player at junior club standard. However, he has become unavailable for the final on account of being introduced for the club’s senior team in their semi-final against Ballaghaderreen yesterday (Sunday).
Moran lined out back in April as Mitchels laid down a marker with an impressive 16-point win over Ballycastle, perhaps keen to show once again the impressive form that took them to overall victory in the junior championship in 2014. Things were not so easy against Cill Chomain, where they just about got over the line with a two-point victory up in North Mayo. It was a vital victory, setting up a dead rubber against Charlestown Sarsfields ‘B’, where they came away with a draw.
Mitchels’ quarter-final win over Kilmovee Shamrocks was played (similar to their final opposition’s last eight tie) in horrendous conditions yet they rode the storm to pick up an excellent victory over the East Mayo outfit in Parke. The youthful side of their team shone through in this game, with Conor Stenson at the centre of all things good for Mitchels. He scored four points and linked up well with the players around him.
It was the more experienced heads like Moran and captain Eamon Tiernan who were at the forefront of the semi-final win over Ardagh. It was a game that Mitchels were expected to struggle in, given the form of Ardagh and the quality of full-forward James Carr whose exploits had gone viral over the summer with his work for the Mayo senior team. Carr and crew showed this quality in bursts but it was Mitchels who came away from that game in Knockmore with a five-points win.
Next weekend’s final looks certain to be close. For Mitchels, they have the chance to lay claim to a hard-earned county crown but in the knowledge that just like when they overcame Achill in 2014, they would still not be eligible to take part in the Connacht championship. Detractors will argue that ‘B’ teams winning junior titles takes away from the spirit of the competition but Russell Gibbons’ troops have worked tirelessly since January to get this far, scoring 8-57 in the process. For Kilmaine, this represents the chance to catapult themselves back into the tougher challenges of the intermediate rankings. It’s a level of football they will feel up to, given how they have fared this season.