By Mark Higgins
He had just been a part of the side that secured his club’s first county final appearance in 31 years, and just a second since the height of The Emergency, when Fionn McDonagh paused for a moment to reflect on what had been a chaotic end to Westport’s clash with Castlebar Mitchels at MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon.
Having fallen behind, for the first time in the entire game, to an injury-time Mitchels penalty, it would have been easy for Westport to throw the hands up and accept their defeat. But instead they methodically worked the ball down the field and into the hands of the veteran Shane Scott, who lashed it to the roof of the Mitchels net to seal a one-point victory and set up a county final against Ballina Stephenites on the Bank Holiday weekend.
As McDonagh pointed out, it’s not the first time Scott has intervened late on to send his team to a major final. His penalty goal in the 2017 All-Ireland intermediate semi-final would have secured his legacy in the West Mayo club all on its own, but Sunday’s late winner will only burnish that legend.
“He has a habit of popping up in semi-finals; it’s like Kenmare all over again!” laughed McDonagh.
“A few years ago we might not have been able to react in the same way. We’ve learned a lot from the last few seasons. We’re well drilled.
“The reaction alone, if you look back: as soon as their goal went in, everyone switched on, there was movement for the kickout, we worked it up the field. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction, it was literally straight back down. There was no panic, we just worked the ball in and got the goal.”
The Mayo forward wasn’t getting too far ahead of himself though, accepting that Westport will be up against it in the final against a Ballina side who looked seriously impressive in their win over Ballintubber earlier in the day.
“It’s good to be there,” he offered. “Obviously we’re on a high after how it ended but semi-finals just give you the right to play in a final. It’s just another game, we’re not going to hype it up too much. We have a good core group of players there carrying on from the intermediate run.
“We’re going to have a good tough contest with Ballina so it’s a good two weeks ahead now,” he continued.
McDonagh is still only 26 but he has developed to become one of the senior figures in this Westport team. He was fulsome in his praise of the younger players who have come through this season to lead Westport into a senior final after a few years of near misses and hard-luck stories.
“Fair play to the young lads, they just keep popping up. There’s so much young talent there and they’re not scared to step up to the plate. The likes of Conal Dawson and Finbar (McLaughlin) have been massive for us all season. They have bottle like, they’re not afraid of taking on the big moments and that’s what’s driving the team on,” he stated.
“It’s the younger lads keeping it competitive for some of the older fellas as well, getting rid of any complacency that’s in the team. It’s a great time to be involved in the club and I’m excited now, looking forward to the final.”
And it’s to the final they will now turn. A senior decider will be a new experience for the entire Westport squad, as it will be for the vast majority of the Ballina panel. McDonagh said nothing will be left to chance in the preparation.
“It’d be amazing to be involved in the team to win the first ever senior title for the club,” he said. “Personally, for the next two weeks I’m just going to keep my head down, I’m not going to be chit-chatting to too many people. I’ll just try to stay focused, do the same things I would for any other match and not deviate from what’s got us here.
“We won’t get ahead of ourselves, we’ll just stay at home, focus on training and on ourselves.”