Like last year, this year’s Moclair Cup decider will be a contest between the club that’s won the Senior county title more often than any other and a club that has yet to win it at all. Last year that meant a showdown between Ballina Stephenites and Westport and, while the Stephenites have made it back to a second successive decider, this time their opponents will be the season’s surprise packets, Breaffy.
I was at both of the semi-finals this weekend, popping down the road from my base here to Fr O’Hara Park in Charlestown yesterday to catch the Breaffy/Castlebar Mitchels semi-final. Then today I took the scenic route across by Lahardane, the solitary, brooding bulk of Nephin dominating the background, onto Crossmolina where, at St Tiernan’s Park, Ballina Stephenites went head-to-head with local rivals Knockmore.
Yesterday’s match, played in far worse weather as there were frequent rain showers and a biting wind, was the better of the two. Despite the bright sunshine and gentle breeze, this afternoon’s match was dour and cagey, with both sides adopting an overly risk-averse approach. Yesterday’s game took a while to catch fire but it eventually did, whereas today’s one only came to the boil with a bout of injury time pushing and shoving that resulted in three players getting straight red cards.
Nobody has fancied Breaffy this year – if in doubt, just check back on the polls that have been run on the blog on the topic. In all three polls run to date, they’ve been among the least favoured to advance but advance they have and yesterday they provided clear evidence as to why this has happened.
Strong in the middle thanks to experienced duo Conor O’Shea and Matthew Ruane and a defence well marshalled by the excellent Michael Hall, with, behind them, young ‘keeper Jack Livingstone slotting in so well that Robbie Hennelly isn’t missed at all. And then up front – and everywhere else – is Aidan O’Shea, who is having a club season like no other and is proving to be a total colossus, game after game.
Slotting in around these main men are a number of quietly efficient performers, some with the scars to show from all those Moclair near-misses, others new kids on the block. It’s a nice mix.
What was really impressive about Breaffy’s win yesterday was the way they dug it out, having been hit for five on the spin by a Mitchels side whose shooting was abysmal in the first half but who, stung by Breaffy’s bundled goal early in the second period, suddenly found their range to pull level.
Crucially, though, they never went ahead and instead it was Breaffy who held their nerve better coming down the closing stretch. Frees from Aidan O’Shea (how naturally he swings them over now) and sub Colm Flynn gave them vital breathing space when they really needed it and the roar from the large Breaffy following was heartfelt when Daire Morrin clipped over the insurance point off his left in injury time, as Breaffy edged this derby tie by 1-9 to 0-10.
Scores may have been scarce enough in Charlestown yesterday but they were like a rare jewel for much of the time at Crossmolina this afternoon. Incredibly, the winners only posted two scores in the first half and close to fifty minutes were played before they finally managed to bag one from play.
For all that, though, the Stephenites were worthy winners. Old soldiers David Clarke and Ger Cafferkey were calmness personified at the back, where Padraig O’Hora provided uncompromising cover, while Sam Callinan toggled between rendering Aidan Orme a peripheral figure and raiding forward to join the attack.
I know it’s easy to say it when you’re standing on the sideline looking in and the players out on the pitch are doing all they can to win the game but I just wished that Ballina could have adopted a more direct approach at times. Invariably the pass given from the middle third – where they owned the ball for large stretches – was a short one, which was strange because Luke Feeney showed himself to be an effective target man inside. Maybe if they’d sought him out more often they could have profited from this.
When they found scores hard to come by, the evergreen Evan Regan kept them ticking over from placed balls. In fact, two frees from him bookended his team’s final four scores, the other two coming from Conor McStay – who was black carded for a hand trip in the first half – and sub Ciaran Treacy.
The schemozzle down at the other end in stoppage time demonstrated, if nothing else, Knockmore’s frustration at a game they never really got to grips with properly at all. By then, Ballina were happy enough to engage in a bit of light argy-bargy, as the neighbours were wasting their own time. Three straight reds – Ballina’s one was given to Jack Irwin who’ll now miss the final unless it’s appealed successfully – seemed a tad over-fussy for what looked like much ado about nothing.
The brouhaha ensured that no further ball of note would be kicked and that was fine with the Stephenites. They’d beaten their nearest and dearest by 0-10 to 0-7 and are back in the final.
By the way, having been at both semi-finals I’d have to say I’m a supporter of taking these matches out of MacHale Park. Club games, even big ones like this weekend’s ties, are often lost at the county venue and the atmosphere at both matches was far better than it would have been in the cavernous – and bitterly cold – surroundings of MacHale Park. As an experiment, I reckon it was a huge success.
Islandeady was the venue for what appears to have been the game of the weekend. That’s where Kilmeena faced off against free-scoring Moy Davitts this afternoon in the Intermediate semi-final. Moy Davitts, thanks to two first half goals, were in the ascendancy early on but Kilmeena came roaring back into it after the break. They eventually forced the game to extra-time and then won it by three from there to qualify for their fourth county final in as many years.
In that final they’ll play Ballinrobe. This afternoon at Tourmakeady they brought the fairytale run of Castlebar Mitchels B to an end with a decisive nine-point win. So it’s Ballinrobe against Kilmeena in the Sweeney Cup decider in a fortnight’s time, with the winners also gaining coveted Senior status for next year. The Neale, meanwhile, are heading in the opposite direction as they lost out to Ballyhaunis in yesterday’s Senior relegation play-off final.
Here’s confirmation of all the weekend’s football results, including a recap on yesterday’s LGFA finals:
Senior Football Championship
- SEMI-FINALS: Breaffy 1-9 Castlebar Mitchels 0-10; Ballina Stephenites 0-10 Knockmore 0-7
- RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL: Ballyhaunis 1-10 The Neale 1-7
Intermediate Football Championship
- SEMI-FINALS: Kilmeena 1-18 Moy Davitts 2-13 (AET); Ballinrobe 1-15 Castlebar Mitchels B 1-6
- RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL: Kiltimagh 0-9 Bonniconlon 0-8
Junior Football Championship
- SEMI-FINALS: Shrule Glencorrib 0-5 Cill Chomáin 0-3; Lahardane MacHales 1-12 Eastern Gaels 1-9
Junior B Football Championship
- SEMI-FINALS: Achill 0-13 Tourmakeady 2-4; Ballycastle 1-11 Kilmovee Shamrocks 0-13
LGFA Club Championship finals
- SENIOR: Knockmore 2-8 Westport 0-12
- INTERMEDIATE: MacHale Rovers 3-5 Moy Davitts 2-4
- JUNIOR: Claremorris 2-16 St Brigid’s 0-4
We’ve got extensive coverage of the football Championships on the Mayo Football Podcast this weekend. We’ve a Final Whistle show recorded at Charlestown yesterday, where we reflect on Breaffy’s win. We’ve another Final Whistle pod recorded today at the Ballina/Knockmore match and both of these pods are online now. We’ll also have a full review show early this coming week in which we discuss all the weekend’s action. All this coverage is available on Patreon – details on how to sign up here.