The weather was better today at MacHale Park than it was last night and so too was the Mayo GAA TV live stream which stayed up for the entirety of the two matches played this afternoon. The football was good too, with Knockmore and Balla securing very different kinds of wins in their respective county semi-finals.
Knockmore’s win was a pillar to post one. They were out of the traps against Ballina Stephenites like a proverbial rocket, building up a four points to no score lead inside seven minutes.
As Mayo GAA TV co-commentator Declan O’Reilly observed after the game, it was Ray Dempsey’s team that had learned most from their group stage meeting a few weeks back. In that game Knockmore had led most of the way, only to get pipped by a late Stephenites surge. Today’s game was similar to some degree, but Knockmore’s start today was more impressive and they were ready for Ballina’s surge when it eventually came.
Knockmore were dominant throughout the opening half. They flooded the backline with bodies, were extremely disciplined in the tackle and then, when they had the ball, broke forward rapidly with purpose. Ger Cafferkey was badly missed in the Ballina defence and in his absence Peter Naughton made hay, scoring freely from play and frees. He ended the day on seven points, five from placed balls.
Aiden Orme was also prominent in attack and he finished up with four points to his credit, three of them from play. Further out the field conducting the orchestra was the peerless Kevin McLoughlin, who repeatedly raided from deep, bagging three points from play and doing so much more besides.
By half-time Ballina were in deep trouble. Six points in arrears, they hadn’t got going at all and seemed mesmerised by the purpose and workrate being shown by their opponents. It could have been worse – the gap had been as wide as eight a few minutes earlier but Stephenites bagged the final two scores before the break.
Ballina’s mini-revival of sorts continued on the resumption but they struggled to cut the margin to fewer than five points. They butchered a clear goal chance when Luke Doherty intercepted a short kick-out, following an Evan Regan point from a free, but with a three-on-one situation facing the attackers Doherty chose instead to shoot on sight and he skied his effort wide.
The gap was still five points at the second water break but Ballina had taken some momentum into that stoppage, having got the last two points before it. They got the next two when play resumed as well, Jack Irwin converting a fine solo effort and then Evan Regan winning an excellent mark and firing over from distance.
With just three points now separating the teams, the game looked set for a grandstand finish. Ballina had come with a late charge in the group game, could they do the same again today?
Turns out they couldn’t. Their cause suffered a huge blow ten minutes from time when Mikey Murray was black carded for a body check on Darren McHale. It would be injury time before he came back on and by then Ray Dempsey’s lads were out the gap.
After Aiden Orme knocked over one from out on the right, sub Frank Irwin responded in kind. Orme, this time from a free, widened the gap to four but Conor McStay cut it back to three once more.
But it was too late – Ballina needed a goal to save the day and they were never going to be able to find a way through Knockmore’s resolute backline. The excellent Orme, fed by Connell Dempsey, had the final say, shooting from distance to seal victory by 0-17 to 0-13.
So a novel Senior final it’s set to be this year. While both teams have contested Moclair Cup deciders this decade – Breaffy in 2013, 2015 and 2018, Knockmore in 2016 – neither of them were able to claim the silverware. Breaffy, of course, have yet to win their first Senior county title while Knockmore won the last of their eight crowns as far back as 1997. It’s set to be an intriguing decider in two weeks time.
So too will the Intermediate final. Just ten minutes in the car on the R324 separate Kiltimagh and Balla, two towns nestled close to the squat, imposing bulk of Sliabh Cairn, and it’s these two near neighbours who are set to go head-to-head in a fortnight for the Sweeney Cup.
For long stretches in today’s IFC semi-final at MacHale Park it looked like Ballinrobe rather than Balla would prevail. They led by two at the break, in part thanks to an opportunistic goal palmed to the net by Peter Butler who connected to a high ball pumped in.
Balla were reduced to fourteen men for ten minutes shortly after the restart when JP Reilly saw black. By the time he came back on his side were five points in arrears, with Kevin Quinn crashing home an unstoppable shot to the corner of Mattie Flanagan’s net.
Ballinrobe should, in truth, have won it from there. It looked like they were going to too, as they still held a four-point advantage with just seven minutes of normal time on the clock.
But then Balla made their move and with effect. Two converted frees from sub Val Roughneen, as well as points from play by Ger Flanagan and Rian O’Connor, answered by a sole Eoin Gilraine score for Ballinrobe, brought this contest level as injury time beckoned.
Then came the match-winning breakthrough. The hero of the day was Balla’s Gary McHale, who won a long ball in and beat the ‘keeper, the goal putting Balla three points up. Ballinrobe pulled one back after that but Balla held out to win by 1-14 to 2-9.
The final line-up for the JFC was also settled today. Kilmeena caused a bit of a surprise by getting the better of Shrule/Glencorrib in this afternoon’s semi-final on a scoreline of 2-14 to 1-14. They’ll now take on Kilmaine in the Pete McDonnell Cup decider two weeks from now.
The other match contested today was the SFC relegation final where, as expected, Claremorris were too strong for Moy Davitts. Claremorris won that game at Gilmartin Park in Kiltimagh today with a good bit to spare, on a scoreline of 2-16 to 0-12.
The fixture details for the county finals were announced after the conclusion of today’s games. This year the JFC and IFC deciders will be played as a double-header, with the Senior final played as a stand-alone fixture the following day.
The JFC final between Kilmeena and Kilmaine will throw in at 5pm on Saturday, 19th September, with the IFC final between Balla and Kiltimagh getting underway at 7pm that evening. Both matches will be played at MacHale Park and, sadly, it’s all but certain that these matches will be contested behind closed doors.
The following afternoon the Senior final between Breaffy and Knockmore will be contested. The Moclair Cup decider is set to throw in at MacHale Park at 3.35pm that afternoon.
Finally, today also saw several LGFA Championship fixtures contested so here’s a quick summary of the action.
In the LGFA Senior Championship there were semi-final wins for Carnacon, who beat Hollymount by 3-13 to 0-4, and Moy Davitts, who got the better of Westport by 3-14 to 2-7. This means that the Senior final, between Carnacon and Moy Davitts, will be a repeat of last year’s decider.
In the LGFA Intermediate semi-finals MacHale Rovers beat Charlestown by 3-10 to 2-11 while Kilmovee Shamrocks finally saw off Castlebar after extra-time in a high-scoring encounter that finished 7-11 to 5-14.
In the Junior semis Kiltimagh had a 2-12 to 2-5 win over Tourmakeady while St Brigid’s beat Davitts by 5-9 to 5-6.
In the Senior Shield semi-finals Kilmoremoy beat Swinford by 3-11 to 2-12 and Burrishoole had a dramatic tie-breaker win, 6-5 on free kicks, over Burrishoole after the teams finished level on 3-18 apiece after extra-time.
In the Intermediate Shield semi-final Cill Chomain beat Claremorris by 2-14 to 2-4. Louisburgh got a bye in the other semi and so they’ll now meet Cill Chomain in the final.