On a day when the country’s attention was focused on that oh-so-nearly historic result at Lansdowne Road – where, as @davidsonjen so wryly put it, the whole country got to feel the way Mayo GAA folk so frequently do – and I was suffering the after-effects of travelling 5,500 air miles yesterday, Castlebar Mitchels’ footballing year came to a triumphant climax as they wrestled the Connacht club title from defending provincial and All-Ireland champions St Brigid’s in dramatic circumstances at Hyde Park.
Down five points at the break and down to fourteen men shortly after the restart, when Barry Moran got a straight red in a match where Marty Duffy eventually red-carded four players, it looks as if Castlebar’s club championship run was going to come up short against the highly experienced Roscommon lads, who today were aiming to seal a provincial four-in-a-row. But, like they did against Corofin in the semi-final a few weeks back, the Mitchels responded to adversity with goals as two second half majors – a Neil Douglas penalty and a close-in effort from Richie Feeney, which followed a first half goal by Danny Kirby – swung the tie their way. A second green flag for the reigning champs got them back in front before Castlebar, via a last-gasp Neil Douglas free, forced the match into extra-time, by which time Brigid’s had Ian Kilbride sent off.
The defending champions erstwhile numerical superiority turned to inferiority in extra-time – with the card-happy Marty Duffy dispatching two more Brigid’s lads to the line – and the same happened on the scoreboard too. As Rob Hennelly had correctly predicted at the end of normal time, Castlebar’s strong bench proved decisive in extra-time as they surged clear to become the first Mayo club since 2007 to claim the provincial title.
Mitchels won in the end by 3-13 to 2-12 and they now await the Munster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final early in the New Year. That will almost certainly be Kerry’s Dr. Crokes – Gooch included – who will, no doubt, be a very tough nut to crack. However, having downed the reigning All-Ireland champions today, Mitchels won’t fear anyone at this stage and with Croke Park on Paddy’s Day now starting to come into view for them, they can with confidence begin to aim for the stars.
Needless to say, I wasn’t in any fit state to go to any football match today. My own club St. Vincents were also in action this afternoon and they won too, getting the better of Meath’s Summerhill by 1-14 to 1-10 to advance to a Leinster final date against Portlaoise on December 8th. I dunno about the rest of you but I’m beginning to think that an All-Ireland final clash between the Marino lads and the Mitchels now has an air of the inevitable about it. If this is how it pans out, it’s going to place me in a bit of a quandary but I guess that’s a can that can be kicked down the proverbial road for a while longer.
Regardless of how the campaign pans out from here, though, today’s a day that belongs to the mighty Mitchels lads. It’s been too long since the county punched its weight at senior club level within the province and it’s great to see that long losing run finally brought to an end. Well done to Pat Holmes and his charges on doing this in the gutsy manner they did today.