Huge congrats to Castlebar Mitchels who this evening at Breffni Park in Cavan showed heart, guts and and an indomitable will to win by facing down six-times All-Ireland club champions Crossmaglen Rangers to book their place in this year’s decider. They’ll meet Dublin’s Ballyboden St Enda’s in the final at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.
Mitchels won this evening’s semi-final by just a single point, 0-13 to 0-12, but they were worthy victors all the same. Five points down shortly before half-time, they looked to be in serious bother but five scores in succession either side of the break, the final one a real belter from Danny Kirby, put them right back in contention.
Three times after this Crossmaglen got their noses in front by a single point but on each occasion Mitchels hit back quickly to draw level. Ten minutes before the end, a Neil Douglas free finally put Castlebar ahead for the first time but this was soon cancelled out at the other end. Five minutes later, though, Mitchels struck the decisive blow when Barry Moran pointed to edge them back in front and it was a lead they held till the end.
It all got a bit frantic and ugly towards the finish, with bouts of handbags breaking out repeatedly as tempers got increasingly frayed and the contest teetered on the verge of boiling over. From a Mayo perspective, it was, I must admit, truly heartwarming to see the Mitchels lads display the kind of never-say-die qualities so many complain teams from the county don’t show often enough. Castlebar were cynicism personified in that frantic finale and it made their win – over Northern opposition to boot – all the more satisfying.
On Mitchels now march to Croke Park where next month they’ll face Ballyboden St Enda’s for the possession of the Andy Merrigan Cup for 2016. The Dublin club were rather fortunate winners over Clonmel Commercials in the day’s other semi-final – Darragh Nelson was clearly allowed to overcarry before shooting a late, late equaliser for Boden in normal time and, having seen victory snatched from them at the death, winning it again in extra-time was always going to be too much to ask of the Tipp lads.
Two years ago, Castlebar were no match for a very good St Vincents side in that year’s club final. From what I’ve seen to date of Ballyboden they’re not a patch on that Vinnies team while Mitchels looks far stronger than they did in 2014.
So while the appearance of a team from Mayo in another Croke Park final will inevitably provoke the heebie-jeebies in those with a weak disposition, these mighty men from Castlebar look well capable of justifying the 4/11 odds being quoted on them to do the business on decider day. More power to them as they prepare to march on back to Croke Park next month.