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Mitchels will raise the Cross bar

February 8, 2016

All-Ireland Club Semi-Final Saturday 13th February at 6.15pm Breffni Park, Cavan: Rangers v Mitchels

After a two-year absence Crossmaglen Rangers are back in the All-Ireland Club semi-final where they will face Mayo and Connacht champions, Castlebar Mitchels. The 11 times Ulster champions will be facing their first semi-final encounter with a Mayo team but will have fond memories of taking on their counties representatives having beaten Knockmore 2-13 to 0-11 in the 1997 final and Ballina Stephenites 0-9 to 0-8 in 1999.

Castlebar are the form team coming into this contest having recovered from their 2014 All-Ireland Final loss to St Vincent’s 4-12 to 2-11 in fine style by capturing their fourth Connacht title in 2015 at the expense of reigning All-Ireland champions Corofin (Galway) 2-10 to 0-11.

Armagh champions Cross following back to back Ulster club defeats to Kilcoo and Omagh were being touted as a team in decline and would struggle to win a sixth successive Armagh title in 2015. Injury hit and not playing all that well Cross were far from impressive in making it a 2014 repeat final with Armagh Harps. Harps had been destroyed by 17 points 2-22 to 0-10 the previous year and were quietly fancied to give it a right rattle in 2015 but out of the blue a full strength Crossmaglen Rangers rolled back the years with a vintage powerful display of attacking football that left 18 points 2-22 to 0-10 between them at the long whistle. “We have not gone away” was the clear message for the modern day Club Championship kingpins who would take on Down champions Kilcoo in a mouth-watering semi-final having overcome Antrim Champions Cargin 2-15 to 0-13 in a lively quarter final at the Athletic Grounds. A 3-15 to 0-5 sweeping aside of Cavan champions Kingscourt had Kilcoo in fine fettle for their Pairc Esler clash with Cross. It was the Armagh champions who ruled the roost from the off and their victory over the Down “Magpies” was far more convincing than the scoreline of 0-12 to 0-8 suggests. Cross faced Monaghan champions Scotstown in the Ulster final at the Athletic Grounds and give the playing conditions of the day ice cold wind, sleet rain, both sides are to be commended for producing a classic encounter which saw 14 man Cross draw level at the death and then produce the goods in extra-time in a 2-17 to 2-12 win.

Meanwhile across in Connacht 2013 champions Castlebar Mitchels reached the county final in defence of their title. The raging hot favourites were upset by bogey side Ballintubber who celebrated their centenary in style with their third ever Senior title all at the expense of Castlebar.  Castlebar watched on as Galway neighbours Corofin captured the All-Ireland title with a 1-14 to 0-7 defeat of Derry champions Slaughtneil. Mitchel’s would begin their quest for the Paddy Moclair Cup 2015 in group B which produced 3 wins; Castlebar 0-10 Ballaghederreen 0-6; Castlebar 1-12 Ballina Stephenites 1-6; Castlebar 2-16 Claremorris 0-9 to secure a quarter final meeting with Aghamore which was comfortably negotiated 5-13 to 1-7. A final berth was secured in a high scoring encounter with Knockmore 4-15 to 2-12. A 29 th. Mayo crown was captured without little difficulty in a 4-10 to 0-9 win over Breaffy with Neil Douglas being the hero with a hat-trick of goals.

Two goals in the opening 4 minutes from Richie Feeney and Barry Moran set Mitchells on their way to a place in the Connacht final as they overcame Roscommon champions Clann Na Gael 3-08 to 0-13. Defending All-Ireland champions Corofin would be the final opponents.

Barry Moran was the Mitchell’s outstanding performer goaling in the ninth minute before setting up Neil Douglas for the clinching goal 15 minutes from time in a 2-10 to 0-11 win which brought Castlebar their fourth Shane McGettigan Cup

SATURDAY NIGHT SHOWDOWN AT BREFFNI

Before Cross and Castlebar cross swords at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night @ 6-15pm they should know who awaits the winner on St Patrick’s Day as the other semi-final between Ballyboden /St Enda’s (Dublin) and Clonmel Commercials (Tipperary) is fixed for Portlaoise at 4-30pm. Both matches are being covered live by TG4 which probably accounts for the timing schedule.

Touted and advertised constantly as the real family competition is it then fair to expect families to travel back from Breffni Park on a Saturday night to Mayo and Armagh? With little between the teams in the betting stakes a draw is not an unlikely outcome but extra-time has to be played. Would earlier times on the Saturday or Sunday be the more family orientated option?

Looking at both teams, there is no doubt that Mitchel’s raise the bar a notch or two in terms of opponents that Cross have faced thus far. But the famed Mayo fragile psyche will be severely tested by the past achievements of their opponents who have constantly performed at the top table of club football for the last two decades.

As one can see from their game scores the Mayo men can find the net with Neil Douglas, Danny Kirby, Neil Lydon and Richie Feeney. That Castlebar quartet have yet to be introduced to Paul Hughes, Paul McKeown, James Morgan, Aaron Kernan and Martin Aherne who have seen off the best about on a given day. Cross have struggled finding a regular partner for midfield powerhouse Johnny Hanratty with Rico Kelly and David McKenna so it will be interesting to see who will be given the nod to take on Ger McDonagh and Barry Moran.

Cross have options up front especially now that Jamie Clarke has committed full-time to the Rangers cause. Introduced as a sub in the Ulster final Jamie adds an extra dimension to the Cross attack as he attracts “double marking” which frees up extra space for the Kernan brothers Tony and Stephen to exploit, evergreen Mickey McNamee still buzzes about with an often overlooked contribution. Kyle Carragher, John Murtagh and minor star Oisin O’Neill have been notching up the scores for the Rangers.

BENCH APPEAL

Not for the first time will I use the Rangers bench as a match winning tool. In the Ulster final extra-time win over Scotstown Cross were able to introduce 10 different substitutes over the course of the game. County minors, county Seniors Ulster and All-Ireland medal winners a plenty all putting pressure on the starting 15 for their places.

Physically Castlebar have the advantage and they have become known as a strong second half side so the man in the middle and playing conditions will all have a big influence as to how the game will pan out.

It is over 12 weeks since both clubs have seen competitive action which literally means that Saturday night is a new competition for both management teams and players. The tale of the tape will be interesting as there are rumours of key components for both teams being under severe pressure to make their respective starting sides.

I will go with the tried and trusted belief that experience and know how, counts for a lot in GAA, as does a thing called tradition which in itself can have an unsettling effect on teams. The elder statesmen on the Cross side see that there might not be too many more days like this and will pull out all the stops to ensure that another St Patrick’s day out for the club could signal their swansong, knowing in how good hands their club is still in. In Cross it is the collective that counts and it will be that which will see them prevail in what should be another classic football encounter.

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