Mitchels left in the race

February 15, 2016

All-Ireland Club Semi-Final Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 0-12 v Mitchels (Mayo) 0-13

Crossmaglen Rangers sponsors “Bar One Racing” and all other bookies had penned this All-Ireland semi-final with Castlebar Mitchels as a close run affair. Twenty three minutes into the game the Armagh champions would have been long odds on shots following a scintillating display of attacking football which saw them lead 8-3.  Kingspan Breffni Park witnessed a pulsating teak tough encounter which had all the ingredients of a “classic GAA match”, great scores, tremendous application and dedication, controversial decisions, a brawl, no quarter asked or given and in the end a game that can be rightly labelled as a tale of two halves.

After 12 weeks of preparation for this game it was disgraceful and disrespectful to both teams and sets of supporters that the starting time for the game had to be delayed by 15 minutes due to TV coverage. Surely those in authority who sat down and discussed the throw-in times which were dictated by the TV coverage should have had the cop –on to put the Breffni Park game for 6-30 from the outset to cover what did happen extra-time in the first semi-final at Portlaois.

The delayed start did not distract the Armagh champions who were out of the blocks flying, registering 3 points and a wide in the opening 4 minutes. From the throw-in Aaron Kernan found Mickey McNamee who offloaded to Stephen Kernan, and the first point of the game after 40 seconds. From the kick-out Rangers saw a Kyle Carragher effort just wide of the upright but in the next attack Stephen Kernan found Jamie Clarke who made little of the acute angle to double the lead. Four minutes in attacking defender James Morgan was fouled enabling Tony Kernan add point number three. The ‘all at sea’ Castlebar outfit should have paid the maximum price as Clarke squandered the first goal chance of the game as his low stinger zipped the wrong side of the upright and wide. The game’s top scorer, with 6 pointed frees Neil Douglas opened the Mitchel’s account on 6 minutes as John Murtagh replaced the injured Kyle Carragher in the Rangers attack.Minor Oisin O’Neill consigned to midfield duty after impressive displays in Ulster in attack, delivered a super point from play to stretch the lead to 4-1. Castlebar need guidance and when needed it came from half-back Paddy Durkan who weighed in with the first of his three points from play.

Paddy’s contribution was pivotal in getting the Connacht champions over the line in the end. Cailum Cumiskey started at corner forward, showed why with a super point. Jamie added his second point as did Tony Kernan to stretch the lead to 7-2 after 19 minutes. A harsh foul attributed to Paul Hughes was converted by Douglas but Jamie responded with his third point of the half 8-3. Team Captain Paul Hearty was called into action making a great stop to deny Douglas a goal but two minutes later Douglas pointed a free for a harsh foul called on Aidan Rushe. James Morgan picked up a yellow card following intervention from the linesman as the game entered the last 5 minutes. Impressive since his introduction, John Murtagh skipped round goalkeeper Rory Byrne but slipped in the process with his scuffed shot cleared off the line by despairing defender Ray O’Malley who did well to get back to clear. Following this escape Castlebar swept downfield and defender Durkan fired over the last score of the half to leave Cross 8-5 in front at the short whistle.

Cross would have been very happy going in at the break in the lead as they had managed 6 points from play with 4 forwards on the scoreboard, missed 2 good goal chances and had accumulated 6 wides. Castlebar on the other hand had not a forward who scored from play and 3 of their points came from frees but they had registered the last two points of the half to keep them in touch.

Having gained the reputation of being a “second half team” Castlebar were not long in going about proving that theory. A Jamie Clarke point attempt dropped into the keeper’s hands and in the next 3 minutes Castlebar were on level terms as they powered through the Rangers defence as Durkan added his third point before forwards Neil Lydon and Danny Kirby registered points to tie the match at 8-8 on 33 minutes. Rangers Paul McKeown picked up a Black Card and was replaced by Stephen Finnegan. Cross responded to parity by regaining the lead as the Kernan brothers Tony and Stephen combined for the latter to hit the lead point but a Douglas free quickly restored parity.

Paudie Stuttard replaced Mickey McNamee as Cross regained the lead, courtesy of a third Stephen Kernan point, but it was still Castlebar who were in the ascendency with their drive and physicality to the fore as the Ulster champions stood manfully to their task, not wanting to concede their slim advantage. On 41 minutes a hitherto subdued Barry Moran showed his class with a levelling point, 10 all. Johnny Hanratty was just wide following a very good sweeping Rangers move but went back in front through an Oisin O’Neill free after his initial effort from play came back off the upright but he was fouled when shooting, hence the free.

In a game of many controversial moments and decisions, a yellow card for Castlebar midfielder Ger McDonagh for a head high challenge on Aaron Kernan was a huge let off for the Westerners. To compound matters uncharacteristically Aaron was wide with the free but 4 minutes later Douglas was not as he levelled at 11 all with 10 minutes left on the clock. Pre-match I thought that Rangers bench might give them the edge but for me it was Castlebar sub Cian Costello who made the most telling contribution from the bench with his ball carrying and pace causing Cross plenty of problems and he was involved in a few of the late match winning scores. A foul on Costello allowed Douglas point Mitchel’s ahead for the first time in the game that was now 51 minutes old.

Cross, to their credit, came back with an O’ Neill wide followed by a levelling point from an Aaron Kernan free following a foul on brother Stephen which was moved forward for dissent. Rangers lead effort from Tony Kernan dropped short into the keepers hands as Rico Kelly replaced Murtagh. On 58 minutes the winning score arrived as Costello and Kirby combined to set up Moran for “not so unlucky” point number thirteen which proved to be the winner.

Rangers were not dead yet and they did carve out a clear opportunity but the usually reliable Paul Hughes (adept at scoring from corner-back) saw his effort just drift wide of the upright. In a hectic 3 minutes added on which saw a skirmish develop near the Castlebar dugout  as attempts to retrieve the ball were thwarted tempers became frayed and although they did gain possession they could not carve out another opportunity to take the game to a deserved 20 minutes of extra- time that any neutral would have loved to see.

Fair play to Castlebar Mitchels as they made the most of being left in the race for the second half by Cross (who could have been home and hosed at the short whistle) by powering home against the odds with a terrific second half display.

Crossmaglen Rangers – P Hearty; P Hughes, A Rushe, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-1), M Aherne, J Morgan; J Hanratty, O O’Neill (0-2); M McNamee, S Kernan (0-1), T Kernan (0-2); J Clarke (0-5), K Carragher, C Cumiskey (0-1). Subs: J Murtagh for K Carragher, S Finnegan for P McKeown (BC), P Stuttard for M McNamee, R Kelly for J Murtagh, D McKenna for P Stuttard.

Castlebar Mitchels – R Byrne; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, D Newcombe; P Durkan (0-3), E O’Reilly, R O’Malley; G McDonagh, B Moran (0-2); S Hopkins, N Lydon (0-1), S Keane; N Douglas (0-6), R Feeney, D Kirby (0-1). Subs: F Durkan for S Hopkins, C Costello for N Lydon, J Durkan for S Keane, D Walsh for R Feeney, D Fenton for N Douglas (BC).

Referee – E Kinsella (Laois).