By Mike Finnerty
Holders Castlebar Mitchels were held to a draw by rivals Ballintubber in Saturday night’s thrilling Mayo SFC semi-final at MacHale Park, Castlebar.
Not even extra-time could separate the two West Mayo heavyweights as a typical hard-fought derby finished 1-12 apiece after more than 80 minutes.
Mayo star Cillian O’Connor was the Ballintubber hero as his free, four minutes into stoppage-time at the end of extra-time, proved to be the last score of a long evening.
A huge crowd were treated to an absorbing contest, with Mitchels playing for 45 minutes of normal time with 14 men after Aidan Walsh was sent off following a second booking in the first quarter.
A fantastic goal on 24 minutes from Michael Plunkett helped Ballintubber to lead at half-time by 1-3 to 0-5 against a Mitchels side who were struggling to find their rhythm. However, slowly and surely the champions started to play, and a goal from Ray O’Malley, coupled with a string of points from Neil Douglas (2) and Barry Moran saw Mitchels lead 1-9 to 1-6 with ten minutes left.
But Ballintubber came roaring back into contention from there to the finish, driven on by the inspirational Diarmuid O’Connor.
Three points without reply, rounded off by a free from Cillian O’Connor, left the sides deadlocked at 1-9 each after normal time. Extra-time turned out to be a war of attrition, with Ballintubber’s Jamsie Finnerty grabbing the only score of the first period.
The second period was frantic, with Mitchels making a break for the line only for Cillian O’Connor, who finished with eight points (seven from frees) to deny them.
Elsewhere, Breaffy, who have never won the Moclair Cup, booked a place in their first final since 2015 with a deserved three points win over Ballaghaderreen. The first semi-final ended in a 1-13 to 1-10 win for the West Mayo side as they justified their pre-match favourite’s tag.
Aidan O’Shea lined out at full-forward and caused Ballagh’ huge problems. His display was a major factor in Breaffy leading by 1-7 to 0-6 at half-time.
Their goal was scored by lively corner-forward, Gareth Dunne, who got on the end of a long delivery from the impressive Matthew Ruane to flick the ball past goalkeeper, Patrick Sharkey. Andy Moran (2) and Barry Regan (3) were Ballagh’s biggest scoring threats in that opening period, but they were starved of possession for long spells as Breaffy dominated around the middle.
Seamus O’Shea and the aforementioned Matthew Ruane formed a formidable partnership all through.
Breaffy’s joint managers, Peter Ford and Shane Conway, must have felt the hard work was done when their team streaked into a six-points lead turning into the home straight.
Tommy O’Reilly, who finished with five points, landed a few lovely scores with Conor O’Shea also getting on the scoresheet.
However, Ballagh’ launched a late rally that culminated in a goal for substitute, Kuba Callaghan, in the dying minutes and set up an exciting finish.
But Breaffy showed their experience in the closing stages to keep their opponents at bay and hold out.
Meanwhile, Crossmolina will be playing their football in the intermediate ranks after losing their senior championship relegation play-off final to Davitts by a point.
Former Mayo forward, Mickey Conroy, came off the bench for Davitts and landed two late points to see the South Mayo side snatch a dramatic 0-17 to 1-13 victory over the Deel Rovers. Crossmolina, who won the 2001 All-Ireland club title, had been four points ahead at half-time.
Club GAA podcast: Barrs back in final, Crossmolina drop, Thurles toppled