Slaying the six-time champions Crossmaglen in Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday, after salvaging what looked like a lost cause, was all the proof he needed they can go one step further than two years ago and strike a psychological blow for Mayo by winning in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.
“It’s the same old thing that anybody in Mayo will tell you, it’s about the present team,” said O’Reilly. “Ballyboden will be formidable opposition but we have learned that once you hit the big stage on the big day, you’ve got to make everything count.
“These games go by in a flash and they’re gone .... we’ve learned we have to do the simple things well and turn up and play the game, not the occasion. “Diarmuid Connolly did a lot of damage (for St Vincent’s) in the final two years ago but these lads are well experienced and have been focused on getting back there since.
“We have beaten Corofin, who were the All-Ireland champions and very highly regarded and we’ve beaten St Brigid’s before that, who were previous All-Irelandchampions, so it’s nothing new to these lads.”
With Jamie Clarke in top form, hitting three great early points, and causing serious problems for Tom Cunniffe, Crossmaglen raced 0-8 to 0-3 ahead after 25 minutes. But the game turned decisively in the few minutes before the interval, Ray O’Malley clearing Johnny Murtagh’s goal-bound shot off the line after ‘keeper Rory Byrne was caught out of position. Castlebar cleared the danger and raced down the pitch with the excellent Paddy Durkan scoring the second of his three points from play. It was a four-point swing, and left Mitchells trailing 0-8 to 0-5 at half time.
“We were a bit disappointed with our first-half display and we set a few things straight at half-time,” admitted O’Reilly.
“Those points before half-time gave us a platform to build on. We asked for more. We asked for leaders to stand up and they responded and in fairness those scores in the first few minutes of the second- half were crucial. They got us back into the game and from there on it was 50/50. It was a cracking game of football. What club football is all about.”
Three rapid points from play from Durkan, Neil Lydon and Danny Kirby inside four minutes of the restart brought Castlebar level for the first time. The momentum was all with the Connacht champions now and they played with huge purpose and belief in a much-improved performance. They were level another four times in a gripping second- half, Cross usually managing to keep their noses in front until Neil Douglas’ sixth free of the evening put Castlebar ahead for the first time in the 52nd minute, at 0-12 to 0-11.
The Armagh champions equalised through Aaron Kernan’s free four minutes later, but Mayo midfielder Barry Moran chipped over the winning point in the 58th minute. Once they went in front, Castlebar slowed the game down and Crossmaglen’s frustration grew, not just with their opponents but with referee Eddie Kinsella.
A row erupted in injury time, when several Crossmaglen players were obstructed in their attempts to retrieve the ball from the Castlebar dugout and lashed out. It was unnecessary and wasted valuable seconds and while Cross had a couple of half chances to take the game to extra-time, Castlebar resolutely held out to reach their second All-Ireland final decider in three years.
Crossmaglen joint-manager Oisin McConville acknowledged his team’s failure to take total control whilst on top in the opening half was their undoing.
“I still have to look back at the first-half and say we should have been 10 points up at half time and because we weren’t, we paid the price. One thing under myself and John (McEntee) for the last two years is that when we have got on top of teams, we have by and large managed to kill them off. But in fairness to Castlebar, they kept coming.
“To only go in three points up after basically owning the first-half wasn’t enough. We didn’t finish them off. We rallied for a while after they came back at us but they had the better of the second-half.
“We came back and got an equaliser and I thought we might kick on then. We should have at least brought it to extra time.
J Clarke 0-4, S Kernan 0-2, T Kernan 0-2 (2f), O O’Neill 0-2 (1f), C Cumiskey 0-1, A Kernan 0-1 (f).
N Douglas 0-6 (6f), P Durkan 0-3, B Moran 0-2, N Lydon 0-1, D Kirby 0-1.
P Hearty; P Hughes, A Rushe, P McKeown; A Kernan, M Aherne, J Morgan; J Hanratty, O O’Neill; M McNamee, S Kernan, T Kernan; J Clarke, K Carragher, C Cumiskey.
J Murtagh for Carragher (7), S Finnegan for McKeown (BC, 34), P Stuttard for McNamee (40), R Kelly for Murtagh (58), D McKenna for Stuttard (60).
R Byrne; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, D Newcombe; P Durkan, E O’Reilly, R O’Malley; G McDonagh, B Moran; S Hopkins, N Lydon, S Keane; N Douglas, R Feeney, D Kirby.top
F Durkan for Hopkins (40), C Costello for Lydon (47), J Durkan for Keane (53), A Walsh for Feeney (56), D Stenson for Douglas (BC, 60).
Eddie Kinsella (Laois).