Joint managers Declan O’Reilly and Declan Shaw are the men who have masterminded the three in a row of Moclair Cup successes, and O’Reilly was effusive in his praise after Castlebar’s first ever win over Ballintubber in a senior decider.
“They are a phenomenal bunch of men,” smiled the former Mayo minor boss.
“It’s three in a row now and it’s something we did target because all of the top class clubs in this county have nearly got there, but didn’t.
“So we said lads, ‘why don’t we chase this down and see if we can get it?’
“I think it was the 70s [Garrymore 1974-1976] since it was last done and there are teams in Mayo that have won All-Irelands since then.
“So that was our target — the county championship. It was going to be hugely difficult because they are cumulatively on the road so long there.
“Is there wear and tear? Would the appetite be there? All those things we can only answer on the pitch and we got the answers there today.”
While there was plenty for Mitchels (who were winning their 31st senior crown) to celebrate last night, they certainly left it late to put Ballintubber to the sword.
After a typically tight and tense local derby in front of 5,376 fans, Castlebar needed two injury-time points to fulfil their date with destiny.
With Mayo captain Cillian O’Connor sent off after being booked for a second time in the 58th minute, Ballintubber couldn’t hold out in added time, with only 14 men.
And so into the breach stepped Mitchels’ full-back Ger McDonagh and free-taker David Stenson to fire over the winning scores.
For long spells, it looked like Ballintubber were going to spoil the anticipated Castlebar celebrations, but O’Connor’s sending-off definitely helped to tilt the balance.
The All Star attacker had been in fine form, shooting five superb points from frees in the first half to help the 2014 winners to lead at the break by 0-9 to 0-7. “There was a decent breeze in it but we knew we had to up our performance at half-time,” reflected Declan O’Reilly.
“Ballintubber seemed hungrier than us in the first half, even though we were going for the three in a row.
“We pushed a man up for a sweeper position to the half forward line and it worked to a certain degree but it wasn’t about tactics, it was about commitment to the cause and the individual battles.
“There was certainly no sense of panic, we thought we’d just grind it out and that’s how it panned out.”
Mitchels, who were playing their third game in just seven days, understandably took a while to get going but county players Paddy Durcan and Barry Moran were both to the fore as they warmed to their task.
However, Castlebar also were dealt a big blow themselves when pacy forward James Durcan was shown a black card by referee Declan Corcoran on 29 minutes for pulling down the marauding Cillian O’Connor.
Ballintubber midfielder Jason Gibbons galloped through early in the second half to ease his team three points ahead, and we wondered were the champions about to hit the wall.
Instead Castlebar came roaring back to land four points in 10 minutes during the third quarter from David Stenson (2), Moran, and McDonagh to take the initiative for the first time.
With Ballintubber now looking unsure of themselves, Mitchels kicked on to again with superb scores from Danny Kirby and Eoghan O’Reilly to lead by 0-13 to 0-11 after 54 minutes.
The game was still in the mix when O’Connor received his second yellow card in the closing stages, but Ballintubber still managed to draw level with points from Alan Dillon (free) and Diarmuid O’Connor.
However, Mitchels showed the mark of champions in stoppage-time driving forward with the extra man, and landed the winning scores.
The last Castlebar outfit to win a hat-trick of consecutive county championships were the team of 1952 who went on to record a remarkable five- in-a-row sequence. And given the low age profile of this current crop, you couldn’t bet against Mitchels retaining their crown next year either.
The Mayo champions will be in action again on Saturday, November 4 against Leitrim’s Glencar/Manorhamilton in the Connacht club championship quarter-final in Castlebar.
“We won’t even think about that tonight or tomorrow because the last five weeks has been relentless,” said Declan O’Reilly yesterday.
Castlebar Mitchels R Byrne; J Maughan, G McDonagh (0-2), D Newcombe; R O’Malley, P Durcan, S Irwin; D Kirby (0-1), E O’Reilly (0-1); J Durcan (0-2), B Moran (0-3), C Costello; D Stenson (0-4, 3fs), N Douglas (0-1), A Walsh.
C Kyne for J Durcan (black card, 29m); N McCarney for Irwin (50m); M Towey for Maughan (53m).
B Walsh; G Loftus, B Murphy, M Kelly; D Clarke, M Plunkett (0-1), D Coleman (0-1); J Gibbons (0-1), D Geraghty; P O’Connor, A Dillon (0-1), D O’Connor (0-1); A Plunkett (0-2), C O’Connor (0-6, 5fs), S O’Malley.
S Broderick for O’Malley (41m); J Geraghty for Loftus (45m).
D Corcoran (Islandeady)