Weekend talking points: John O’Mahony’s back and working his magic again

O’Mahony has reinvigorated Salthill-Knocknacarra. This now looks like the best S/K team in years, possibly even since they last won the Galway title in 2012
Weekend talking points: John O’Mahony’s back and working his magic again

OLD MASTER: Salthill/Knocknacarra manager John O'Mahony watches on in the Galway Senior Football championship at Tuam stadium. Pic: Ray Ryan

O’Mahony back on familiar terrain

When John O’Mahony returned as Mayo manager in 2007, his arrival – or re-arrival – was heralded as a prophet returning to lead a tribe which had lost its way back into the promised land. O’Mahony’s second coming though, never took Mayo where they wanted, and desperately needed to go.

A sole Connacht title in 2009 was the apex of O’Mahony’s four years in charge. His reign ended with a devastating qualifier defeat to Longford in 2010 but O’Mahony’s championship journey concluded in a similarly disappointing manner to how it began – with a hammering from Galway in Pearse Stadium in 2007.

Mayo did win their 2009 Connacht title in Pearse Stadium, but that opening championship defeat in 2007 set the tone for a disappointing journey. It was ironic considering how much success O’Mahony had achieved with Galway. And it was even more ironic when O’Mahony returned again to Salthill last December as Salthill-Knocknacarra manager, with the club based in the paddock right beside Pearse Stadium.

It was a big move for both parties, especially for O’Mahony who had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood, in 2020, just months after retiring from his career in politics after serving nine years as a Fine Gael TD and four as a Senator. Thankfully, O’Mahony made a full recovery.

Salthill-Knocknacarra needed something after a disappointing 2021 campaign, where they were one of the first teams knocked out of the championship, being beaten by Monivea-Abbeyknockmoy and Caherlistrane, teams that didn’t even make the quarter-finals.

They had underachieved in recent years but O’Mahony has reinvigorated the side. This now looks like the best S/K team in years, possibly even since they last won the Galway title in 2012.

Having put an impressive management team together in Finian Hanley, Seán Armstrong, Norman Costello and Des Sheerin, S/K are through to the quarter-finals with a round to spare, having won three of their four matches. They did lose to Mountbellew-Moylough in a high-quality game but S/K still look fourth in the pecking order behind Moutbellew, Corofin and Moycullen.

With four county players, Rob Finnerty (who has scored 1-22), Tomo Culhane, Cathal Sweeney and Daniel O’Flaherty, S/K are already through to the last eight, but they have a lot to play for against An Cheathrú Rua Sunday as the top team in each of the three groups qualify as seeds for the quarter-finals, as do the best 2nd place team, a spot S/K will be aiming for.

In a different form, O’Mahony is working his magic in Galway again.

Maynooth chasing history.

AT the outset of this season, Maynooth’s primary aim in the Kildare senior hurling championship was to maintain their status. The club had only just come back up senior after winning the 2021 Intermediate championship before defeating Éire Óg Corra Choill in a playoff. Despite winning four Intermediate championships between 2011-2020, Maynooth had consistently failed to advance past that promotion/relegation playoff game against the bottom team in the senior championship, which denied them the status they craved.

They couldn’t afford to look beyond Ardclough in the preliminary round but a win secured with a last-minute winner in extra-time was a huge springboard. Narrow wins against Coill Dubh and Clane was followed by a big defeat to Naas but Maynooth had already qualified for the semi-final.

They were rank outsiders against Celbridge but a two-point victory secured Maynooth a first county appearance in 79 years against the reigning All-Ireland Intermediate champions, Naas, who are aiming for three in-a-row in Kildare tomorrow.

With an average age of just 22, Maynooth have been a coming force at underage level. They won their first minor A county title last year, defeating Naas in the delayed 2020 final, while Maynooth have also contested the last three minor finals.

Similar to the pathway which has been central to Naas becoming a real hurling force, Maynooth’s underage teams have begun playing in the Kilkenny league. This year’s U-15 side won three games and drew one in that competition.

Huge strides have been made. And tomorrow, Maynooth are seeking to rewrite another glorious chapter in their history.

Rhode and Tullamore face off again.

AFTER the opening round of the Offaly senior football championship in mid-July, Kevin Corrigan wrote in the ‘Offaly Express’ that, while “it would be very premature to attempt to label the championship as a two horse race…there was still something very compelling about the way Rhode and Tullamore performed”.

Edenderry and Ferbane were still always going to have a say – which they did – but it was always likely that Rhode and Tullamore would qualify directly as group winners and avoid each other in the semi-finals. Rhode escaped with their lives in the semi-final against Ferbane before winning on penalties, while Tullamore were much more impressive when beating Edenderry by seven points.

Tomorrow is their third county final meeting in-a-row but the tables have turned. Rhode were invariably always the favourites in finals but they’re in unfamiliar territory now being cast as underdogs. Conversely, all the pressure is now on Tullamore, especially when they are trying to retain the title for the first time since 1926.

Rhode know this terrain better than anyone; this is their tenth successive final and their 20th in the last 25 years. They lost last year’s decider after a replay but they beat Tullamore in the 2020 final by two points. All of those games were ferocious battles, with the average score just a shade above 1-7 to 1-6.

Rhode have more experience but the majority of those players have huge mileage on the clock, especially Alan and Niall McNamee, Brian Darby and Paraic Sullivan. Tullamore have some hardened veterans too in Michael Brazil, Johnny Moloney and Paul McConway but the squad is infused with some brilliant young talent.

Tullamore are without two of those outstanding young players, defenders John Furlong and Oisin Keenan-Martin who are out injured, but Cormac Egan – brilliant for the Offaly U-20s in 2021 – has returned from a long-term hamstring injury after missing all the group games.

This game has a sense of one golden era ending and another potentially beginning. But Rhode will be keen to delay that impending reality. And they can never be written off in a final.

JK Brackens following the Loughmore-Castleiney template.

When JK Brackens were chasing a first Mid-Tipperary hurling title in July against a hotly fancied Drom & Inch – which was the club’s first appearance in a mid-final - the prospect looked extremely unlikely when JK Brackens trailed by six points heading into the final quarter. Yet a rampant Brackens hunted Drom down before Andrew Ormond landed the winning score seven minutes into injury time.

Brackens repeated the trick two weeks ago when knocking out one of the favourites, Éire Óg Nenagh in a county preliminary quarter-final in a similar fashion, trailing by seven points entering the fourth quarter. It secured the club a first senior hurling quarter-final, when they play Upperchurch-Drombane Sunday.

The sides also met in the senior football quarter-final last weekend, which Upperchurch won, but Brackens have been trying to follow the template set by Loughmore-Castleiney with the same manager for both codes. Eamonn Corcoran, the former All-Ireland winning hurler, has been in that role for the last three years.

Corcoran has the same management team across the teams, while, similar to Loughmore - who completed the double last year - JK Brackens operate off the same playing pool in both codes, with just one player across both panels not a dual player. Moreover, most play in the same positions on both teams.

Only formed in 1992, tomorrow is another historic stage for JK Brackens on their remarkable journey this year.

Cargin aiming to make amends against their near neighbours.

When the St Gall’s era of dominance finally ended in Antrim in 2014, with the Belfast club having won 13 of the previous 14 county titles, it was inevitable that the next period of dominance would belong to Erin’s Own, Cargin. They had narrowly lost the 2013 and 2014 finals to Gall’s and when Cargin finally arrived in 2015, they were bound to be ravenous for more. They were, winning five of the next six titles.

They went into last year’s semi-final as favourites to extend that winning sequence and win a fourth title in succession (after securing a three-in-a-row in 2020 for the first time in their history) but Cargin relinquished their stranglehold in an underwhelming manner against Creggan. Four points up at half-time, Cargin only managed two points after the break and limped out of the contest with barely a whimper.

After only playing two group games this year, one of which they lost to O’Donovan Rossa, Cargin really hit their stride against Lamh Dhearg in the quarter-final. Now, Cargin are hoping to avenge last year’s defeat and topple the champions Creggan in today’s semi-final in Dunsilly.

And the manner of last year’s defeat has imbued Cargin with tonnes of motivation against their near neighbours.

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