On Wednesday evening, the Kilmeena lads made the short hop through the drumlins of Kilmeena and into the fertile land of Ballintubber ready to take on the lads from the county town of Castlebar. Having dispatched their local rivals Westport in the semi-final, was it truly possible for this group to be able to climb the mountain again having had to come down from their glorious semi-final win.
A whole community was holding its breath in the hope that the lads could repeat their feats again, but with the realisation of how difficult it was going to be to topple the twin towers of Castlebar and Westport within a week.
As the crowd filtered into the splendid Ballintubber ground, there was a quiet murmur of anticipation as neighbours greeted each other and wondered aloud was it truly possible to do it again? As the ball was thrown in it appeared that half the parish was there to cheer on their sons', brothers, nephews, cousins, grandchildren and neighbours.
The game started as a cagey affair. Both teams were testing each other out, and it was clear that the Mitchels lands were not underestimating the Kilmeena lads. Mitchels were seeing a lot of the ball and Kilmeena were finding it hard to get a toe hold in the game.
Finley Gibbons was introduced for the hard working Conor Kelly, and immediately began to pose a real threat at full forward and by the end of the first quarter, Kilmeena were two points in front thanks to points from Liam Moore, Finley Gibbons and Darragh Slattery (2)
Then the boys in black and white were hit with a real sucker punch when Mitchels found the net with an opportunist strike. The game then swung dramatically in the Mitchels favour and they tagged on a further two points to open up a three-point gap heading towards the short whistle.
However, back into the game stormed Kilmeena and high balls into the square were causing huge problems for the Mitchels full-back line. Two points resulted from the boot of Finley gibbons and Daniel Kelly to reduce the arrears to the minimum at the short whistle
Halftime came and the expected onslaught from the Mitchels had not materialised and while not playing to their full capabilities, Kilmeena still looked solid in defence and threatening on the counter attack
The second half opened and having recovered from the earlier concession of a goal; they were dealt another blow when the ball was finished to the net after some fine build-up play by the Mitchels forwards. The gap was now four points and for the next few minutes the Kilmeena lads were under serious pressure as the Mitchels sought to put the game beyond reach. This stage of the game was at it’s most critical as Mitchels put great energy into pulling away but found it impossible to shake off a team who just refused to go away. A smart save by Evan O’Donnell prevented the gap from getting wider.
Kilmeena pulled it back to a 3 point gap and Mitchels extended it to four again, and again both teams swapped points as the game ebbed and flowed but the tide appeared to be going out for Kilmeena as it just seemed that the game was outside their grasp. In this period two pointed frees from Darragh Slattery were critical in keeping us in the game
Into the final quarter and suddenly the boys in black and white caught fire. It was as if their sheer bloody-mindedness was telling them that there was no way they were throwing in the towel. While the margin was at 4, a couple of clear goal chances presented themselves for the Kilmeena lads, but luck was not on their side, but as the Kilmeena crowd sensed the game was there for the taking, and as the decibels rose from the stand, Conor Feehan started the revival with a dipping rasping drive that clipped the top of the crossbar to go over for a point. Then the ball fell in the square to Finley Gibbons and he sent the ball crashing into the net to leave a single point in it
Now the game was on, but quick as flash the Mitchels sauntered forward and nonchalantly, they had put the margin out to three again. At this stage Mitchels were once again scenting blood, but the Kimeena boys stood firm and once again launched a raid down the right wing and after a fine move through several hands the ball fell to that man Gibbons again, and he sent a spectacular drive to the top left-hand corner.
Only a few minutes were left, but it was evident that there was only one winner if the boys from the shore were brave enough. Now kilmeena were in complete control, and in their next attack Conal Gill picked up a pass on the left, cut inside, and sent a monster point high over the bar. In desperation, Mitchels launched their own raids but Colin Hastings and Jack Mulchrone made two vital interceptions to snuff out any possible effort on goal. Just as time was up Darragh Slattery had a chance to convert a free and the roar from the stand told the whole ground that it had sailed between the posts.
Within seconds the final whistle blew to spark off celebrations in the Kilmeena camp. The Mitchels lads played their part in an epic encounter, but the sheer desire to never give up saw this Kilmeena team through in the last 15 minutes.
There were fine performances all over the pitch. Evan O’Donnell was excellent in goals and his kick out variation always had the opposition guessing. Tom Hastings had a magnificent last 15 mins. Rian Kilcoyne, Donal Hastings, and Colin Hastings worked tirelessly in defence. Harry Sheridan had his usual steady performance as captain. Darragh Slattery and Liam Moore were up against a very skilful midfield pair but both really grew into the game and dominated the final exchanges. Conal Gill, when moved into the attack, posed a threat with his pace. Ciaran Kilcoyne worked really hard in attack but excelled when slotting into halfback. Daniel Kelly as always was excellent with his vision and positional play. Conor Feehan displayed his versatility and literally saw every blade of grass playing in four different positions. Conor Kelly worked really hard for possession. Brian Durkan was instrumental in winning a lot of turnover ball. Jack Mulchrone was his usual busy self in and around the middle and his work rate was telling in preventing Mitchels efforts on goal. Adam O’Grady worked well when he came on, and when introduced Finley Gibbons truly turned in a man of the match performance not solely because of his two superb goals but also because of the constant threat he was at full forward.
The cup was presented to Harry Sheridan with plaudits for a great game produced by two evenly matched teams.
Some time later, the convoy of cars snaked their way through the lanes of Ballintubber and Killawalla headed for the shores of Clew Bay with the cup in their grasp, and behind them, as the light dimmed behind the hedges in Ballintubber, there was no mistaking the twinkling lights of the illuminated scoreboard which read Kilmeena 2 - 11 Castlebar 2 - 9
Finley Gibbons 2 - 2, Darragh Slattery 0 - 5, Liam Moore 0 - 1, Conal Gill 0 - 1, Daniel Kelly 0 - 1, Conor Feehan 0 -1
Evan O’Donnell, Tom Hastings, Rian Kilcoyne, Donal Hastings, Colin Hastings, Harry Sheridan, Conal Gill, Darragh Slattery, Liam Moore, Conor Feehan, Ciaran Kilcoyne, Brian Durkan, Jack Mulchrone, Daniel Kelly, Conor Kelly.
Subs used; Finley Gibbons, Adam O’Grady
Kilmeena 2 - 11 2 - 9 Castlebar Mitchels
...more match images HERE