Cailling Canning is tackle by two Castlebar players with Alan McLoughlin in support. Photo by Willie Donnellan
It says a lot for Leitrim's woes in this grade in recent years that Mohill's battling display last Saturday in Elvery's McHale Park was greeted almost giddily by Leitrim GAA aficionados.
Castlebar Mitchels are rated up there with the very best in the country yet with just 15 minutes left, Mohill had defied every expectation, every prediction and overhauled a four point deficit to pull level and really put the game in the melting pot.
That the Mayo men were able to up their intensity and hit seven unanswered points to finally kill off a defiant Mohill challenge takes nothing from a determined and proud display that tested Mitchels to the core and restored some pride to the club game in the county.
Key to Mohill's display was a disciplined defensive display that left Castlebar out around the edges and struggling to make any sort of headway until the final quarter, a massed effort that denied the home team space and time.
Trailing by two points at the break, Mohill will look back on the first half as where the game got away on them as they manufactured one great goal chance that was blasted over the bar by Keith Keegan while they had a sniff of another when a Keith Beirne shot came off the post.
Hard as it is to pick out one or two names in a fiercely committed performance, one has to highlight Caillin Canning and Ronan Kennedy, two men who had outstanding displays.
Anything Mohill did in attack usually involved one or both as Canning's drive from defence and ability to break the line and Kennedy's ball winning ability, often against two or three players, kept Castlebar on the backfoot.
Mohill's defensive gameplan meant that every chance had to be taken and Mohill did an incredibly effective job at just that for three quarters of this game.
Unfortunately, Mohill also needed a goal and when Keith Keegan blasted high over the bar in the first half after a fantastic move that split the defence, it was the one golden chance that might have blown this game wide open.
Mohill needed goals if they were to win as breaking from deep and getting support up to the isolated Kennedy, sometimes with the support of Keith Beirne but more than often relying on winning the ball against the odds.
The fact that six of Mohill's 11 points came from frees, compared to just three for Castlebar, and Mitchels had nine different scorers to just four for Mohill highlights the necessity for the Leitrim champions to find the net if they were to pull off a major shock.
Yet it was a display that gives some hope for Leitrim football going forward and shows what can be achieved with players focussed and drilled effectively. It was certainly a much needed boost for the county at the end of a long and very testing year.
Keith Keegan, Alan McLoughlin and Danny Beck surround a Castlebar player. Photo by Willie Donnellan
With Padraic Davis’ team starting out with 13 and, at times, 14 men behind the ball, Castlebar nevertheless started well with points from Ray O’Malley and Barry Moran kicking points inside the opening four minutes.
But Mohill responded impressively with Ronan Kennedy setting up Keith Beirne for a good point and then two fouls on Kennedy leading to successful frees from his County team-mate.
Cian Costello and a David Stenson free edged Castlebar back in front by the 18 minute mark but a lovely Kennedy point levelled before the moment that encapsulates the 'what if' for Mohill.
A patient passing move seemed to be break down but Caillin Canning burst through the Castlebar defence at pace and off-loaded to Keith Keegan who was charging clear but he lifted his shot over the bar, rather than under it.
Mitchels could have hit the back of the net when Danny Kirby got in behind the Mohill defence but Padraig Tighe saved his effort well and the home team finished with points from Stenson and Eoghan O’Reilly, from distance, to put his side two to the good on a scoreline of 0-7 to 0-5 at the short whistle.
Castlebar obviously got a dressing down at halftime as they started strongly with Barry Moran and Danny Kirby both scoring great points from opposite corners to stretch their lead to a ominous looking four points.
But Mohill refused to bend the knee and a powerful Shane Quinn run resulted in Oisin Madden firing over on six minutes while a foul on Alan McLoughlin saw Beirne convert a free.
Ronan Kennedy then beat two defenders to the ball and pointed before a Ronan Gallagher run was ended with a foul and Beirne converted to level the scores at 0-9 apiece going into the final 15 minutes.
Unfortunately for Mohill, Castlebar finally stirred and full-back Ger McDonagh fired over to edge his team back in front before Neil Douglas hit two points in as many minutes and suddenly the gap was back to three within four minutes.
Cian Costello and Douglas added points inside a minute and the game was suddenly beyond Mohill’s grasp and Castlebar kept their foot on the pedal, Aidan Walsh and Costello adding points before Beirne fired over two consolation frees in added time.
Mohill captain Danny Beck moves to tackle a Castlebar player. Photo by Willie Donnellan
GAME AT A GLANCE
Main Man: Caillin Canning and Ronan Kennedy were the leading lights of an excellent Mohill display, a disciplined effort that had many in the press box feeling that the Mohill duo were real contenders for the Man of the Match award.
Talking Point: Mohill gained a lot of plaudits for their battling display but unless they struck for goals, overly defensive displays can only keep the score down at best. And you get the feeling that Castlebar may always have had another gear in them, particularly with the way they lifted their game in the final quarter.
Turning Point: As strange as this sounds, Mohill drawing level was the turning point midway through the second half. Castlebar suddenly upped their intensity and hit seven unanswered points to end the game as a contest - quite a turnaround!
Ref Watch: Marty Duffy made a couple of calls that mystified everyone but overall did a good job, spotted what needed to be and kept the game moving.
Highlight: Some fabulous moves from Mohill, particularly the move that almost led to a goal for Keith Keegan in the first half really caught the eye.
Lowlight: The final quarter was tough for Mohill to endure after such a brave effort for the first 45 minutes.
TEAMS & SCORERS
Scorers: Keith Beirne 0-7, 6f; Ronan Kennedy 0-2, Keith Keegan & Oisin Madden 0-1 each
Team: Padraig Tighe, Shane McGowan, Ronan Gallagher, James Mitchell, Darragh Gordon, Caillin Canning, Ciaran Kennedy, Darren McLoughlin, Shane Quinn, Daniel Beck, Oisin Madden, Keith Keegan, Ronan Kennedy, Keith Beirne, Alan McLoughlin. Subs: David Mitchell for Gordon (26), Ronan Gordon for Beck (52), Ethan Harkin for Madden (56)
Scorers: David Stenson 0-3, 3f; Neil Douglas & Cian Costello 0-3 each; Barry Moran 0-2, Ray O’Malley, Eoghan O’Reilly, Ger McDonagh, Danny Kirby & Aidan Walsh 0-1 each
Team: Rory Byrne, Niall McCarney, Ger McDonagh, Donie Newcombe, Eoghan O’Reilly, Paddy Durcan, Ray O’Malley, Aidan Walsh, Barry Moran, James Durcan, Danny Kirby, Cian Costello, David Stenson, Neil Douglas, Callum Kyne. Subs: Shane Irwin for McCarney (50), Anthony O’Boyle for Walsh (55), Mark Towey for Ray O’Malley (57) Matthew McCormack for Moran (61)
Referee:Marty Duffy (Sligo)
Castlebar full-back Ger McDonagh fields the ball behind Mohill's Keith Beirne. Photo by Willie Donnellan