There’s nothing quite like the build-up to an All-Ireland final in which your team is taking part, and while the mood around Mayo football isn’t currently at its best after last Sunday’s defeat to Kerry, the feeling around the streets of Castlebar is different. As Castlebar Mitchels approach the final hurdle and All-Ireland Club Final day looms, every shop and business has some form of Mitchels-themed decoration on display – Main Street is absolutely plastered with red and yellow and when the sun shines like it has been in the last couple of days, it’s a fantastic sight. Even the dogs of Castlebar are getting on board!
Pictured: A dog in a Castlebar Mitchels hoodie.
Upsetting the odds
In the past 3 years, this team has toppled some of the biggest names in club football, and have upset the odds while doing so. And when I say they upset the odds, I mean crazy odds like when they were 3/1 to beat Corofin in this year’s Connacht Final. A lot of people capitalised on it that day which made winning a second Connacht Title in 3 years that bit sweeter! In 2013/14, on the way to their All-Ireland Final appearance, the Mitchels defeated Corofin in Tuam, reigning All-Ireland Champions St. Brigids, and Kerry and Munster Champions Dr. Crokes. We came up just short in Croker, but this year they added Crossmaglen to the growing list in an incredible night in Breffni Park to give themselves another shot at the ultimate prize.
This squad is littered with talent, and I should clear something up. When I say they upset the odds, I am talking strictly bookmaker’s odds. I don’t know many Mitchels fans who are surprised at another All-Ireland Final appearance. There was always a feeling that winning the Mayo Senior Championship was a stepping stone to greater things.
On TG4 a few nights ago, former Cork Hurler Donal O’Grady predicted that Ballyboden would go on to win the title. That’s fine, of course it is. It’s an All-Ireland final and anything can happen in 60 minutes of high-intensity football. But his rationale for predicting a Ballyboden win, and I’m paraphrasing here, was because “Mayo teams freeze in Croke Park”. Maybe I’m over-reacting, but that is some seriously lazy, nauseating and frankly terrible analysis. You’d expect to see that in the comments section on a Facebook post, but certainly not on national television. But anyway, that’s beside the point!
On Thursday a couple of thousand will make the long trip east from Castlebar and I’m certain a few more will follow from other parishes, towns and villages all over the county. On my drive home from Claremorris from work every day I pass a sign just outside Breaffy wishing the Mitchels the best of luck in the final. That message comes from their closest neighbours and rivals. It’s great to see everyone rally behind the Mayo and Connacht representatives as indeed we all did when Hollymount-Carramore and Ardnaree Sarsfields took to Croker last month for the Intermediate and Junior finals. It wasn’t to be for them on the day but it was a massive year for Mayo club football with a hat-trick of Connacht titles and All-Ireland Final appearances. Hopefully, the boys from the county town can make it a bit more memorable and claim the Andy Merrigan Cup for the first time in their long and proud history.
Photo: Jarlath Cunningham. For more of Jarlath’s pictures, check out the Mitchels Facebook page. There are any amount of cracking shots from the journey so far this year.
Pride of place is a funny thing. For the last 6 months I have been working in Claremorris – a great town with great people. But it was still a necessity for me to nail my colours to the mast (or tie a small scarf thing on my computer monitor) at the office even though most people don’t really take notice! All in the hope that someone will call in and realise I’m from out of town and maybe talk to me about the match. I love driving home in the evening and I love coming back into the town where you can see red and yellow flags and bunting left, right and centre.
HA! That’ll show ye!
For me, it’s my hometown taking to the field on Thursday. It would be dishonest to claim that I was a clubman because, frankly, I’m not. They are the ones who put in the hard yards during the year on the training pitch, in the board rooms, selling programmes, teas, sandwiches and sweets during matches while everyone else enjoys the action. I go to all the Castlebar Mitchels games alright with my dad whether they are in town or across the country – The two days in Tuam beating Corofin, the day in the Hyde beating Brigids, Portlaoise for Dr. Crokes and the night in Cavan for Crossmaglen are some of my absolute best sporting memories. That is without even mentioning the Mayo Championship wins over Breaffy. But most of my free time is spent across the town at a different club – Castlebar Celtic – populated by yet another fine bunch of volunteers who love their club and their town. Most of the lads taking the field on Thursday have dawned the green and white hoops at some stage in their lives, and we even saw Shane “Hoppy” Hopkins parade the colours around after beating Crossmaglen!
And that’s because they are all of this town and they have represented it in many different forms, be it green and white or red and yellow. But this week it’s all about the red and yellow, it’s about our county town being in the national spotlight on our national day and for all the right reasons. Hopefully, that spotlight will continue into the night on the 17th. My gut tells me that it will.
H’on the Mitchels!