Minor Connacht final match report - 04/11/2023

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Eastern Harps: 0 – 09 Castlebar Mitchells: 3 – 05

On the eve of the 50th celebratory dinner dance, the Eastern Harps minor lads put in a heroic performance against Castlebar Mitchells in the Connacht Club Championship Final. The game was played under lights at the Connacht Centre of Excellence Bekan on Friday, November 3rd and while they came out the wrong end on the scoreline it was a performance that was a credit to the celebratory weekend. 

The winning margin of 5 points was extremely flattering to the Mayo outfit as for most parts of the game it was edge-of-the-seat stuff with the gap at two points and on occasions just a solitary point between the teams. Eastern Harps reached the final courtesy of a one-point win against Allen Gaels/ Fenagh of Leitrim while Castlebar won their semi-final against Tuam Stars, both played three days previously. 

The early exchanges were tense as you would expect in a game of this importance with a lot of possession football being played between the two forty-five meter lines, particularly by Castlebar. They were very comfortable on the ball but found it difficult to gain an advantage over a very disciplined Harps defence. There were 6 minutes on the clock when Fionan O’Reilly expertly converted a 45-metre free off the ground to get his side up and running.

 Harps replied almost immediately when vigilant referee Ian Monaghan spotted an illegal infringement off the ball on Aaron Healy. The same player duly took the free to level up matters. Disaster struck for Harps moments later when a goal-mouth scramble resulted in a toe-poke finish from wing forward Oisin Mulroy to the back of the Harps net. 

Harps responded with another point, this time Conor Dwyer showing a brilliant burst of pace to penetrate the Mitchells rearguard and punch the ball over the bar. A piece of neat footwork from busy corner forward Cian Walsh along the Harps endline finished with a teasing pass across the goal mouth and the inrushing Gavin Forry finished superbly to the net for Castlebar’s second goal.

Rather than being inhibited by the concession of another green flag, Harps really threw off the shackles and took the game to the Mayo Champions. They scored the next four points without reply, a free each from Cian Carty and Aaron Healy after fouls on Cillian Duggan and Carty. Then Josh McHugh kicked a monster point and Marty Murray got another from the resulting kickout after an incisive 30-metre run. Defensively they closed the Castlebar forwards with Noah Phillips particularly outstanding and Jack Dodd sweeping up a lot of free space.

 Cian Carty was a driving force from midfield and was expertly helped out by Alex Lillie. Conor Dwyer once again breezed through the Castlebar defence and while his goal-bound shot beat Oranne Burke in the Castlebar goals the shot was swept off the line by Niall Monaghan. Castlebar regrouped and it took a timely interception from Conor Hannon to nip another Castlebar attack.  However, they finished the half with a point from Gavin Forry, to leave them 2 points in the ascendancy at the short whistle. 

Cian Carty and Conor Walsh exchanged pointed frees early in the second half before Ryan Gibbons and Aaron Healy did likewise. The next 12 minutes failed to produce a score as both sides played conservative football while also looking for the incisive pass that would make the difference. It was Castlebar who broke the deadlock with an inspirational point from Cian Walsh. His exuberance after the score didn’t impress the referee who brandished him with a yellow card and 4 mins later, he picked up another one to receive his marching orders. The numerical advantage drove Harps forward with David Lyons a lot more involved in the play. The Castlebar rearguard was beginning to creak and then substitute Toby Lavelle was next to see the line for a black card offence.

With Castlebar now pulling all players behind the ball in a desperate effort to defend their lead they managed to make a quick break away and Joe Forry found himself with a clear run at the goals, However, Harps keeper, Ryan Duffy made a smart save. Harps Conor Walsh effort at goals was thwarted by the Castlebar keeper and the rebound fell to Liam Higgins whose effort was also blocked. Martin McKeon pointed for Harps in injury time to reduce the deficit once again to 2 points, however Castlebar in a rare foray up field found Joe Forry once again in a goal-scoring position and this time he atoned for his earlier mistake to leave a winning margin of 5 points. It was a cruel end to a highly entertaining game and one that Harps richly contributed to. Huge credit to the players and especially the management who have worked tirelessly with this panel over the years.  There will be better days ahead for this exceptionally talented group of players.  

Eastern Harps: Ryan Duffy, David Lyons, Noah Phillips, Conor Hannon, Liam Higgins, Alex Lillie, Marty Murray(0.1), Cian Carty(0.3), Conor Walsh, Josh McHugh(0.1), Jim Molloy, Jack Dodd, Cillian Duggan, Aaron Healy, Conor Dwyer(0.1). SUBS: Daniel Gardiner, Martin McKeon(0.1), Ciaran Connolly, Sean Hannon, Robbie Taylor, Aaron O’Gara, Conor Taheny, Michael Cosgrove, Eoghan Nerney. Management: Keith Carty, Ronan Higgins, Shaun Dorrian, Sean Bruen.

Castlebar Mitchells: Oranne Burke, Aaron Morahan, Brian McDonnell, Niall Monaghan, Connell Durcan, Fionan O’Reilly, Davey McManamon, Shane Cunningham, Sean O’ Reilly, Oisin Mulroy, Gavin Forry, Gary Filan, Cian Walsh, Ryan Gibbons, Harry McHale SUBS: Paddy Hopkins, Conor Kavanagh, Joshua Concannon, Toby Lavelle, Joe Ferry, Mark Lavelle, Matthew Flannelly, Fionn Mc Hale. Management: Michael Durcan, Eamonn Smith, Owen Keane, Declan Shaw, Ger Mc Donagh, Cormac Rowland