This time of year is an exciting one for all teams at all levels of the game. The Championship is the one they’ve all been waiting for. There’s teams harbouring genuine hopes of a Christy Bellew Cup win. Then, there’s teams seeking a much needed run. There’s John Mitchels.
It’s been a difficult number of years for the men from Ballybailie and 2017 has not been without it’s challenges. Two victories from eight league outings have left them in the relegation picture for the whole season. Some light has emerged from cup darkness. After being dumped out of the Kevin Mullen Shield, a Plate final appearance now awaits.
But while sides like Glyde Rangers and Roche Emmets will have Championship success in their sights, the competition first and foremost provides some welcome relief for the team in their 60th year. Hopeful of providing a shock, they’re intent on enjoying the distraction from league troubles.
“We’re looking forward to the start of the Championship,” manager Hugh Diamond told ThisIsArdee.ie. Part of a management duo with Gerry Gallagher, Diamond says the Mitchels have been looking forward to the Championship since the moment the draw was made.
“When the draw was made, we were at training that night. A couple of the lads came in and told us what the draw was. I told the lads ‘You couldn’t have handpicked that draw any better yourself. You’ve got your local rivals, it’s Championship football, that’s what you want.”
The Sean McDermotts await tonight (Tallanstown, 7pm) with the Westerns and Wolfe Tones to come over the next two weekends. It’s a thoroughly local affair for the most part.
“That’s what I would want,” Diamond confirms. “You want to play your rivals. You know them, you work with them, you played against them before, you went to school with them. That’s the games you want to play in. There’s bragging rights and all that but at the end of the day, Championship football is who wants it more.
“If you have to try and rise players for the Championship, you’re already struggling. You’re off on the wrong foot. The lads know it’s Championship, they know it’s important. They’re looking to get a run.
- Manager – Hugh Diamond and Gerry Gallagher
- Captain – Emmett Farrell
- Key Player – James Clarke
- How They Fared Last Year – Group Stages
- 2017 League & Cup Record – P13 W4 D0 L9
Preparation for the Championship has hardly been ideal. Following a stirring comeback win against Naomh Malachi 10 days ago, last Saturday’s 4-15 to 0-04 loss in Stabannon felt like a major step backwards.
Diamond is quick to admit that both players and management were bitterly disappointed off the back of a heavy loss just a short hop away in Stabannon. However, the manager believes it will only steel his players to bounce back.
“We were very disappointed after last week’s result. It was a very, very disappointing display all round. We’re coming in on the wrong side of a result but we’ll definitely give it our all on Friday,” he said.
“The management and players feel it’s time to put in a much better performance to prove we’re not that bad.
“We’re determined to right that wrong from last weekend and put in a good performance. We know we’re up against it, the Seans are moving very well. They had a tremendous result last week. The lads are bitterly disappointed and they feel they have a point to prove.”
Diamond believes the Stabannon match was a “Jekell and Hyde” performance, coming just four days after such a good showing against Naomh Malachi.
“We had a poor first against the Malachis and the lads really rallied at half time and come out in the second half and blew the Malachis away. It was a badly needed result for the club.
“It’s under pressure at the minute and the lads understood that and dug out a result. We were hoping to back that up with a win against Stabannon but it was Jekell and Hyde. We were very flat on the night. Nothing seemed to go right for us and everything went right for Stabannon,” he bemoans.
The Mitchels are capable. In addition to stunning league victories against Naomh Malachi and Dowdallshill, the Baillybailie boys have racked a couple of big wins en route the Kevin Mullen Plate final.
The key to finding that consistency, Diamond believes, is getting numbers on the training pitch and on the field on matchday. Beyond a core group of around 12 players – such as Coyle’s Robbie, Stephen, Anthony – attendance is a problem.
“The club hasn’t had a run for a number of years. We are a small club. From what I’m hearing, junior football is not a wonderful place to be. At first hand, I would have to agree. Not all clubs, I would grant that but the Mitchels have a good core group of lads who never miss training and will give it their best.
“Then there’s another group of lads who cannot commit for whatever reason, be it injuries or work or whatever. When you’re trying to put a plan together in training, it’s difficult,” he says.
It’s extremely difficult to get lads to gel together when some lads haven’t been on the pitch in a week or a month. It’s in the
numbers really. Diamond doesn’t mince his words when it comes to finding a solution; “The club as a whole could do with recruiting some players if I’m honest.”
One positive the John Mitchels can take in that regard is the emergence of some talented young players, no more so than John Gallagher. The teenager has top-scored for Louth Minors on their stunning run to the Leinster final against Dublin on Sunday week.
Despite inter-county commitments, Gallagher is raring to be involved in the Mitchels championship assault. There’s a chance he’ll be involved, although Louth’s progression to the final in Croke Park muddies the water.
“There’s nothing ruled in or ruled out,” Diamond says, when asked whether the young sharp shooter will be involved. “With a Leinster final next week, I’m not going to force the issue. I would hate for the chap to pick up an injury or anything like that and spoil his big day in Croker.
“John coming back to the squad would lift the lads and ourselves and the whole thing. Depending on how John gets on on Sunday week, yeah, there is a chance he may he available for the last game. We would love to still be in with a shout at that stage and would hope John would push us over the line.”
Diamond says the opportunity for Gallagher to play at Croke Park is the stuff of dreams. He reckons that with Mitchels and strong Ardee St Marys representation, there’ll be no one left in Ardee on the 16th.
“There’ll be no one left in Ardee. The whole county will rally behind them. I have no doubt about that.” With thoughts now firmly on tonight’s throw-in, Diamond is bulish about Mitchels hopes.
“We went down and played the Seans in the league. I was very confident and just before throw-in, we had three changes in the warm up. It scuppered us a wee bit. We played our best and they beat us by two points.
“I was gutted after that game because I felt we could get a result that night. I’d be confident in the lads that if they put in a
performance, I have no doubt they can pull off a bit of a shock in the Championship.
“At the end of the day, we have nothing to lose. Nobody is expecting anything from us, except ourselves. We have a bit of pride in ourselves and the jersey and the club. We would expect the lads to put in a performance to reflect that.”
For all the very best coverage of local teams in the Louth GAA Championship – previews, match reports, reaction, features, social media updates and more – stick with ThisIsArdee.ie. We’ve got John Mitchels, Hunterstown Rovers, Ardee St Marys, Sean McDermotts and Westerns GFC covered.