John Mitchels produced a polished, accomplished performance to complete a clean sweep of victories in the Junior Football Championship as brothers John and Kevin Gallagher starred in an 11 point victory over local rivals Westerns in Darver.
However, the Mitchels face having to continue their Championship campaign without the former. Their talismanic young forward suffered a knee injury towards the game’s end. He left the field hobbling uncomfortably and now looks certain to miss Saturday’s last eight clash with the Sean McDermotts and potentially, the rest of the Championship.
The Mitchels will face another local foe – the Seans – this weekend in the first quarter-final and will likely have to plan ahead without the prolific younger Gallagher, who shone once again. At the Centre of Excellence, he put on another finishing school workshop to break Westerns hearts.
The side from Reaghstown had it all to do, needing a three point win against the in-form Mitchels. The latter could afford to lose and still go through. With Na Piarsaigh comprehensive winners against whipping boys St Nicholas’ in Hunterstown, the victory means the Mitchels top the group.
Their form this season has many considering them Christy Bellow Cup outsiders. It is a far cry from Championship woes of previous years. Their 100% record in Group 3 sees them quality for the knockout stages for the first time in five years.
Interestingly, they handed a Championship debut to John Bingham. Formerly of Ardee St Marys and an inter-county player in recent times, his move to the Mitchels and subsequent availability at this stage of the competition is a considerable fillip to the Ballybaile outfit.
Ultimately, he lasted on the field for just nine minutes on is return to action from injury. Both he and the experienced Robert Coyle were forced from the field in the space of 60 seconds early on. Replacements Stephen Campbell and Gareth Kane took to the field and contributed in no small amount to another impressive win.
Bingham and Coyle now join Gallagher as question marks for the weekend encounter with the Seans in Darver.
Scores from Ryan Duffy and Patrick Kerley got the Westerns off the mark and the men from Reaghstown started well at the other end too. Their backs exerted a high press on the Mitchels’ not allowing them to work openings into feet as they sought to find their marksman John Gallagher.
They did eventually find him, at the end of a patient move, and he notched the first of another prolific night. Kevin Gallagher popped a left footed free out of his hands over shortly after. The younger Gallagher brother scored a 45 following Benny Curtis’ save from Kane and after Andy Murray hauled down the prolific hotshot, brother Kevin split the posts with another free.
With the Mitchels in the ascendancy, the Westerns showed what they had in their armoury and displayed just how quickly things can change. Anthony Durnin’s forward ball was plucked from the night sky in Darver by younger brother Tommy. Shrugging off the attentions of three Mitchels backs – Emmett Farrell, Alan Mackin and Aaron Kane – to advance and score the game’s first goal.
It was a moment of high level play that illuminated the game but while the younger Gallagher brother produced consistently throughout – and has done over three games in this Championship campaign – Durnin’s goal was a isolated moment of class by a player in Westerns’ green-and-gold.
John and Kevin Gallagher than shared the next four scores, with Andrew Bingham tagging on one for himself after a cheap concession of the ball on the Westerns 30. John Gallagher had space to turn and point either side of two Tommy Durnin efforts prior to the break.
There was considerably more football played in the first half then the second, with referee Colm McCullough a more prominent figure and Westerns’ frustrations rising to the surface. It took them 26 minutes of the second half to even register a score as the Mitchels ran away it.
Campbell, one of the Mitchels first half substitutes, was handed a brief of keeping Tommy Durnin quiet and the battle of the strongmen was an intriguing one, even more so after Campbell was carded shortly after the restart. Jack Ogle’s goalbound effort was blocked well by Anthony Coyle, denying the Westerns a dent in the deficit and a morale boosting moment, a game-turner.
As it transpired, they would have to wait for their next score and by the time it arrived, the game was gone. John Gallagher found the net after the unlucky Andy Murray had palmed Ben O’Brien’s shot onto the post. It fell to earth kindly for the full forward, who drilled the ball into the corner of the net.
The impressive Gareth Kane, unlucky to find himself out of the starting XV in the last two games, followed suit four minutes later. A quick back-to-front move ended when Gallagher laid-off to the pacy Kane who fired past Curtis.
Gallagher called his mark and popped over while Bingham, younger brother of John, split the posts with a fine left foot effort.
After Gallagher’s premature departure, Conor Kerr and Tommy Durnin tacked on scores for the Westerns. Kevin Gallagher, from a free, and Kane did so for the Mitchels. Curtis sprang in action to deny the team in change strip black-and-red a third goal.
Subs Stephen Campbell and Colm Martin both received their marching orders late in the day too – having both picked up two bookings from McCullough. Martin’s feat was all the more impressive, given he was on the field for only 15 minutes.
The Westerns, last year’s Division 3B winners, had beaten John Mitchels en route to a last eight defeat to Roche Emmets in 2019. Whether or not they have regressed is debatable. The Mitchels are a coming force, that’s a fact.
JOHN MITCHELS: David Anderson, Anthony Coyle, Alan Mackin, John Bingham (Stephen Campbell, 9), Mikey Nulty, Emmett Farrell, Aaron Kane (Liam Devitt, 60+3), James Clarke, Aaron Kerley, Kevin Gallagher, Andrew Bingham, Trevor Matthews, Ben O’Brien, John Gallagher (Steven Coyle, 54), Robert Coyle (Gareth Kane, 10).
WESTERNS: Benny Curtis, Liam Murray, James Ward, Mick Martin (Damien Boylan, 59), Andrew Murray, Ciaran Scriven, Adam Duffy, Sean McGuinness (Colm Martin, 44), Anthony Durnin, Ryan Duffy, Conor Kerr, Jack Ogle (Terence Sweeney, 54), John Murray, Tommy Durnin, Patrick Kerley (Ciaran Campbell, 47).
REFEREE: Colm McCullough