Belmullet 0-06 Knockmore 1-09
Champions Knockmore retained their Mayo SFC title with a convincing victory in front of a crowd of around 4,000 at James Stephen's Park in Ballina.
The holders were crowned for a tenth time after producing a strong finish to shoot five of the last six points and end Belmullet's dreams of winning a first Moclair Cup in their first senior decider for 40 years.
As expected, a low-scoring match that was dominated by defences with Knockmore’s greater firepower proving decisive in the end.
A goal from full-forward James Ruddy late in the first half was a watershed moment, while Knockmore manager Ray Dempsey also got big performances from man of the match Kieran King, warhorse midfielder Shane McHale, and Mayo veteran Kevin McLoughlin.
All three led by example as Knockmore played with an intensity and purpose that ultimately proved too much for Belmullet to cope with.
The champions led at the end of a low-scoring, scrappy first half by 1-02 to 0-01.
The goal came five minutes into additional time when Knockmore’s target-man James Ruddy won the ball brilliantly in the air before finishing clinically past Belmullet goalkeeper Shane Nallen.
It originated when the influential Shane McHale won the ball back around halfway, and Aidan Orme’s brilliant delivery allowed Ruddy to finish low past Nallen.
Knockmore also had the better of the opening quarter and they led by 0-02 to 0-00 at the first water break after scores from Peter Naughton (free) and Pearse Ruttledge in the fourth and 14th minutes.
Belmullet found it difficult to get their talisman Ryan O’Donoghue on the ball all afternoon, as he was tightly marked by Knockmore captain David McHale, and also had to cope with the close attentions of the aforementioned sweeper Kieran King.
However, O’Donoghue did win a free in the 29th minute which he converted himself from his hands to finally open Belmullet’s account.
That score seemed to settle the Erris men, but they were rocked when Ruddy pounced to hit the net six minutes later.
Knockmore’s Connell Dempsey was shown a black card moments after the goal was scored for comments made to Belmullet’s goalkeeper Shane Nallen.
But Ray Dempsey’s charges made light work of being a man down at the start of the second half and they tacked on two inspirational scores in quick succession from Peter Naughton and Conor Flynn to push their lead out to six points.
Belmullet looked to be in real trouble at that stage, but they stuck to their game-plan and captain Eamon McAndrew, who had only come on moments earlier, shot their first point from play in the 38th minute to get the scoreboard moving again.
That score galvanised the rank outsiders and they mined two more from Ryan O’Donoghue (free) and his brother Shea in the 40th and 41st minutes to cut the gap to a goal again.
However, their momentum was checked by a black card for Marty Boylan after a late challenge on Kieran King.
Ruddy’s goal was all that separated the sides at the second water-break, but Belmullet drove on again after the restart and a brilliant long-range effort from Owen McHale meant they were right back in contention.
It was at this stage that Knockmore showed the true mark of champions as they made their extra man count to shoot three points in the space of as many minutes to surge clear.
Wing-back Conor Flynn got the ball rolling with a neat effort from close-range before Peter Naughton converted a pressure free and Connell Dempsey added an inspirational point from distance.
Knockmore were 1-07 to 0-05 up when the dust settled and Belmullet’s resistance had been broken.
The last fifteen minutes saw Knockmore manage the game expertly, pinning their opponents back and tacking on two frees from Peter Naughton to close the game out and retain the title.
Knockmore: C Reape; M Park, David McHale, S Holmes; N Armstrong, K King, C Flynn (0-2); K McLoughlin, S McHale; P Ruttledge (0-1), A Naughton, C Dempsey (0-1); A Orme, J Ruddy (1-0), P Naughton (0-5, 3fs).
Subs used: K Ruttledge for Armstrong (41); D McHale for Ruddy (50); L Durcan for Bourke (61).
Belmullet: S Nallen; M Barrett, Colin Barrett, C Connor; J Kelly, E O’Donoghue, S O’Donoghue; E Healy, E Ivers; C Conway, D Cosgrove, F Ryan; O McHale (0-1), R O’Donoghue (0-3, 3fs), J Boylan.
Subs used: M Boylan for Healy (HT); E McAndrew (0-1) for J Boylan (35); J O’Donnell for Cosgrove (40); Cathal Barrett for M Boylan (55); L Howard for M Barrett (60).Referee: J Henry (Castlebar Mitchels)