Things could hardly have been tighter when all was said and done in group one of the intermediate football championship back at the tail end of June. Three of the four teams in the group were locked together on four points each with only two places in the last eight up for grabs. When the scoring differences were counted up, Moy Davitts topped the group with plus-16 points, while just a solitary point separated Belmullet and Kilmaine, with the north Mayo mens socring difference of plus-3 just edging out the south Mayo side with their plus-2.
That's how fine the margins were for Belmullet in making it this far when it came to the cold hard maths of the equation, but the reality was even closer, according to Belmullet manager Nigel Reape. "The first bit of luck I ever got as a senior manager, I think was the last day getting out of the group. Islandeady did us a big favour (they were only beaten by Kilmaine by two points ). You do make your own luck, but on that day, we didn't because Islandeady did us a big favour and Moy Davitts had a chance right at the death. A one-on-one with the keeper and the ball came back off the inside of the post two minutes into injury time and that would have knocked us out, so that's how tight things can be."
Finest of margins all around
It was fine margins all the way in that group, according to Reape, even in the games they won. "It wasn't easy, there were a few fancied teams in it, even Islandeady. I know they are involved in relegation play-off at the minute, but they are a very good side, they were very unlucky to find themselves in the position they are in. We got over the line against Islandeady, we got ahead early on. Conditions were terrible that day as they were in the last group game and when you've bad conditions in Belmullet it can be hard, you won't have a game of free flowing football, the wind goes across the pitch and on both days at home in the championship there were huge winds and rain going across the pitch."
Their win over Kilmaine on the road was key to their progression in the end, but at the time they didn't feel there was much pressure on them going into the game, says Reape. "We were under no real pressure going into the Kilmaine game because we probably weren't expected to come out on top. Most people thought that it would come down to the last day and between ourselves and Moy Davitts battling it out for the second spot in the table. There wasn't a lot of pressure as such, because you had the saftey net there."
Mixing the good with the bad
Having won six of their league games, two of their three championship games so far and making the final of the Michael Walsh league, it looks from the outside that Belmullet have had a excellent season so far. But according to the manger they've mixed the good with the bad quite often. "We've had a mixed bag, there's no point in not being honest about things. We've had some fine performances. Earlier in the Michael Walsh Cup we'd some excellent performances, same in the league and some other ones not so good. We've had a lot of problems with injuries and a lot of lads away until the summer time. It has been stop start this year, but the lads have put in the work and it's all about timing and stuff and hopefully we've it timed right for the weekend."
Because of their location, it can be tough for clubs like Belmullet to get big numbers at training all through the year, but they've had a good summer of training and everyone is putting in the effort even when they are away from home, says Reape. "For the period outside of the summer, which would be half your training year, during then we would have at most 30 per cent of our panel at home. In fairness the lads have worked it well, when we've trained it's been very good, and you've younger lads from the minors in as well and it brings freshness to it. The lads who are away are all training with clubs elsewhere and we've met once a week and everyone has put in a massive effort in regards to that. Over the summer we'd a great run out over the summer and it's over the last week or so. Lads have gone back to college and we've a few lads who are teachers and everything else."
Going into tomorrow night's game against Westport, the Erris men are reporting at full fitness and are ready to go. "We've as clean a bill of health as you can. We've one or two players who have knocks and stuff, the usual things that everyone has, but no one really doubtful. But being honest in our starting 15 we'd expect everyone to be ready. We played Parke last weekend and they were very understrength and in one way it's no harm, because going into championship you'd always be worried that lads might get injured or what not. But it allowed us to play a few lads to get games into their legs and take others off to rest up ahead of it."
Taking up the challenge
As for their opponents, Reape believes that they are ones that are not long for this grade and will find themselves back in the senior ranks in the near future. "Westport are a really good team, they probably shouldn't have found themselves at intermediate. They are without a doubt a club that is doing some seriously good work at underage, they could be the strongest club in Mayo at underage, it's only a matter of time before they come strong. They remind me of Castlebar and Ballintubber back in 2007 winning lots of underage titles and bringing the groups through. They will come out of intermediate very soon, and if they keep doing what they are doing right they'll be a serious force at senior level. You know what you're up against."
Reape is best known as being the Knockmore senior manager over the past number of years, after cutting his teeth in the adult levels with a brief stint in charge of Moy Davitts before that. After stepping down from the hotseat in Knockmore, it wasn't that hard a decision to get involved with the men from the Barony of Erris when he was approached. "It wasn't a hard decision, I was approached by the chairman John Gallagher and asked. I looked at it first and thought logistically it might not work out, but I spoke to them and thought that with my own office supplies business I'm in the Erris area one day a week as it is and I could work it around that. After meeting with the people in the club and one or two of the players and saw the club and their set up, I made the decision very easily. I would have spoken to the previous management and he and his management team had done a fantastic job and brought them very close last year, and after talking to them it was one of the things that persuaded me to go for it. They told me about the lads and the commitment they have and it made up my mind."