Ballaghaderreen hope the small differences can make the big difference

GAA: Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship Final

Ballagh' boys: David Drake, Paul McHugh and Andy Moran from Ballaghaderreen ahead of tomorrow nights Connacht Gold Mayo Senior Football Championship Final. Photo: Conor McKeown.

Ballagh' boys: David Drake, Paul McHugh and Andy Moran from Ballaghaderreen ahead of tomorrow nights Connacht Gold Mayo Senior Football Championship Final. Photo: Conor McKeown.

Little things can make a big difference in sport and in life and on Sunday Ballaghaderreen are hoping that a few little things can see them get over the line against Ballintubber.

The east Mayo club are the last side to pick up the Moclair Cup outside of the duopoly of their opponents and Castlebar Mitchels, who have held the whip hand over where the most important trophy in Mayo football rests for the winter in the recent past.

The last time they brought the old trophy home with them was seven years ago, when they beat Ballintubber in the final by eight points – but since then, whilst they have have always been a serious side to be considered in the championship, they haven’t really been one of the sides who have been earmarked as title contenders.

Last year a few things changed and they reached the county semi-final where they were edged out by Breaffy by three points and they could see there was plenty to build on, which has spurred them on this year.

"Last year the expectations were low, if we're being honest, beating Garrymore in the quarter-final was a huge thing for us and the semi-final, we probably didn't realise that we could win it, we were delighted to get there and it was probably too late when we realised that we could win it,” said Ballaghaderren manager Paul McHugh.

While Andy Moran, looking back on what they achieved last year, told the Mayo Advertiser: "If you look at 2018 and bring it into 2019, we got to a semi-final last year which was huge for us. We beat a club in the quarter-final that we would have huge respect for in Garrymore and to me it was a huge result for us and we have built on it and when next year comes, you'll see Ballina probably doing the same thing.”

Returning faces and young talents

Being one of the old hands on the field, Moran has seen it all with Ballaghaderreen over the past almost two decades – but he pinpoints the return of one player and the progression of a number of others through the ranks as key to their march to tomorrow night's final, saying: "When Cian [Hanley] came back from Australia it was a huge thing for us. It gave us a sense of life and we had two young fellas coming in - David McBrien and Kuba Callaghan - and that was three new players with huge pace and ability and Cian has kind of knitted it all together and it has come nicely and fingers crossed he keeps progressing.”

Getting the latest crop of young players real game time in the league has been a key ingredient of Ballaghaderreen’s progression to the final and while they were relegated from division one this year, it will matter little if things go right on Saturday.

"Our league form hasn't really been that bad, we lost a lot of games narrowly and when you're missing [players] - we had four on the county panel early on and we had three injured - so we were down seven lads in the early league games and you are playing teams that are missing one or two.

"Yet the great thing about that is we have been very competitive in them all - we have a 32-man panel and I think we used 31 or all of them in the league, to get them experience playing senior league was huge for us, so we didn't worry about it - but yet our form was not bad,” said McHugh.

He went on to add that having the mix of young players getting experience and some older heads in reserve has been a key component of their championship challenge to date: "We have two lads on the team this year - Kuba Callaghan and David McBrien - and they have been huge - and six or seven new lads on to the bench this year and they have all got league time this year and got to play.

"It is one the one thing we tried to develop this year and giving them all league time is huge, we went down in the league this year but so what, they all got league time and got to play.

"They have all got experience and we also have the likes of Stephen Drake and Barry Regan back on the bench and guys like Joe Dillon there, it's good to have them there as well.

Getting back to where they want to be

That sentiment was echoed by Moran, who knows that small clubs in rural areas face serious challenges, saying: “We would have a very small club in the town of Ballaghaderreen and our playing population is dropping.

"I’m not making excuses, it is like everyone else in rural Ireland and that is why it was so key to have Cian and David and Kuba back. Kuba and David were both involved with the Mayo u20s and Cian was with Mayo seniors for most of the year and so was I and David [Drake] and Sharoize and then Cian and Sharoize went to America for the summer, we missed a lot of players.

"But in fairness to the lads if you look at the results we lost a lot of those games by a point or two - I think it can be deceiving, we would have loved to have stayed up, of course, but in essence it wasn't our priority for the year.”

It’s seven years since Ballaghaderreen were last in the final, when they won their third ever senior title - the second in four years. Looking back on that win Moran says he knew it was the end of a cycle for the club and is delighted they have got back to contesting for top honours again.

"When we got to 2012, won and got to the Connacht championship at that stage, we had David Kilcullen who did his cruciate, Shane Finn, who played wing forward that time, Andrew Hanley was gone and people were moving to different stages in their life.

"We probably knew there was going to be a bit of transition, you'd always hope you could get there but did I think I'd get back to this level two or three years ago and get to the county final? Maybe not - but when we got beat by Kildare last year and got back to the club you could see that the talent is there - we've just worked on it since.”

Tactical planning

In their semi-final win over Castlebar Mitchels – Ballaghaderreen took the game to the county town men on their own terms and only for some outstanding goalkeeping, they could have won the game by a cricket score.

Their planning for that game was well laid out in advance and it worked to a tee and thankfully so, explained McHugh. “I was delighted - we went through it all, myself and Dessie Lynch, my right hand man and Gary Conway and Barry McGuire and the other two selectors and we have Johnno helping out in the background which is great - we went through it all over the last few weeks.

"I saw them against Knockmore and Aghamore and we felt if we ran them from the back we'd have a right chance. In fairness, we decided the week before to go one-on-one and play no sweeper, no nothing and go at them from the back, we brought it up the week before to the boys and said we'd go for it and hope for the best. Thankfully it did, if it backfired I'd have been an asshole, but it didn't, you're as well to go for it and that's our motto."

As for what tactics that he’ll spring tomorrow night, McHugh was keeping tight-lipped – but he’ll have something ready. "I didn't go to their game on the Saturday evening because if people saw me there they'd have said, look at him getting ahead of himself, but I go to all the games.

"But I know the way they play - we played them there a few weeks ago in the league and I've seen them play before, so look, we'll have a look at them and see the best way to play them, but one thing is we will not be sitting back.”

As for Moran’s thoughts on facing Ballintubber, a lot of factors will influence the outcome of the game, he believes. “It is now October and you have to take that into account; last Sunday [week] we got a gorgeous day, it was almost like a Summer's day, the ball was bouncing up nicely, so who knows what it could bring.

"Moving away from the two teams, the weather could dictate what happens, so we might have to adjust our form in some way for Ballintubber. We had a great league game against them two weeks ago where it was a right good battle, we were missing a few and so were they, so I think both teams have such respect for each other we'll kind of look at each other's systems and kind of try to break each other down.”

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