If friendship was to be measured by the number of times I called to John Naughton’s house to say hello, I was not John’s friend at all, for I never called to his home, nor he to mine and this despite the fact that he only lived over the road from me here in Castlebar. But I have known John all of my adult life because he played in goal for the Crossmolina senior football team for years. Unfortunately John lost his brave battle with cancer and passed away last week. John was a very clever, gifted, man who knew things that others didn’t. He was interested in predictable things like Gaelic football, his farm and livestock, and loved his work with the HSE in Castlebar Hospital. He always struck me as being a wise man. He remained passionate about the Crossmolina football team even after he stopped playing. When I made my way on to the senior team in Crossmolina John was already the well established custodian, having played in goals for years prior to my arrival. He took his game seriously and was never shy in making a suggestion as to how the opposition would be beaten, or offering his point of view on what was going awry in a game. John had notions of grandeur for the club. He wasn’t content with the junior medal won in 1975 or the intermediate title won in 1980. He wanted the team to be the best it could be, to be up there with the top teams competing for the county senior title annually. He was one of the real leaders in the dressing room during my indoctrination. At that time I was a young naive defender on the team and John often pulled me aside before, during, and after games to offer encouragement and advice, for which I was most grateful for. What I loved about those words was the fact that they were delivered in the language of the plain man. In other words, there was no doubt in my mind about the content of the message delivered! John’s manner was genial, his humour easy, and his mind acute. He was enormously proud of the achievements of his native Crossmolina, particularly the All Ireland club victory in 2001. On big match days, whether it was Mayo or Crossmolina that was involved, John would have the field in front of the house bedecked in the Mayo and Crossmolina colours. The display of a variety of paraphernalia, bunting, and flags signalled the fact that a serious follower of the GAA lived in the house behind the field. An enormous crowd of old GAA friends and colleagues, from as far away as Co. Tyrone, turned out for his funeral last weekend to bid farewell to a good man who loved his sport. John would have been immensely proud of his son Kieran who bravely took to the field last Sunday to assist his club, Castlebar Mitchell’s, get through their quarter-final replay vs Shrule/Glencorrib successfully. It can’t have been easy.
A bad day for me last Sunday
Last Sunday started off poorly for me. On match days I normally try to get in some form of exercise in the morning. If the weather is any way reasonable I climb Croaghmoyle (the Booster station walk ) outside Castlebar. I was on my way back to my car after the climb when I was given the bad news that my car window had been smashed. This isn’t the first time a car has been targeted by thieves/vandals in this area. I was the unfortunate one last weekend. My mobile phone and some cash were stolen from my car and understandably I was fairly annoyed. My mind, however, was focused on a bigger event taking place later that afternoon at McHale Park. Crossmolina and Knockmore in a county semi-final and on a good afternoon for football would lift my spirits. Unfortunately my day was only going to go from bad to worse!
After the victory against the county champions the previous week, we were installed as favourites to advance to a county final. Everyone involved with the team, and indeed the club in general, fully realised that this would be a battle and Crossmolina would have to be at their very best to beat Knockmore, always a tough nut to crack. We have no complaints whatsoever though as we were beaten fair and square by the superior team on the day. Knockmore turned in a vintage performance and in Kevin O’Neill they had the match winner.
He scored nine points in total, seven of them coming from placed balls. Some of those points were incredible, hit with terrific accuracy and from long distances. The last time I witnessed a display of point-taking as good was ironically from a player from the same club, Knockmore. I remember Padraig Brogan kicking 13 points in a county final against Davitts in the early eighties. While Kevin didn’t kick as many, his nine were equally as good as not a single one of them could be described as handy. Not alone was he on fire, but every Knockmore player appeared to have the greater hunger for success. We played very poorly in the first half, although we did have a reasonable spell 10 minutes before the break. On the balance of play, however, we were quite lucky to be going in all square at half time at six points apiece.
I suggested to Sean Feeney at that stage that a draw might be on the cards. Understandably his eyes lit up with the thought of the extra gate receipts. A losing dressing room is always a lonely place and no matter how often I have experienced them it never gets any easier. Understandably, some of the younger players shed a tear or two not having ever anticipated — and rightly so — a losing scenario. Unlike the jubilant scenes in the Knockmore dressing room, our enclosure was eerily quiet and filled with disappointment and regret. You see, the sad reality is that there is never a 100 per cent guarantee in any sport and that’s what makes winning unique and special. I gathered my bits and pieces and said what I had to say to those who were still listening. My son Johnny appeared even more disappointed than I although I knew that, due to his youth, his recovery would be speedier than mine! We both stayed at the grounds to watch the replay between the Mitchell’s and Shrule/Glencorrib. This game failed to lift our spirits and we eventually trudged home weary and leaden after the day’s events. Not one to remember!
Four great years under Holmes and Connelly come to an end
Despite speculation to the contrary, I can confirm without fear of contradiction that the u21 management team will not be staying on for the 2010 campaign. I think that it is a shame as I feel that Pat Holmes, Noel Connelly, and Mícheál Collins have been doing a fantastic job. Speculation will be rife as to who might be appointed. An obvious choice would be Ray Dempsey to step up having been involved for the last few years with the minors. However, I know that Ray fancies the opportunity of remaining in charge of the minors next year as quite a few of this year’s team are eligible again in 2010. Because the u21s dovetail with the senior squad the senior management might be interested in taking on this task and staying in control of both squads.