You can’t beat experience or class. Despite the flamboyance and arrogance of youth, the old experienced warhorse who’s been there, done that, invariably realises that something clever is required if his team is going to prevail. And so it was last Sunday with Charlestown edging past Castlebar, just when some might have felt a shock was on the cards. In Crossmolina’s case in our semi-final defeat to Knockmore it looked as though we had too much experience and not enough youthful exuberance. Last Sunday Castlebar had plenty of youthful energy around the field, but when the game was there to be won, Charlestown had that little bit of guile and know-how to close out the deal. With all their experience they knew how to win this game and advance to yet another county final.
Up to the closing stages of this encounter there was little between the sides, but for some reason I always felt Castlebar would be left wondering what might have been. Castlebar have improved this year. For a start they are beginning to look like a team. For the first time in quite a while I get the feeling that they are well organised, have a game plan and are beginning to take their game seriously. They have a scattering of good young footballers and I get the impression that this bunch might be around for a while. A good competitive Castlebar Mitchell’s team is good for football in the county. There are several old traditionalists around the county who suggest that a Mayo team will never win an All- Ireland until the Mitchells are going well as a club. Now I’m not so sure about that theory, but nonetheless I was happy to see a young team with real potential putting it up to Charlestown. It will be a while before they catch up with the old wise heads however. Smart footballers like ‘Ginger’ Tiernan, John Casey, Ritchie Harnan and Aidan Higgins have learned a lot down through the years and it was these boys in particular that produced when required. That, ultimately, was the difference between the two sides. Charlestown, meanwhile, will relish the opportunity to avenge last year’s final defeat next Sunday week. On the basis of my knowledge of both teams, I felt Knockmore played the better football in reaching the final but, as we know, form can go out the window in finals. Suffice it to say that Charlestown’s performance last weekend would not be good enough to win the final.
So where to now for Castlebar? They have improved incrementally throughout the season and have some real quality players coming on stream. Unfortunately they had to operate without Tom Cunniffe for most of the season, but Alan Feeney and Neil Douglas have probably done enough to get the nod once a new panel is being put together by Mayo senior management. The one thing this young team requires is consistency of leadership and management. Peter Forde, despite an approach to get involved with the Mayo senior set-up appears committed to Castlebar Mitchells for another year at least. They can and should make further progress under his management.
My pick at the All-Stars
I was asked to select my All-Star team for 2009. It’s a dangerous, hazardous exercise at the best of times and one that creates enormous debate and, in lots of cases, controversy. But anyway I have nothing to fear in this part of the country as I don’t think anyone from the west should feature. My team will be dominated by Kerry, and to a lesser extent Cork footballers, as they ultimately were the best in the country in ’09. I have taken the liberty to pick who I considered to be the six best defenders and forwards, without allocating them positions.
At the back
Diarmuid Murphy: Is practically a certainty for the goalkeeper’s jersey, not because of any extraordinary brilliance throughout the season, but because of his remarkable consistency. It also helps that he isn’t under huge pressure from anyone else for the post. A remarkable comeback for Diarmuid when you consider the lonely figure he cut in last year’s final.
Marc O Se: This player is laced with such elegance and panache that he makes the art of brilliant defending look easy.
Tom O'Sullivan: His All-Ireland final man-of-the-match award makes him the dead rock certainty of this year’s defence. He never appears flustered and the bigger the challenge the better he appears.
Michael Shields had an excellent campaign for Cork. He has pace, good hands, marks tightly and clearly developed as a footballer as a result of his spell down under.
Tomas O Se : Have we witnessed a more complete wing back in the history of the GAA? This footballer has it all. Pace to burn, turns defence into attack in the blink of an eye, kicks points for fun and I can only recall an occasion or two when he appeared to be under pressure. Like O Sullivan, another shoe-in for the gong!
Graham Canty: Is practically guaranteed the No 6 slot after a wonderful campaign. Granted he was put under enormous pressure in the All-Ireland final by Tadgh Kennelly’s all action style, but Canty had the position nailed before the final.
John Miskella: The Cork man had an exceptional year at wing back and gets the nod from me for his first award.
In the middle
Seamus Scanlon: He has sacrificed his game for years to allow his playing partner, Darragh O Se the freedom to express himself around the park. Had an incredible year in 2009 and really stepped up to the plate when his old compatriot began to burn oil in the big games throughout the entire championship. He made great opponents look quite ordinary, such was the quality of his play. Should be practising his smile for the cameras days in advance of the announcement.
Dermot Early: The big army man rolled back the years with a number of vintage performances during the championship campaign. It is 11 years since he won his first and only All-Star but will almost certainly be rewarded with his second after his exploits with a rejuvenated Kildare.
Paul Galvin: Would be my nomination for footballer of the year. Kerry could have been beaten on a number of occasions in this year’s championship as they toured the country and struggled to find form. Followers of Gaelic will almost certainly highlight the backdoor matches against Longford, Sligo and to a lesser extent Antrim as games when Kerry were lucky to stay in the hunt for All-Ireland glory. The fact that they hung on was primarily down to one man, Galvin. His performances got even better after those games.
Pearse O Neill: Will be put under pressure for the centre forward position from the afore-mentioned Kennelly, this Corkonian was a giant in helping his team to the final. Underperformed alarmingly in the final which will see him under pressure, but I feel he too had enough done prior to this blip!
Leighton Glynn: Was one of the many heroes for Wicklow this year. It was an incredible year for the Garden County and for Glynn in particular. I feel not alone should Wicklow’s journey be recognised, but that Glynn, a dual star, was the epitome of the new found confidence in Wicklow GAA.
Tommy Walsh: Should be picked as he oozes class. His four points in a tight All-Ireland final were sucker punches for a Cork rearguard that was leaking heavily. You could play this guy anywhere on the team.
Stephen O Neill: Would also be on my team. If you were to put a montage of clips of his performances together from league and championship matches throughout the year, you would understand exactly what I am talking about. Pure genius!
Declan O Sullivan: Was always a threat in practically every game he played. He is a clever footballer with pace to burn and never failed to ask questions from a defender whether it was in the full forward position or on the half forward line. His display against the Dubs was exceptional.