Travelling to Garrymore is a rare adventure for me. In fact it is one of the few grounds in this county that when I travel to it I invariably get lost along the way. Instead of taking the more direct (if you could ever use the word ‘direct’ in association with any passage to Garrymore ) route via Claremorris, I thought I remembered the less travelled road up through Mayo Abbey being a little more interesting and so I veered right at the top of Balla village and not for the first time.
How easily I had forgotten the myriad little junctions and side roads without mentioning the final trial of finding the pitch which so tested me on previous occasions. It was due to an unforeseen circumstance that I didn’t leave my home in Castlebar until a hour and a half before the championship match ahead and yet again I ended up brushing up on my reversing skills. I also arrived 20 minutes later than the team I had instructed to be at the grounds a full hour prior to the start time for the game. Needless to say I met with some disapproving glares upon my arrival which was not altogether a bad thing as it signalled to me the players’ readiness and focus for the task ahead. And this mindset was entirely necessary. Garrymore are a formidable package, particularly when playing on their home patch. We played them last summer in our pitch and, as I recall, the game was over as a contest by half-time.
Not so this year. I got the news earlier that day that Ciaran Mac would not be togging out for us. A foot injury, picked up the previous weekend, had refused to heal in time. We missed his leadership and spontaneity as he has been playing remarkably well so far this year. We played quite well in the first half and were it not for some wayward shooting we could have been further ahead than the single goal lead we took to the dressing room. There was going to be nothing easy about this one and everyone was acutely aware that Garrymore were a much more cohesive and potent threat than in earlier years. There was a wonderful manliness on display throughout the match, with several bone-crunching tackles made, but at no time was there an ugliness to any of those tackles.
We spoke at half time about how crucial it would be to get the first score of the second half and hopefully create a winning platform from there. However as we have discovered on so many occasions already this year it does not come as easy to our Crossmolina lads as it once did. It was Garrymore who took the initiative early in the second half and once they levelled the game, I knew it would be a battle right to the end. You can imagine how we were feeling when Garrymore had the ball in the back of our net minutes later and then kicked another point to leave them four points to the good with 12 minutes remaining. Thankfully that is where the little bit of experience kicked in from our lads. They did not panic and once we scored our second goal our fellas looked like they had refuelled with super plus. We finished strong which is encouraging and I left Garrymore with my belly full and a huge sense of relief and satisfaction.
Whistleblower hits the right note
We had a young referee, Jerome Henry, from Castlebar officiating at our game. I had no idea what to expect from Jerome, as I had never seen him referee before. I have seen him on the sideline as a fourth official at inter-county games on a number of occasions. I thought his performance was as good as I have seen from a referee in this county for years. He refereed the game in a very fair manner, was fit and sharp and was not blowing up for every little indiscretion.
There is nothing worse for spectators and players than an over officious referee continuously blowing for the smallest of indiscretions. Not so last Saturday evening in Garrymore. I would love if this style of refereeing became the blueprint for the remainder of the season.
Tweeting and all that
Modern gadgetry allows you to get updates on all sorts of activities as they unfold these days. As we availed of the welcome tea, sandwiches, and other delights after the game in the Garrymore club house, some of our players were able to ‘log on’ to an app on their mobile phones to get an update on proceedings in Westport. Ballintubber were home and hosed at that stage after producing a vintage display against the Covies. I was not surprised that the county champions got off to a winning start, but I did not think they would win as easily as they did. But when you have Alan Dillon scoring 1-11 in a game, what chance had Westport of winning? That is an extraordinary scoring performance and understandably is hugely encouraging with the Mayo v Galway match only one week away. There is a beacon of hope for a good result for Mayo if this mystic produces anything near that kind of form on Sunday week.
The big shock of the day - whether Kiltane like me saying so or no - was undoubtedly Kiltane’s victory over hotly fancied Knockmore. A result like that is what makes the championship unique. Castlebar Mitchels had an eye catching result with a hugely emphatic victory over a hapless Aughamore side. I spoke later that evening with the winning manager, Pat Holmes, and I detected a little giddiness in his voice. He is beginning to realise that he has a good side and in particular a very potent attack. If they can survive the group stages and get to the quarter finals, the returning students from the US will enhance their chances even further of landing a county title.
Roscommon show their worth
I was in Carrick-on-Shannon last Sunday for the Roscommon v Leitrim Connacht Championship semi-final. The match itself was lacklustre and one sided with an inevitability about the outcome as early as the 20th minute of the first half. Leitrim were very poor and there were quite a few annoyed Leitrim supporters/followers overheard giving out about their team as I left the ground. I must admit I hate to hear fans of sport giving out about their own team after a defeat. Understandably they were hoping for more after their first round victory over Sligo. The reality is, however, that they were completely outclassed by a much superior team. Roscommon have really matured as a team and in my opinion are at least five or six points a better side than last year.
They are a big physical side with a number of classy footballers sprinkled all over the field. Senan Kilbride, son of former Mayo and Roscommon footballer Sean, is one of their finest. In particular, he scored two points in the first few minutes that were as good as you will see at this level. Donie Shine plays alongside him in the full forward line and is another classy player. He scored a brilliant goal in the opening half and added to his growing reputation with a stylish performance right to the finish. Elsewhere, Michael Finneran is another one of their giants who gives them great ball winning ability in the middle of the field. Make no mistake about it. This Roscommon team are looking good right now and it would be a foolish person that would bet against them putting Connacht titles back to back.
My accumulator bet went down the swannee when Carlow beat Louth. It was a fairytale result for the wonderfully prepared and spirited Carlow outfit. Great result for football in general, but not so good for the pocket.