When Anthony McGarry took over as manager of the Ballintubber team late last year, he did so from a position of considerable strength. They [Ballintubber] had just won their first county title, and not alone did McGarry get to manage a talented bunch of young men, he also inherited a team that knew how to maximise their playing strengths. He was then given the scope to evolve the team’s style of play by shifting away from the rear-loaded defensive strategy, employed to reasonable effect last year, to a more expansive attacking style this year.
It worked wonderfully for them and this year nobody can point the finger at them as being a negative team that are dull and boring to watch. They play a simple yet wonderfully effective brand of football that now wins titles and in the process can leave teams within the county scratching their heads in frustration. This is the legacy of a team of real substance. It is not easy to maintain a team’s performance at a high level year on year, but Ballintubber have managed to that and great credit is due to them for it.
Last Sunday Castlebar had a pre-game plan of attacking certain defenders by trying to create one on one situations. It was felt that there were one or two lacking a little bit of pace and by running at them Castlebar could exploit this perceived weakness. However, it did not work and the same Ballintubber defenders transpired to be the real pillars of strength in their side.
With their defence playing so well it allowed the likes of Cillian O’Connor, in particular, to express himself and stamp his class on proceedings. He was enormous last Sunday and without him in the side, Ballintubber simply would not have won this year’s title. This fella has improved beyond recognition in recent months. He is bigger and stronger and anyone who suggested that he was a little slow off the mark, has had to eat his words. No doubt buoyed by his ‘young player of the 2011 championship’ award last weekend, he decided to use the occasion to show us why the judges voted for him.
Alan Dillon, so often the main catalyst and ‘go to’ man on such big occasions, this time became the supplier of quality ball and left the rest up to the young player of the year. Actually, neither of them disappointed as Alan Dillon once again displayed leadership and maturity by cajoling and encouraging all team-mates around him to press on when the game was in the balance.
Pat Holmes, the Castlebar Mitchels manager, arrived into the game last Sunday on a high. His wife Lorraine had earlier that morning given birth to their fourth son and he was hoping that the day would prove to be a joyous one in more ways than one. He surely must have thought the omens were looking good when his charges got away to a dream start and raced into a four point lead in the opening minutes. Barry Moran was dominating midfield and all was going according to plan. However the early spell of dominance that had seen his side settle into their groove was wiped out in a flash when Cillian O’Connor collected a great diagonal cross field ball from Alan Dillon and literally rolled the ball into the corner of the net, albeit with a slight deflection. It was nip and tuck after that all the way to the finish, and JP Lambe, the county treasurer, must surely have been rubbing his hands together in glee as the draw looked an almost certainty. Not alone would a draw have been nice for the County Board coffers, it would have been a bonus for neutral supporters to see these two lock horns in battle once more. As it transpired Ballintubber pulled a rabbit out of the bag and threw on super sub Damien McGing. This twinkle-toed player was ‘up’ for action and did not hide when introduced. He kept showing for ball and had the confidence to drive past Alan Feeney, the Castlebar full back, to kick a match winning score.
With youthful exuberance in abundance all over the field, I would not bet against them landing three in a row in 2012. However there will be others who will fancy their chances of taking the current county champions once the ball starts rolling.
Ballina look good for the future
It would be remiss of me not to mention the minor final earlier the same day. Ballina Stephenites won this match as easy as the score line suggests. They are a superb team, as good as I have seen for some time at this level. Normally I am reluctant to identify young players for individual recognition but how could you mention this final without acknowledging the brilliance of Ballina’s corner forward Evan Regan. This lad is good, very good. But as I said they have an excellent side with big talented players all over the field. Well done on a great success. Successive minor A titles should see the Stephenites with a strong senior base in a few years time.
The battle to beat the drop
Speaking of the league has got my goat going ever so slightly. Crossmolina have a huge battle on their hands this weekend. We have found ourselves in a relegation battle we could have done without. Last year we won the league without losing a single game. This Saturday evening we travel to Shrule/Glencorrib (Incidentally the match is fixed for Shrule/Glencorrib so not quite sure which venue we should go to! ) to try to pick up two points to avoid relegation to division 1B next year.
It is a tall order as Shrule themselves need a point to ensure they are not sucked into a playoff situation. A single point would see us in a play off situation too I believe, so there is no chance of us doing a deal before the game. As it happens there will be a scramble for points at two other venues at the same time. Westport are currently on six points and will surely fancy their chances of beating Charlestown at home. Charlestown pulled off a sensational victory over Ballintubber last Sunday and, in the process, not only guaranteed themselves safety in division 1A next year, but almost certainly denied Ballintubber the double of league and championship. As Charlestown are safe I fancy Westport to win that one, which would see them move onto eight points. Ballinrobe have Burrishoole at home and a win would see them move onto eight points also. As Crossmolina are on seven at the moment, a win would ensure we are out of a potential play off battle. I was feeling fairly confident until last weekend when I discovered that Joe Keane’s sister is getting married on Saturday (Joe is our corner back ), Paul Duffy is graduating in Athlone, Gabriel Walsh is out of the country on holidays, and three others are off to Edinburgh to a stag function. If there is anyone out there with even a hint of Crossmolina lineage and who might fancy a nice evening out in Glencorrib (or Shrule even ), you might give me a call.
A final point
I read some weeks ago that there was some sort of shenanigans at a Mayo County Board meeting over the appointment of Noel Howley as the liaison officer of the Mayo senior team. Apparently he was appointed by the chairman and in consultation with the senior team manager, James Horan.
I decided to explore the issue over the last few weeks before commenting on the situation. Before I do so, can I suggest that it appears to me, that too much time is spent arguing over issues such as this instead of spending time more constructively at meetings. How about exerting some energy and time into addressing coaching concerns at underage level throughout the county.
I believe, after some research, that once the chairman requested Noel Howley to be the liaison officer, in accordance with section 1(b ) of the Team Managers’ Charter, then his appointment should not have been overturned by club delegates. Also, as far as I can establish, this position does not have to be filled by an officer of the County Board. It seems to me that maybe a few old scores were being settled.