Like every year in sport in this county there have been a fair share of ups and downs for all those who go out and do their best in the quest to be the best they possibly can be each week. You will find in this week’s sports pages a selection of pictures which capture some of the great moments in sport for those in the county who every year continue to give their all in the pursuit of sporting excellence. And as for excellence, there has been plenty of that on display from Mayo's proud sports people.
The biggest and most popular sporting organisation in the county, the GAA, has had more ups and downs than most this year. It has been a year of criticism and conjecture off the field with the issue of the strategic review committee and their plan for the future of the games in the county and the one that was adopted by the county board. Those involved at the top table have taken a fair amount of stick from those inside and outside the association for their handling of that situation. The McHale Park redevelopment and the costs associated with it raised its head again at the tail end of the year, when the financiers and Croke Park came calling to get the finances back on track and a direction of how the bills will be paid in the coming years.
It has not been an easy time for those at the top table of the association and they have had to plan for the future in a time of ever decreasing financial revenues for everyone. But they have taken on the challenge and it is time for everyone involved to put their shoulder to the wheel and do their best for the association in the county for the future of the games that so many love and put their time and effort into, without looking for anything, just for their love of the games. But in putting their shoulders to the wheel that does not exclude those who represent the stakeholders, asking questions and looking for answers when questions need to be answered, and that is the challenge for everyone involved to take on.
On the field, the appointment of James Horan saw a new breath of air blown into the senior side after a 2010 that looked to have brought Mayo to the lowest possible ebb. Horan rang the changes and gave everyone their chance to impress. Survival in division one of the national league was seen as the first thing that needed to be achieved and Horan and his charges did this with a number of good displays against tough opposition.
The championship was always going to be the real acid test and that acid test nearly saw everything unravel on the first day over in London town. The exiles pushed Mayo to the pin of their collar and only in extra time did Mayo manage to overcome their challenge. But that scare kicked Mayo into gear and Galway and Roscommon were dispatched in weather more reminiscent of January than June and July to claim the Connacht title, a title that many in the national press thought nothing of. However when the All-Ireland quarter finals came calling, everyone stood up and took notice when Mayo stood up and were counted when they dispatched Cork with a display of football that will long live in the memory of Mayo supporters all over the world. Kerry were as Kerry so often can be for Mayo, a bridge too far, but the gap that bridge has to traverse is closing and hopefully that bridge will be crossed in the near future.
As for the small ball game, everything was going so well for them early in the season. The league saw them make their way to the division 3b national hurling league final against Roscommon. But the green and red came up short that day and it continued on into the Christy Ring Cup where they went out at the group stages. But the time and effort being put in from the grass roots right to the top of the game in the county continues to show signs that the game is ever improving in Mayo and 2012 offers more opportunity to keep growing. If even a few more people came out and gave them some support it would be a massive boost to all those who give their life and soul to the game.
On the club side of things, Ballintubber made it back to back county senior football championship wins, seeing off Castlebar once again in the final this year. Anthony McGarry had the tough task of following in James Horan's footsteps after 2010, but he stepped up and his side delivered again. As for 2012, it will be another tough one for the Ballintubber lads as McGarry has departed and someone else will have to lead their drive for a 'three peet'. In the intermediate championship Davitts were the ones to make the break and were one of the most entertaining and enjoyable sides to watch this year. They kept up that good form when they went on to claim provincial honours with style and substance and come the new year, a crack at All-Ireland glory awaits them. Islandeady finally got the job done at junior level and after many years of trying they will enjoy this winter of a celebration before getting stuck into the intermediate championship next year.
The ladies did it their own way this year too, no more so than Carnacon who rounded off the year with another wonderful victory in claiming the All-Ireland ladies’ senior club championship against Na Fianna at the tail end of November. On the inter-county scene after a year of discontent in 2010, this year proved to be much more successful with Mayo claiming the Connacht title with a comprehensive win over Galway back in July.
On the association football fields of the county, it was Castlebar Celtic's year. The hoops, who came back into the league with their first team after a couple of seasons in the lower reaches of the national game, dominated the Mayo Super League, picking up the title in the new eight-team division. Celtic held off the challenge of their old rivals Westport United to claim the title, with Ballina Town, who had put back to back titles together the previous two years, failing in their challenge to make it three in a row. Iorras Aontaithe were the big cup winners, picking up the Mayo FA Cup seeing off Ballina in the final.
In the women's game in the county Castlebar Celtic showed their ambitions by applying for and being granted a licence to take part in the first ever FAI National Women's League. Celtic kicked off their new adventure in the last few months and have acquitted themselves very well so far and are third in the table, having lost only once. Mayo are still in contention for the Oscar Traynor Trophy but will be looking for a big result in the new year after losing out in their first game.
Boxing continues to bring glory and honour to the county and this year was no different. There were national titles and international recognition for numerous boxers including the likes of Geesala's Katie Rowland and many others in the women's action. The two big names in Mayo this year were Ray Moylette and Henry Coyle. Moylette lit up the amateur ranks bringing home a gold medal from the senior European championships and then went on to compete in the world championships as he continuities in his quest to make next year’s Olympics gold in London. For Coyle his professional journey reached new heights when he claimed the WBF light middleweight championship in the Royal Theatre Castlebar in August.
On the rugby paddock, history was made in the autumn when Connacht first took part in the Heineken Cup after many years looking on as the other provinces competed in Europe's premier competition. The province is captained on this maiden voyage by Mayo man Gavin Duffy.
In the world of athletics and adventure racing, more and more people took up the challenge in events such as the Sea to Summit, Gael Force and the Harlequin duathlon over the past year. On the roads and tracks across the county and country Mayo athletes continued to star, with many team and individual medals coming home to the county in a number of disciplines. The summer also saw a number of Mayo athletes take part in the Special Olympics world games, bringing home numerous medals for their efforts.
Congratulations to all and wishing our athletes and sports stars another successful year in 2012.