I popped along to Crossmolina last Saturday evening to see my former team, Crossmolina, play against Davitts in round two of the league. It was not too pretty to watch because the standard of football was not particularly good on this occasion. At no stage did I get the impression that Davitts were going to beat Crossmolina which will understandably be a concern for them, as they will be really anxious to continue to play at this higher level of football into the foreseeable future. There will not be too many clubs in a forgiving mood during this league campaign, so picking up points at every and any opportunity is essential. Those teams that got a real scare of relegation last year will be more determined than ever to avoid being sucked into the same territory again this year, so it is going to be a real baptism of fire for the Ballindine club as they will no doubt discover.
Westport are a young team that caught my eye long before last weekend’s results appeared on my radar. Crossmolina played them in the last round of the senior league late last year, and despite the match having little significance they really impressed with their application and attitude on that occasion. After their first round victory in this year’s league over Shrule/Glencorrib they entertained a much more potent outfit in Ballaghdareen last Saturday. In conversation with the Westport manager Tomas Tierney before the game he told me this encounter would give Westport a truer benchmark of how much they have progressed over the last two years. He was in jubilant form when we spoke on Sunday after their game as his young side had registered a four point victory over their more fancied opponents. Notwithstanding the fact that Ballaghdareen were missing a couple of players this was a notable scalp to take and perhaps suggests two teams heading in opposite directions? I have suggested in this column on more than one occasion that I cannot understand how a team laced with such talent, ie, Ballaghdareen, has not delivered more than one senior championship title in recent years.
I chatted with a few others who attended games over the weekend and the one theme that prevailed through our conversations was of how hardly any of the Mayo senior footballers stand out when lining out for their clubs. I am unsure why this is so, but perhaps fatigue from midweek training with the county team means they arrive to play these games jaded and in some instances maybe even uninterested. It is a pity as loyal club supporters might rarely see their own county stars play at their best for their clubs. The club scene is at a loss as a result, which is a shame.
Planning for the future
I am currently involved with the Castlebar Mitchels u14s. I am really enjoying my time with these young lads. It is all about giving the young players the skills set to enjoy playing football. It is also about having a strong and inclusive coaching framework in place and I, along with three or four others, have been tasked with enhancing the development of these young fellows. We are lucky because we have a relatively good bunch that have already won the County Féile and will now go to Laois in a couple of weeks’ time to the All-Irelands. The real point I want to make here is that over the last number of months while playing against clubs like Westport, Ballyhaunis, Crossmolina, Aughamore and Ballina one could not but notice the large number of exceptionally talented young footballers playing at this age level in these clubs. I have mentioned this fact to several others and am intrigued and also confused as to what happens to these lads when they eventually get to 17 and 18 years of age. Is it how they stop playing, lose interest, move to a different code, or just do not have the necessary ambition to succeed as Gaelic footballers? Or is it that the coaching infrastructure just is not there to harness this potential thus moulding them into young inter-county footballers? Incidentally, Castlebar Mitchels u14s participated in a tournament in Ballyshannon a number of weeks ago where they really got an eye opener from Dungiven of Tyrone. Apparently Tyrone has invested enormously in coaching at both club and school underage levels. The young Dungiven team were displaying all the signs of it that weekend. Should we be hopping up there to have a look at what they are doing?
You will not be hearing ‘square ball ref’ any more
This weekend sees the reintroduction of the rule that now allows an attacking player to be in the small parallelogram ahead of the ball thus removing the protection previously afforded to goalkeepers. This rule was passed at last month's Congress and is designed to remove controversial decisions that have consistently arisen over the rule, particularly in recent years. I have always believed that this rule was impossible to police by referees, as more often than not they might be out near the half way line when a ball enters the square. How, in such instances, can they possibly, not to mention accurately, adjudicate on whether a ball is over the white line when the player makes contact with it? More often than not the whistle is blown and the advantage invariably given to the defending side. The introduction of this rule will also test the bravery of a lot of goalkeepers; heretofore an over protected species in my view!