This weekend heralds the start of everything that 16 sides have been preparing for since Ballintubber claimed the Moclair cup for a second year in a row last autumn. Since that moment, everyone else has been looking forward to trying to knock the champions off their perch. The talk over the winter was of the old reliables having a crack, the likes of Knockmore, Ballina, and Castlebar being the kind of sides who could put a dent in Ray Prendergast Park ambitions for three in a row.
But since the league finally threw in three weeks ago, another pretender to the crown has thrown his hat in the ring. With three wins from three games, seeing off Shrule-Glenncorrib, Ballaghaderreen, and most impressively taking two points home from Knockmore in a game that was decided by only one point, Westport have marked themselves out as a side who could do something exciting this year.
Good early season form is a continuation of last year’s good work
This good start to the year is just a continuation of the good work that was done at the end of last season according to Westport manager Tomás Tierney this week. “We had a difficult start to last year which everyone could see, but we actually finished the year very well and we’ve continued that form on into this year. We’ve got three good wins so far in the league which is always a positive. Going up to Knockmore and coming back with the points was a big barrier for us to break through. They are one of those sides who have always been in the top three or four in the county, and winning up there is a huge thing for us as we prepare to go up to Ballina this weekend.”
This current Westport team has had a fresh injection of youth over the past 12 to 18 months, and stepping up against Ballina on Sunday in championship action will be another big test for Tierney’s side. “We’re a young side, we have between eight and nine lads who’ll be starting the next day who are under 21. Winning league games is one thing but it’s nothing really to going up to Ballina in championship. You only have to go through their players and they roll off the tongue. David Clarke, Ger Cafferkey, Ronan McGarrity, Ger Brady and younger ones like Evan Regan, these are all names people know, and know are quality players. They are a side who people might think they haven’t been up to much recently, but they are always there come quarter-final and semi-final time. If things had been a small bit different last year they could have been in the final.”
Plenty of positives from youth
Having a side with a lot of youth in it is something that has a lot of positives too according to the Westport manager. “It can be a plus having a youngish side too. We had around six lads all 18 or 19 who came through last year into the squad. It gives a great injection of life into a panel and also gives the older lads something to think about and look over their shoulders at. When you add that with the progression of Kevin Keane and Lee Keegan with the Mayo squad it shows that we have quality coming through in Westport. Another thing about having a good blend of youth in the side is that they play without fear and will just go out there and do their stuff.”
While Westport is one of the major urban areas in the county they have failed to translate that into much success at the top levels on the GAA fields, something that Tierney is only too acutely aware of from his ow time as a player. “As far as I know Westport haven’t won a senior championship title or a senior league title. That’s something we all want to address in the future. We came close back in my day when we lost to Hollymount in 92 or 93 [it was actually 1991 when they lost to the then kingpins of the Mayo club game 1-6 to 1-2]. But it’s a hard thing to do, there’s not much between a lot of the sides in the senior championship, yet you always see the same few names in the latter stages, it’s a hard club to break into.” Come Sunday afternoon, Tierney’s side will be looking to take that first step in breaking into the group of big sides in the county by taking two points home from Ballina.