It was predicted that the sun would be high in the sky last Sunday and so it proved. It was a glorious autumnal day for county finals and a magnificent crowd turned up at McHale Park to see what would hopefully be two action-packed encounters. However, and not for the first time, the fare on offer did not live up to the billing. I was sitting back in glorious sunshine for the County junior final in good time. What struck me immediately on entering the stadium was the fantastic crowd that turned out for the games.
I was hoping the Neale would win the junior final for a few reasons. I know three of the team reasonably well as they were members of Mayo u21 squad that I had managed a number of years ago. This, coupled with the fact that they have never won a title at senior grade, meant that most neutrals, myself included, were not going to be disappointed if they won it. It ended in a draw however and they (the Neale ) may live to regret the fact that they could not close out the game. The score was level at the end, but a scoreboard does not always portray the facts of the match just played. You might think the drawn game was full of excitement and end to end action. Alas not this one. The Neale found themselves leading by two points close to the end of the game and luckily I would suggest, as I felt Ardnaree were slightly the better team. Ardnaree were not smart enough to close the deal either in the final few minutes. I think both sides will be disappointed with the way they performed. It was an error-ridden game that never really ignited at any time. I fancy Ardnaree to win the replay tomorrow evening.
Ballaghaderreen did what they had to
Ballintubber discovered just how much the last two years has taken out of them on Sunday. They looked tired, lethargic, and so very ordinary. This was in complete contrast to their energetic, all-action, style we had become familiar with over these past two years. There was no fairy-tale ending for them on Sunday in their attempts to land a three-in-a row of Mayo SFC titles. It appeared that they had given up hope weeks ago with the loss of their talisman, Cillian O’Connor, through injury. Their heads were down and a paltry return of four points, just one in the second half, gives a fair reflection of this, their worst performance in the last two years. What a shame they could not have delivered a performance that would have done justice to the occasion. I predicted here last week that many expected Ballaghaderreen to spoil the party, but no one could have predicted such a one-sided affair.
As I watched the pre-match parade, you could not but notice that this current Ballaghaderreen side were the more conditioned team and had a big advantage in terms of height and physique. They used that to good effect and from the first minute of the game you could see that the Ballagh boys were really up for this one. It had been mentioned to me before the game that David Drake looked like a player that had many of the attributes to step up a level. Having watched him last Sunday, I do believe he looks the part. He is big, strong, and athletic and I get the impression that he could comfortably play at inter-county level if he was presented with an opportunity. Barry Regan is another guy who impressed. Some of his free kicks were awesome; one in particular was put over from over 50 metres away. We all recognise that Mayo needs a big strong target man at 14. Could Regan be the man?
Ballaghaderreen did not have to play all that brilliantly to win this final, but they will not be too worried about what the spectators thought. Fifteen minutes into the second half, they were spluttering along and could not shake off Ballintubber. Without O’Connor and with an injured Alan Dillon for some of the second half, Ballintubber had no one else to turn to up front. They won by nine points in the end, but it could have been more such was their dominance in the final 15 minutes. By that stage Ballintubber had thrown in the towel as they knew their goose was cooked. Stephen Drake was nominated as man of the match and, in fairness, he did play well. For me, however, centre back Keith Rodgers was the best player on view.
Times are changing and club football with it
Ballina Stephenites, one of the biggest club names in the county were, unbelievably, battling against Kiltane on Sunday to avoid relegation to intermediate championship football. As it happened they won comfortably but that does not stop me wondering just how this situation has arisen in such a proud club. The footballers are definitely there, so what is it? Might it just be a bad run or is there a deeper problem in Ballina? In recent years urban areas, in particular, have had to battle hard to ensure that their players have an affinity and affiliation with their club. With the absence of employment in the area players rarely get an opportunity to meet outside of the pitch environment. Heretofore, lads met on the way to Mass, or in the pub or, in many instances, worked together in the same factory or on the same building site. Football would be part of the discussion on an almost daily basis and that invariably meant great pride in the club colours.
Rural clubs have suffered too but there appears to be a greater sense of loyalty and parochialism still associated with small parishes which helps them battle on a little bit better than the bigger towns. Kiltane and many other rural clubs might argue that they have lost several players to emigration and that their plight too is making it increasingly difficult to compete with bigger clubs. Whatever way you look at it, there is a seismic shift in the GAA at club level in particular. I do not know what the answer is but one thing is for sure: No club can afford to sit back and assume that success is a cyclical thing and their turn will come if they just wait. That attitude will not work in today’s world and clubs will have to become more proactive in holding on to what they have.
Big changes ahead for Roscommon
My sources in Roscommon inform me that Professor Niall Moyna of DCU is about to be ratified as the new Roscommon football manager. Moyna would be very familiar with quite a few of the current Roscommon footballers, in particular Niall Carthy, Cathal Cregg, and Donie Shine, all of whom have all attended DCU. Also, Dr Martin Conroy, the recently retired registrar of the college, is an avid Roscommon football supporter and it is rumoured that he is about to spearhead a five year fund raising initiative in order to get the Rossies back in the groove. Apparently one of the conditions of this new initiative was to get Fergal O’Donnell reinstated as the minor manager.
Breaffy GAA get on their dancing shoes
Finally, I hear there is a big dancing gig taking place in the Breaffy sports arena tonight. I do not know if any of you know who any of the participants are. I do and I can tell you that one or two of them would have difficulty turning in a field, never mind trying to execute the intricate footsteps of a foxtrot. In these austere times we all need a good laugh now and again. I am strongly recommending that you get along as I know entertainment is most definitely assured.