I was in the Neale last Sunday morning for an u15 semi-final and there, taking pride of place, was the Pete Mc Donnell junior cup sitting on top of the gated entrance to the field. There were many gravelly, tired sounding, voices in the small compact stand, which is very understandable considering this was their first and only adult title of their 110 year history and no doubt a long night of celebrations had taken place.
These supporters were gushing with pride for their local heroes who pulled off a sensational victory the previous evening. You could visibly see what it meant to one and all. The Neale is a beautiful village and you can see that great pride is taken in keeping it looking its best. But this proud club has not taken its eye off the ball when it comes to matters football. The Neale have placed a lot of faith in their current team and the victory is a reward for the regeneration of their underage structures over the last number of years.
I witnessed the continuation of that work first hand, and at our own (Mitchels ) expense, two weeks ago when they managed to beat a good Castlebar Mitchell’s u15 team with a classy display of football. Unfortunately for them they could not see off the challenge of a strong Breaffy side last Sunday morning and ironically it is the Mitchell’s who will now play Breaffy in the division one u15 decider tomorrow afternoon. But I am diverting!
Back to Saturday’s game. This victory was an amazing Houdini- like act as the Neale managed to overcome a five point deficit with time practically up to force extra time in what was an enthralling junior final replay. In many ways it was great to see both teams get a second chance to prove that they are better than their display the previous week had suggested. This replay had a bit of everything but the closing minutes of normal time were remarkable. Ardnaree, by this time reduced to 14 men and, rather harshly I felt, engaged in a little show boating as they tried to hold on to the ball and count the clock down. It was hard to blame them as they had produced the better football for most of the afternoon and no one could have predicted they would cough up a five point lead with just minutes remaining. But the Neale chipped away, refused to throw in the towel and, as a result, were presented with a couple of free kicks in the closing minutes to reduce the margin to a kick of the ball. With time practically up they were presented with one last opportunity when they were awarded a free kick about 20 metres from goal. Sean Cosgrove stepped up to rifle the ball to the back of the net, with one of the sweetest strikes he will ever pull off, to force the game into extra time. He confirmed to me when I met him on Sunday that he was aware it was the last opportunity and he just decided to pick his spot and to go for it! Many in the Ardnaree crowd had even departed McHale Park convinced that their side had the job done. Some rushed back in to investigate the reason for the huge roar that greeted the Neale goal. In hindsight they should probably have kept going as the Ardnaree boys played extra time in a state of complete shock. They never got going as, psychologically, they appeared shot and with the Neale playing like men inspired at this stage there was only going to be only one winner. There were many stars for the Neale and the aforementioned Sean Cosgrove will, understandably, never be forgotten for his individual heroics. In fact most of the Neale players played well but for me Eoin Hughes was brilliant when moved to midfield. He, more than anyone, took the challenge to Ardnaree when the chips were down in the second half and like most in the Neale last Sunday, was still on cloud nine.
Tug of war fun for a good cause
By sheer coincidence I was in Cong on Sunday afternoon to participate in a charity fund raising event. Ruth Byrne of Dannagher’s Hotel had organised a tug-of-war involving former Mayo and Galway footballers. I managed to load the Mayo team with some real heavy weights including two former All-Stars, Willie Joe Padden and Kenneth Mortimer. Tomas Tierney travelled up with a Mayo shirt on his back but unbelievably jumped ship to join his former county when he surveyed both sides. He should have stayed with my team as the lightweights from Galway, Derek Savage, Sean Og De Paor, and the recently retire Joe Bergin proved no match for the hungrier and dare I say bigger Mayo side.
It was great fun and all for a good cause. We were in no particular rush home as the party was in full swing. As it transpired, Tomas Tierney, despite suffering the embarrassment of being pulled from one end of Cong to the next, had the last laugh as he luckily won the top prize in the raffle and came home with two black bonhams. Pigs are beautiful creatures: They are intelligent and sensitive and friendly. And what some people may not believe, they are almost paranoid about cleanliness. The pig has for thousands of years played an important part in the economy on many countries. It was no surprise therefore to see Tomas gushing with pride all afternoon as he refused to leave his two prized assets unattended.
Time to start putting in the structures for the younger players too
In recent months I have been around the county with the Castlebar Mitchels u15 team and I have been hugely impressed with some of the young footballers I have seen in several Mayo clubs. It is hugely encouraging to see so many talented young footballers and it really does augur well for the future. While it is great to see progress being made with the recent launch of a structure for the development of young players in the 19 – 21 age bracket, I really believe something similar should be done for younger players, right down to the 15-year-olds. It is a well-known fact that players in this age group are soak pits for development. Research suggests that it takes 10,000 hours or 10 years to develop into an elite player or a high performing sports person. If we wait until these lads are 20 years of age before exposing them to quality practice and quality coaching we have lost an opportunity to broaden the base of performers coming through at the elite level. Do not get me wrong, there is a lot of good work being done by many interested coaches, but how many clubs have looked at an appropriate strength conditioning programme for these young potential stars over the winter period? I am talking about body weight exercises, light medicine ball work, core work and learning technique. If we did have such a high performance structure in place, I am convinced we would reap the benefits as many of these young talented young players would star in a Mayo shirt.
The men from the Moy enjoy their moment
Congratulations to Moy Davitts who managed to win the Celebrity Bainnisteoir title last Friday night in Parnell Park. They appeared to have been pushed all the way by their opponents, Newtowncashel, eventually only winning by the narrowest of margins. This competition looks like a bit of fun with the spotlight on the guest managers more than the players or the match itself, but looking at the post match celebrations of the Davitt boys this title clearly meant a lot to them. It often takes a little spark to ignite something big. Maybe this All-Ireland title could be the start of something for the Davitt club?