I sent a brief text to Liam McHale and Kevin McStay last Sunday evening congratulating them on guiding St Brigid’s of Roscommon to a Connacht title. These two lads were brought in by the Roscommon club to launch a serious bid for All-Ireland, an honour which, understandably, placed and places them under huge pressure. Had they not managed to at least achieve a provincial title, they would have been perceived as failures. On the evidence of last Sunday, I believe they have a fantastic chance of going all the way with this team.
Of course, the Ulster club champions are next in the queue and, assuming it is Crossmaglen (I would be very surprised if they failed to land the Ulster title ), I think that Brigid’s are every bit as good. Last Sunday an under strength Ballaghaderreen team managed to live with the Roscommon club for 30 minutes but just couldn’t match them over the 60. Brigid’s are lucky enough to have a very strong starting 15 and, judging by the subs introduced, they have plenty of strength in depth too. I believe Kevin McStay was very conscious of the prospect of a long season and therefore did not stretch his charges too much in the earlier part of the season. On past evidence they have had little difficulty in winning their county title, so training was not cranked up until two months ago. Instead of his lads feeling lethargic and flat at this juncture of the season, they should be bouncing with enthusiasm despite the lengthy wait until the semi-final.
Ballaghaderreen will, of course, be disappointed, not so much by losing but by the fact that they never really managed to pose a winning threat. Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen did not dominate around the midfield sector like I expected them to, consequently they were on the back foot for most of the afternoon. Every game I saw them play in this year until now, you could not but be impressed by the physicality of this Ballagh side. Last Sunday was the first time they looked small!
I was leaving the ground when I heard that the Man of the Match award went to Frankie Dolan. I am not sure who made that choice but anyone who knows anything about football would have realised that the two best players on the Brigid’s side last Sunday were Senan Kilbride and Karl Mannion.
The previous week I was also amused when I saw Oisin McConville, an absolute genius of a player in his heyday, being awarded with the crystal after being identified as Man of the Match in their semi-final victory. McConville would be the first to admit that he did not have his best day in a Crossmaglen shirt and would also know that several others played significantly better than he against the Tyrone champions.
Mitchels cap wonderful underage year with u21 title
I did not manage to get to the County u21 final last weekend, but as we now know the Mitchels capped off a great season at underage level for the club by landing yet another county title. They had already landed titles at u14, u15, and minor, prior to last weekend’s success. I had suggested that Cillian O’Connor’s return from injury to the side could tip the balance in favour of Ballintubber, but O’Connor did not start and Ballintubber lost. I had mistakenly assumed, when I saw he lined out for the All-Stars in New York, that he would have been fit to play in Ballina last weekend. But someone suggested to me that a decision was made not to play him in the replay. Anyway, with the game so tightly balanced coming into the closing quarter, the Mitchels boys were not sorry to see him patrolling the line.
Minors and u21s get new managers
Over the past number of weeks the county board has made two new appointments at minor and u21 level. Tony Duffy was given the reigns of the u21s and Enda Gilvarry was ratified as the new manager of the Mayo minor team. Gilvarry was a member of the last Mayo side to win an All-Ireland minor title in 1985 and, having acted as a selector with Tony Duffy last year, no one can argue that he deserves his chance.
Duffy has managed the minors for the last three years and obviously feels that he can bring success at this level. I do believe that there is a serious amount of underage talent, particularly at this level, and I would be really hopeful that Mayo will not be far away from All-Ireland success next spring.
Understandably, John Kelly, previously the Mayo junior manager, who had presented a joint bid with Vinnie Gavin for the minor post was bitterly disappointed in not getting the job. Another man who was disappointed for not getting the recommendation from the interview board was Stephen Rochford who was rejected for the u21 job.
I know Rochford had put in an enormous effort and research prior to interview, as indeed most do when applying for these positions. He had managed to secure the services of a backroom team that included Martin Carney, Martin McIntyre, and the involvement of an experienced coach from outside the county. Apparently he was rejected on the basis that neither he nor his selectors possessed sufficient knowledge of the underage talent within the county at this level. If this was the precursor for the appointment of managers, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, the last management team to bring All-Ireland success to the county, should never have been appointed to the job. In fact several current managers at all levels would never be appointed to positions if this was a policy of an interview board. It should be all about getting the right man for the job. Rochford was rightly pissed off with this lame excuse and it begs a question as to how the county board could consider him to be an ideal person to be a member of a committee tasked with developing young talent as part of the recently appointed senior development academy.
Rochford incidentally is currently being hotly pursued by two senior Galway clubs to manage them next year. If he does align himself to one of those clubs, Mayo has definitely, temporarily at least, lost a young man with serious coaching credentials. The pain of rejection will be lessened somewhat by his recent appointment as AIB bank manager in Castlerea.
Now don’t get me wrong here, this has nothing to do with the two candidates who have been appointed to the posts. They are two good football men who have lots of experience at various levels. But I do have an issue when it comes to a lack of transparency and equality with the appointment of managers. Many county boards around the country, correctly in my opinion, select a business person who would possess a knowledge of interviewing candidates to be on the interviewing panel primarily to ensure compliance with a pre-determined set of objective criteria to ensure that no one could ever be accused of ‘insider trading’!
Winter football is not where anyone wants to be
Meanwhile I see there is a right scramble taking place to avoid relegation from senior league status. There are five teams all hovering in and around the drop zone and, with two rounds left for most sides, it is getting really desperate for unfortunate managers to try to keep the season going for another couple of weeks. It is soul destroying to be playing or training at this time of the year for club league matches that have such huge significance, particularly when you consider all the idle weeks during the spring/summer when lads would love to play.