It is hard to believe that another year has flown by so quickly. This is the time of year for most sports people to indulge a little, give the body a rest and reflect on the year gone by. There will be a few of you who will look back on the past year and recall magic moments experienced It might have been a new personal best in an athletics event, a provincial or All-Ireland medal won or even a part played in the defeat of rival competitors. Some of you might have underachieved and are feeling a little guilty. Others will reflect and feel that, with a bit more effort, greatness could have come their way. Whatever way you look at it you cannot turn the clock back now and there is no point in killing yourself with guilt at this stage. Anyway, 2009 is but a pup away and you will, once again, get an opportunity to take on new challenges for the year ahead. With a brand new attitude, the promise of abstention from the cursed drink, and sheer hard work, you will begin to feel good about yourself again, maybe even as early as the end of January.
Looking at the year past from my perspective, I had a terrible couple of months at the start of the year. As manager of the Roscommon team, I was struggling to get results in Division 2 of the national league and the longer it went on the worse it got. There were a couple of occasions when I actually hated getting into my car after work to begin the drive to Roscommon for training. Things got rather ugly for me and I did something I thought I would never do in my lifetime. I walked away. It is not in my nature to do that, but I genuinely felt the welcome for me to continue with the task of reviving the fortunes of Roscommon had evaporated. The months away from the game during the summer helped to rekindle my appetite for the game so I have agreed to give a dig out to my native Crossmolina for the coming season. I am looking forward to that and I know the lads down there are looking forward to meeting up with me on December 27 for a ‘blow out’!
Minors the shining light for the future
I think that most of you would agree that were it not for the performances of our minors this summer, we would have very little to get excited about. Thankfully they lifted our spirits no end with a couple of memorable games and you would have to say they were most unlucky not to have won the All-Ireland. The performances in both drawn and replayed games against Tyrone were highly entertaining, where players played with freedom, energy and no little passion. These are the virtues we associate with the green and red of Mayo and, in fairness, the support, particularly in Longford for the replay, was exceptional. With a little luck in the drawn match in Croke Park, we could have been reflecting on a magnificent success, but as we know only too well, Gaelic football is not a science, and there are no guarantees of success despite us wanting it so badly. The minors, did however, lift our mood during an otherwise dreary summer and the manner in which they beat Kerry in that memorable display in Limerick will live in the memory as a wonderful highlight. Now that these young lads have got a taste of the big time during the summer months, I would sincerely hope that a number of them will embrace the necessary lifestyle to go on and represent Mayo at U21 and, eventually, at senior level. So much has been learned by these young men over the last year that it would be a shame if they didn’t build on the experience and drive on. Being competitive is infectious – those young lads have learned to compete fiercely but fairly on a football field and any young fella who experienced the thrill of playing in Croker on final day must surely long for more of the same. They have learnt to push themselves, to achieve heights they might not have thought possible, and that is a good thing in a world where there are many rewards for those with the right attitude.
Mayo club championship as strong as ever
Our championship, as ever, provided lots of entertainment, with its usual mix of twists, comebacks, surprises and, in general, lots of entertainment. The Ballaghaderreen boys will, no doubt, be delighted with their achievement of winning a senior title at long last! They should be hurting a little, though, at not progressing in the provincial championship. They definitely have enough talent amongst their ranks and despite some of them suggesting that they were only interested in winning their county title, they could and should be celebrating this Christmas with a provincial medal as well as a county one.
Aughamore have built on their underage development of recent years by winning the intermediate title. They will feel well pleased with themselves and can sit back comfortably this Christmas before they gear themselves up for bigger stuff next year at senior level. Killala take their football seriously too and proved their ability with fantastic victories at county and provincial level.
McHale Park progressing well
I went up to McHale Park last Saturday morning to have a look at the new stadium. The work there is progressing exceptionally well. I availed of the opportunity to climb to the highest viewing point in the new stand and I can honestly say it will be quite magnificent. The top row will give a fantastic bird’s eye view of the pitch. There is an almighty push on to have the ground open for our Connacht championship. In the second round Mayo are due to play the winners of Roscommon and Leitrim at a Mayo venue in June. If Leitrim were to come through in that fixture, I cannot imagine John O’Mahony would be too happy heading for Carrick on Shannon next summer. Expect to see lots of action around McHale Park next spring to ensure that it is finished in time for next year’s championship!
Education cut backs cut back
While up there I noticed St Gerald’s College footballers training on one of the back fields. It reminded me of my days playing secondary school football in Moate, where we trained six or seven days a week. It was easier back then, with very few distractions. I was boarding in Carmelite College and the footballers were treated a little differently from the other lads in school. I am sure there would have been several complaints from the parents of other lads at school had they realised that we were allowed leave the study hall at 8pm a few nights every week to be treated to a slap-up meal. The argument was that, if we were to have any chance of winning a Hogan Cup medal, we needed to be well fed. I never complained once.
It was good to see the St Gerald’s boys going through their paces on a chilly Saturday morning. Wouldn’t it be a shame if these lads and a host of other high-profile schools across the country were forced to withdraw from sporting competitions if the cutbacks announced in the budget were to go ahead? Can you imagine the scenario if a teacher was about to board the school bus with a team, but was called back to the class room if someone rang in sick? Thankfully the Minister has realised the consequences and has rowed back a little on this draconian measure. I hope it’s enough, as no child should ever be denied the chance to represent his or her school at sport.