The Best of the West this Christmas

At this time of year it can be very difficult to know what to get for people at Christmas. When you are 15 or 20 years married or more and the collective libido may not be what it used to be, there is always a temptation for a female to buy her partner a good book which might stop him bothering her trying all night to do what he used to do all night.

If you feel that is the case in your relationship, an enjoyable read that you could suggest is a new book just out for the Christmas market by John Scally, called The Best of the West.

The text is made up from a collection of interviews with some of the GAA greats of Connacht over the past fifty years and more. Men like Henry Kenny, Tony McManus, Peter Ford, Kevin McStay, Kevin Walsh, Sean and Dermot Flanagan, Dermot Earley, Willie Joe Padden, Pat Lindsay, John Maughan, Harry Keegan, T.J. Kilgannon and a few men who have sadly departed this world like Sean Purcell, Enda Colleran and the late John Morley help you to skip along the pages. There are a few hurlers thrown in for good measure too such as Noel Lane, Sylvie Linnane, Sean Duggan and Iggy Clarke, while Alan Kerins and Roscommon’s John Tiernan also feature for their terrific work in other fields of endeavour.

For Scally this was in many ways a labour of love as it must have taken an enormous amount of man hours to collate all the information and research. The result is an enjoyable read, packaged in a very well presented hard back with a the foreword by the multi-tasking Mayo man, John O’Mahony who would have known and played with and trained many of the men interviewed.

There are some very pleasant and witty anecdotes laced throughout the book and it is some of those that will bring the biggest laughs to those who stick to their guns and go through the 232 pages, which are easily leafed. The interview with former Galway midfielder Brian Talty is especially lively and he relives the key incidents from the 1983 final. However, it is commentary on former team-mate Billy Joyce, uncle of Padraig, that are very humourous. Talty describes Joyce as a genuine wit and some of his stories confirm that fact. Before a big game in Croke Park, Billy Joyce asked some of his team-mates: “Did ye ring the airport?” Talty did not know what he was on about, so asked him – “why would we phone the airport?” Billy replied: “To tell them not to have airplanes flying over Croke Park. I’m going to be jumping so high, I don’t want to be in collision with any of them!”

Another quick one liner from Joyce, concerned a day Galway were playing Roscommon in Pearse Stadium on an atrocious wet day. Before the throw-in one of their midfielders said to Billy: “ “Tis an awful wet day for football.” Billy looked at him and said: “You don’t have to worry about it. You won’t be in it for very long.”

The Mayo men

The respective interviews from Mayo Advertiser columnist John Maughan and former Mayo star Kevin O’Neill are also very interesting and their different perspectives of the reason why O’Neill did not feature much in Mayo’s championship teams when John wore the Bainisteoir bib in the All-Ireland finals of 1996 and 1997 are definitely worth a read.

Maughan is as usual extremely frank and points out how he was astounded at the sort of form that Kevin produced for Mayo in 2006. He also points out that – “I had absolutely no agenda. If I felt he was one of my best players surely I would have brought him on if I thought he could help us win an All-Ireland? I think if you asked most people close to the scene they say I made the right call.”

Mayo’s Liam McHale also serves up a very enjoyable and interesting few pages. Liam is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and he leaves no-one in any doubt about his desire to some day manage Mayo. He confirms that in his interview, “I’d love to manage Mayo some day. As a player I dreamed of winning an All-Ireland. I still have that dream – but now to do so as a coach. I think I would do a good job if I got the chance.” You have to respect someone who is that honest and lays his cards on the table. I have always had good time for McHale since Corofin played Ballina in 1998 in the club championship. We played them a month or two after Galway had won the All-Ireland. Before the throw-in of the club game, McHale made it his business to come over to congratulate myself and goalkeeper Martin McNamara on our achievement with Galway. It could not have been an easy thing to do in light of his own personal disappointments in 1996 and 1997, and I appreciated him for his decency and manliness in doing so. A lot of other players were not so gracious in the circumstances. McHale’s assessment of Ciaran McDonald in his interview is unreservedly positive and he describes him as an extremely nice and generous individual.

The big midfielder also tells a story that he thinks is symptomatic of Mayo’s misfortunes in Croke Park in recent years. “Before the 2004 All-Ireland, I saw that there were great odds on Alan Dillon to score the first goal. I called my wife, Sinead, and asked her to place a big bet for me. After five minutes, Alan right on cue, scored the first goal in the game and I did a dance of joy. Afterwards I learned that Sinead had forgotten to place the bet”. It just goes to prove the point, if you’re not in, you can’t win. Or is that a hazardous comment to make in Mayo this week?


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