World Cup fever is well and truly upon us with games coming thick and fast and most of us struggling to keep the lids open for the late starts every night. Mayo football and the World Cup is something I relate to from my memories as a Mayo footballer. I made my championship debut for Mayo all the way back in 1994, the World Cup was on in the USA the same year. It is hard to believe 20 years could go by so fast. Mayo football was taking a bit of a bashing then on the back of Mayo’s humiliating defeat to Cork in the All-Ireland semi final by all of 20 points in 1993. As a new kid on the block I did not care about the World Cup, and I was oblivious to the thrashing I am sure Mayo football was taking from the entire country, because I had achieved a goal I set myself as a 16-year-old who failed to make a Mayo u16 team for the Ted Webb Cup. When I arrived home from Mayo u16 training in 1990 to tell my parents I had been dropped from the panel because I simply was not good enough I swore to them that day I would play for the Mayo senior team before I was 20.
I am sure there was a chuckle and eyes thrown to heaven and I am sure there was a protective arm thrown around me, but my father promised to give me a thousand pounds (remember the old currency ) such was his confidence I would never make it, I knew I would have to dig deep, it was all I wanted to do. To my knowledge he still has not paid me, although it has been made up for in other ways. Of course the World Cup was a distraction back then but there was a very big difference from this current competition, Ireland had qualified for the World Cup in ‘94 and the country was gone gaga with Jack Charlton and the Irish team.
Before anyone thinks I didn’t love Ireland being in the World Cup, well I did, I just could not celebrate it like the rest of my friends, as regular midweek meetings were held at ridiculous hours in the public houses in Charlestown, as I am sure they were from Belmullet to Ballyhaunis. All I wanted to do was train hard and get my hands on that elusive green and red jersey. I made my championship debut that year in McHale Park against Sligo alongside a young guy called Ciaran McDonald. We did not have a great team back then, but we had a couple of great u21 teams in 1994 and 1995 who lost successive All-Ireland finals who were to become integral parts of the Mayo senior team for the following 10 years. I remember John Aldrige giving an ear bashing to a referee’s assistant in the Giants stadium during the World Cup for not letting him enter the fray, but more clear is the memory of Declan Darcy lifting the Nestor Cup for Leitrim at our expense after humiliating us in a Connacht final in Hyde Park, Leitrim winning by 0-12 to 2-04 after a dour game, dour from a Mayo perspective anyway. The young Mayo supporters will be slightly distracted for the next three weeks probably swapping their green and red jerseys for ones with Ronaldo and Messi but come July 13 the O’Connor and O’Shea jerseys will be out with pride again. Let’s hope it is a different Connacht final result from 20 years ago.
Do or die in club championship
The club championship hits critical stage this weekend especially for the teams that have nothing to show from the first round. If you lose in round two after a defeat in round one your championship credentials are over, and it is next to impossible to keep your team motivated and training hard enough to stave off relegation in the championship and then the league. Ballintubber will have to be tuned in when they play Shrule/Glencorrib but they certainly have a team capable of beating anyone, their experience will see them over the line. Ballinrobe could well be the first team out of the championship when they play Knockmore on Saturday evening. If Garrymore win at home to Kiltane, last year’s intermediate champions will be in a relegation dog fight with Ballinrobe, if you are squeamish do not go to watch that one in Garrymore. In group three Ballaghaderreen and Westport clash in Ballagh, the winners make the quarter final, a tough ask for Ballagh without inspirational Andy Moran, a lot of weight now on Barry Regan’s shoulders. My own club Charlestown are in dire straits at the moment for their do or die clash with Davitts in Ballindine, Charlestown, without Tom Parsons (hamstring ), Aiden Higgins (suspended ), Sean Morris (emigrated to Australia ), and enigmatic full forward Anto Mulligan after a serious operation, Davitts is not the place you want to go with four central players missing. Breaffy will almost certainly beat Claremorris which will leave the runner up spot in group four up for grabs. Ballina have shown signs of improvement since their humiliation in round one but it will be too much for them to beat Aughamore and then Breaffy to qualify, Claremorris are the favourites for second spot in that group.
All eyes to Markievicz Park on Sunday to see who Mayo get in the Connacht final. I fancy Galway to win as Sligo are without sharpshooter Adrian Marren. Galway at evens to start at -2 is my tip for the weekend.