It was double heart break for Rice College and St Nathy's in the Post Primary Schools senior A and B finals in Croke Park last Saturday in what were two very contrasting contests.
St Nathy's were completely overwhelmed by the big stage and failed to bring the impressive form that got them to the final. Cookstown were full value for their 10 point victory. It could have been worse only for a tremendous display by Alan Davey in the Nathy's goal. He pulled off three top drawer saves in the first half. Nathy's can have no complaints, the better team won.
In contrast Rice College will be forever wondering what might have been. Losing All-Irelands are sickening, losing them by a point when you make all the running for the game will make it very difficult to comprehend for a long long time for the management and the players.
Every single player will analyse decisions made during the game, wondering if they should have done something else that would have made a difference to the final scoreline. I'm still doing it over 20 years later. I'd prefer to take a drubbing any day as you won't dwell on it for long, it won't eat at you, you won't forever be wondering "what if".
I have to say the quality of football in the A final was of the highest standard. A Herculean effort by Rice College was just not enough. Their desire was summed up in the closing stages by an inspiring piece of play by centre half back Eoghan McLaughlin who dispossessed a St Ronan's player on the sideline and somehow managed to keep the ball in play with outrageous skill and cat-like agility. It is a shame it didn't end up as the equalising score that his Trojan work deserved.
Two very notable features from both finals was firstly the ability of the players to fire over 45m frees at their ease. A skill that a lot of senior players have great difficulty executing. Secondly, I was amazed at the physicality and conditioning of a lot of the players. Strength and conditioning is obviously a crucial part of a 16 to 18-year-old's training regime. Some of the players would not look out of place in a county senior jersey.
Club championship throws up a few surprises
The club championship got under way at the weekend with current champions Castlebar Mitchels laying down a marker, trouncing Ballina by 2-18 to 1-06, which also saw Donal Vaughan having his first outing in a Mitchels jersey coming on as a second half sub.
Probably the biggest shock of round one was Charlestown Sarsfields defeating Knockmore in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan, after a deluge on Thursday night meant Charlestown had to forfeit home advantage.
Knockmore will certainly be rueing some wayward first half shooting as they spurned some glorious chances and only led by three points at the interval. Credit to the Sarsfields, however, who dug deep in the second half, playing like the Charlestown teams of yesteryear with a strong running game. Tom Parsons controlled the midfield area ably assisted by Gareth O'Donnell with Jack Reilly kicking the scores.
Reilly's absence from a Mayo development panel or even being looked at in a county set up has left many bewildered. If he was to bulk up a little there are few in the county with feet and hands as good as his.
Breaking my resolutions
I made a New Year's resolution this year promising I'd bite my lip about referees, however after the officiating in Bekan the resolution is to be broken.
The lack of communication between the officials along with some of the most bizarre decisions made by the referee had supporters, managers and players at loggerheads with one another.
There was complete disregard for the black card rule as four yellow cards were issued to players for straightforward black card offences. A Knockmore defender can count himself very lucky to have only received one yellow card when he clearly committed two more yellow card offences thereafter, one of which was committed right in front of the linesman who completely ignored it.
On another occasion a Knockmore defender was ushered over the end line by a hefty enough challenge, which meant it was either a free out for pushing for Knockmore or a 45 for Charlestown. A hop ball ensued making no sense whatsoever to the large crowd.
The best was saved until last, however, as Knockmore went in search of a late equalising goal. Full forward Peter Naughton was clearly fouled near the Charlestown goal but the referee was a full 60 metres from the incident and had no idea whether it was inside or outside the box. To the delight of Charlestown and dismay of Knockmore, a 14 metre free was given after plenty of debate.
I'm reliably informed the foul was committed outside the square. On a lighter note during the game some witty Charlestown supporter let a shout at Kevin McLoughlin who appeared to have over carried the ball, “You're not in Ballybofey now”. After a dreadful start to the league this was a massive win for Charlestown.
The other big winners in the senior championship were Ballaghadeereen who also caused an upset beating a fancied Aughamore in a battle of the East. This result will have huge implications on who makes it out of group one with Castlebar. Ballagh are now in pole position and will target their game against Ballina as the game they need to win to make the quarter finals. Coincidentally Ballina, Crossmolina, Kiltane, and Knockmore all lost in the senior championship, making it a not so memorable weekend for north Mayo clubs.