Alan Feeney has started at full-back in six of Mayo’s nine League and Championship games this season.
Brothers in arms
THEY laugh when you call them late developers. As they chat in the kitchen of the family home in Castlebar, Richie and Alan Feeney reflect on a first summer of playing championship football for both of them. The prospect of a first Connacht final is one that fills them with child-like excitement.
Richie will turn 28 at the end of the month while Alan will celebrate his 26th birthday on the day of the game.
To put their county careers into context, Richie was in the same year in school as Alan Dillon. Now the Mayo captain is preparing for his seventh Connacht final, Feeney his first.
It’s easy to see why he appreciates it.
“When I was a young fella, it was all I thought about, playing for your county,” he admits.
“I guess if you’re younger when you’re brought into the panel, you might not realise it until your career is over. That you were lucky to be in there and lucky to have played. So, yeah, having been outside for so long, it does hit home more. [The effort] is worth it in the end. You’d do anything to play for your county.”
An obvious question is what took him so long?
“I probably wasn’t given proper chances in the past,” he replies. “Or perhaps I was and I didn’t take them. It’s hard to say. I just feel that this year I was given a right chance from the very start, not like before when I was in and out of panels. This year I was given a right chance, I took it, and haven’t looked back.”
Alan Feeney’s scenic route to championship football is easier explained. He didn’t play minor for Mayo and was only a sub’ at Under 21 level — albeit on the team that won the All-Ireland in 2006.
That summer, and the following two, were spent in Boston while New Zealand took up a sizeable chunk of 2007. It was only in early 2009 that he was back in the swing of things at home. Belief was never an issue for him but some patience was required.
“I think when you’re going to games and watching games on TV, or when you’re playing yourself, you think, ‘I should be in there’. And lads are telling you that too. When you actually get in there you’re saying ‘This is where I want to be’.
“I was in the panel last year but didn’t get any game time. Dad told be to just bide my time and when I got my chance, to take it. I suppose, then, this year, with new management, you think you might get a shot. I gradually got a shot and things went okay. Hopefully I’ll keep going in the one direction.”
Mayo’s Richie Feeney has made the number five jersey his own this season.
THE football pedigree of the Feeney brothers is beyond doubt. Their late father Ger won a minor All-Ireland in 1971 and an Under 21 three years later. He is widely acknowledged as one of Mayo’s finest ever half-backs.
He saw talent in his two sons too and was not slow to sing their praises. It has proven to be more than just a jaundiced opinion of a proud father, with both making their championship debuts this year.
Sadly, Ger is not around to witness it. On October 10 last he drowned tragically, together with his friend Donal McEllin, in a boating accident.
He would have been in his element this week.
“You’d go to all the games when you were young and he’d have you on his arm and he’d be saying, ‘This is the next Mayo full-back or wing-back’. He’d be the proudest man there telling everyone how his two sons are going to play for Mayo,” said Alan, his voice trailing off as the poignancy of the memory sinks in.
Thirty years ago Mayo won the Connacht title, their first in 12 years after the lost decade of the 1970s. It was Ger Feeney’s first senior Connacht title, eight years after his debut.
“Dad would always talk about his great days,” recalls Alan. “That was the first one (Connacht title) he won. He was in the twilight of his career. He always remembered it and enjoyed it. He treasured that Connacht medal.
“You’d always dream about it yourself, emulating him and going out and playing for your county in a Connacht Final, winning a Connacht medal, and hopefully more.”
The brothers took to football from a young age and they had a willing mentor.
“From an early age, when I was four or five, Dad brought me up for my first training session in McHale Park,” recalls Richie. “He never pushed us but I took to it straight away. Having him around then kicking balls with me in the evening when he’d come home from work and things like that just made it all the more enjoyable.”
IT has been a remarkable year for Mayo. The 20 minutes of malfunction against Dublin was checked by the win over Cork; and the London debacle appears to have been sidelined thanks to a strong second half display against Galway.
So, where do Mayo sit right now?
“James [Horan] is in his first season in charge. He’s been trying new things and I think played a record number of lads in the League,” said Richie. “You’re always going to have ups and downs like that when you’re trying new things. If we can piece together parts of the Dublin game, parts of the Cork game and parts of the Galway game, we should be okay.”
While both brothers admit that the London scare was a ‘kick up the ass’, how do Mayo sit from a motivation point of view coming into the Roscommon game? Is it going to be hard to carry the intensity of the Galway game into next Sunday?
“I think it’s easier,” says Alan. “It’s two years since we won a Connacht title, you’ve Roscommon up in the Hyde, if that doesn’t get your blood boiling . . . The intensity ups as you go along. Beating Galway was a good result but we only see it as one step on the ladder. Now the intensity is being upped again. You can see it in training, lads are just chomping for this now. We just can’t wait for it.”
You ask them about the aims for the year. Maybe win a Connacht title, get to Croke Park, and anything after that is a bonus? Alan Feeney is quick to disagree.
“People don’t realise how ambitious we are. Of course we take it one game at a time. It is the Connacht Final, it would be a great achievement for us
“But in saying that, you never want to stop, you don’t train all year just to get to an All-Ireland quarter-final and say, ‘Okay, fair enough, we did okay’.”
The line of questioning moves us on to what is often a taboo subject when it comes to Mayo football. An All-Ireland title.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Mayo’s last All-Ireland senior win. Does that enter the minds of the players?
“We all want to win an All-Ireland,” admits Alan. “Whether it’s 60 years or 100 years since we last won one, the dream is always there.
“We’re three games from an All-Ireland final. There’s no reason why we can’t [get there], that’s the way we see it. There’s nothing hanging over our heads. You have to look at it that way. If you don’t think like that you are as well to hang up your boots and walk away from it.”
It’s hard to see either Feeney brother walking away. The ‘late developers’ are hoping to make the most of their belated opportunity.
Club: Castlebar Mitchels
Occupation: Systems Engineer with CBE, Claremorris
Championship debut: 2011 v London
Did you know? Richie lives in Ballintubber but is adamant any children of his will play for Castlebar.
Club: Castlebar Mitchels
Occupation: Salesman with B and B Foods, Castlebar
Championship debut: 2011 v London
Did you know? Alan and his father Ger both won All-Ireland Under 21 medals.