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Ballina beginning to discover form

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Ballina beginning to discover form

JUST when it seemed that the bookies might have got it wrong in establishing them as favourites to reclaim county senior honours, up pop Ballina Stephenites with a performance to repay them for their confidence.
In beating Castlebar Mitchels by six points at MacHale Park, the Stephenites not only jumped to the top of their group but let it be known that they are not yet ready for the scrap heap. Producing a thoroughly convincing performance they looked a more determined side, a team that wanted to be back at the summit of Mayo football.
We were attracted by the promise of a great midfield struggle between Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte of Ballina, and the Mitchels Shane Fitzmaurice and Barry Moran. The Ballina pair are first choice on the county side, but Fitzmaurice and Moran have been nibbling at their heels, first subs for those county positions. Four big men claiming aerial supremacy, a battle worth seeing.
It did not live up to the promise, however. One man dominated the sky – and the ground – as he did in the Connacht final against Galway. Ronan McGarrity was once again quite magnificent and the essential difference between the sides.
Well, actually there was a bit more to Ballina. They came determined to finish top of the group, having had a couple of scares in earlier rounds, and they brought all of their old experience to bear on a match that was tough and exciting for half an hour. In the second half they were clearly the better side and while the Mitchels were game to the end, their lack of experience was always a determining factor.
Ballina are aiming for further glory, and Tommy Lyons is beginning to hammer them back into shape. Pat Harte ensured midfield dominance with a diligent performance alongside McGarrity. He’s strong and effective, but he does tend to walk a fine line with referees. A couple of petulant outbreaks that went unheeded by the referee on Saturday might not have gone unpunished by other officials. They were card offences. That said, he has developed into a midfielder of some quality and his long loping strides are difficult to check.
The work rate of Paul McGarry in the forward line was also impressive. He is an under rated player, yet he rarely fails to give a hundred percent. He is always on the move, searching, probing assisting. He scored four points but had a hand in many more.
Ballina had their usual quota of quality in defence. But  you could not fail to notice the performance of young Ger Cafferkey at left half back. He was full-back on the successful county under 21 team and Tommy Lyons has drafted him into his team with remarkable results. He has the makings of a county senior star.
Vying with him for that position also on the county team in the near future will be Castlebar’s Sean Ryder who replaced Colm Boyle in the All-Ireland under 21 final and gave a sterling performance.
On Sunday he took over the centre-half role for the Mitchels, marking no less a man that Ger Brady. To shine on a losing team is a mark of your quality, and Ryder was quite outstanding in a display that embodied all the defensive attributes. His tackling, interceptions, speed and thrusts were the notable aspects of his game. He failed to spur a win for Castlebar, but he did more than can be asked of one man to motivate his colleagues.

Mayo’s forward line and Tuam Stadium
THE barometer of expectation is on the rise again, but unlikely on this occasion to soar out of control. While victory over Galway slakes the thirst of Mayo followers to a greater degree than a win over any other Connacht county, the standard of their recent final ought to act as a check on wild predictions.
The win will not lift the pressure from Mickey Moran and his selectors, but it will make their preparations for the quarterfinal clash between either Laois or Offaly more enjoyable. Now that one target has been attained, they can concentrate on new obstacles. They have a lot to work on, but nothing more essential that how to tie up a game they have been dominating, how to ensure that no opening is presented to the opposition to stir a recovery.
Erratic shooting has been isolated as the main reason for Mayo’s failure to have built up a winning tally at half time against Galway, and nobody could have failed to feel at the interval that glorious chances had been frittered away, that  might not be available to them after the break.
That wind spoiled their accuracy to some extent. Coming diagonally from the town end it was more tricky than many believed. Only when Galway became equally wayward in the second half efforts did we realise the degree of the wind’s influence.
Mayo’s profligacy, once a recurring theme of commentators, will surely be stressed in previews of their next match as a consistent flaw in their performances, but apart from a few incidents of crippling wastage Mayo’s shooting record has been respectable in recent years.
Their tallies throughout the Allianz league did not give rise to concern. They scored eighteen points against Fermanagh; 1-15 against Offaly, and twelve points in their victory over Cork. In last year’s league they bagged 1-15 in losing by a point to Dublin; 2-10 against Donegal; 0-14 against Cork; 2-12 against Offaly; 0-16 against Tyrone; 0-15 against Kerry and 3-16 in their defeat of Westmeath.
Those records betray no lack of confidence among Mayo forwards. They measure up to the results of top teams in the country, and the hope is that their confidence will not be affected in the quarterfinal by their inaccuracies against Galway.
Maybe that winning kick by Conor Mortimer - the courage, the coolness, the confidence with which he stroked the ball over the bar - will be an example for every other man in the team, attacker or defender.
WORK on the redevelopment of Tuam Stadium has begun. Initial works involving the removal of some of the sideline terracing and the widening of the pitch commenced in April. The erection of a new stand capable of seating some 6,000 people will begin  in the next few weeks. When completed the stand will run the length of one side of the ground.
The ambitious project will cost €5 million and is expected to be completed within three years. The first phase of the construction of the new stand will begin with the erection of the steel work and the sheeting of the structure.
Just before it is completed, the old stand will be dismantled. Resembling a hayshed it has served football followers for the past 35 years. The new structure will then be covered and state of the art accommodation provided in a town regarded generally as the football capital of Galway.
Restaurant and bar facilities will also be provided in the new stand and the long term plan is to make the accommodation available for functions and various corporate events. The stand will be dedicated to the late Ann Marie McHugh, a native of Tuam, who lost her life in the Twin Tower disaster in New York in 2001.
No intercounty championship games or county football or hurling finals have been held at the Tuam venue since the reopening of the revamped Pearse Stadium. The decision of the Galway County Board to direct all their major games to the Salthill grounds, in order to defray some of the costs of the redevelopment, has caused some dissension in North Galway capital.
But Tuam Stadium Committee have decided to undertake this ambitious plan in a bid re-establish the grounds as a major GAA centre once again. Their aim to develop the venue to rival the best in the country and they will be looking to the GAA at local and national level to fix high profile games there.
So far work is being financed by the committee’s own resources. But soon they will embark on a major fund-raising drive, and they also expect to receive substantial funding from the National Lottery sports allocation.
Mayo supporters will welcome the development. Tuam Stadium has always been regarded as a more central and more accessible venue for their games with Galway. But the Pearse Stadium committee will not give up their claim for further big games when the Tuam venue is reopened. There will be interesting battles off the two pitches as well as on them.
Email: seanrice@mayonews.ie

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