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Remembering past Mayo glories

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SHARING IN THE MOMENT Mayo under 21 joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes celebrate after the final whistle in the 2006 All-Ireland Final win over Cork. Pic: Ray Ryan

Memories of Mayo’s previous under 21 wins remain precious

Feature
Willie McHugh

IT’S a small world all the same where everything makes itself relative.
While essaying this article up popped on another screen a message from Kenneth O’Malley. Kenneth lives in Dubai or somewhere beyond the Emirates now in a part of the world where the sun is always high in the sky. A place far beyond a Ballinrobe skyline where our night times are the middle of their days.
We never know where the timepiece is set when conversing across the great big cyber space that is our only communication link with Kenneth O’Malley now. But there will always be a tangible connection deep within the footballing soul. He is ever a sound man with a plethora of other fine skill-sets packed in the suitcase he journeys through life with.
When he lived around these parts he spent a great chunk of his busy life manning the Mayo goal. He was the last man standing in front of us and danger on days we stood on the terrace behind him. We first saw Kenneth in the gap during the early spring of 2006.
When Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes were charged with managing the 2006 under-21 crop it was Kenneth they unearthed when searching for a net minder. A surprise choice to some perhaps, but Connelly and Holmes knew what they were about. After only a few appearances he quickly established himself as a capable and reliable custodian.
We’ll recycle that oft-abused and over-used phrase to say ‘he ticked all the boxes’. 
As did a neighbour’s child from up the Dalgan Road in Shrule who was another star performer in the under-21 van journeying through the 2006 season.
When it came to mixing footballing nous with raw courage, bravery and determination, Mark Ronaldson has all the ingredients in bountiful abundance.
And it’s because of them and their team-mates we’ll ever fondly remember a sunny May Sunday in 2006 when we saw Mayo win an All-Ireland Under-21 Final in Ennis.
They defied all odds and a few more besides to beat a fancied and star-studded Cork team. In a county where we crave All-Ireland success in any grade, what’s seldom is always wonderful. A five year old girl accompanied us to Ennis to register her first football official outing. What a way to start a crusade.
We watched the young Ronaldson we saw kicking a ball around a Dalgan garden become a man before our eyes. He shipped every belt a Cork defence could lash upon him on his route to goal and bounced back for more. And when it looked like cruel fate might deny Mayo her hour of glory once more, it was O’Malley’s safe hands turning away a Cork goalbound shot that saw us home.
And that’s how it is with following the younger brigade. Could we ever forget a September day in 1974 when Mayo beat Antrim in the All-Ireland Final after a replay in Croke Park?
It was the day John P. Kean of Mayo met John P. O’Kane of Antrim.
The team was built on the spine of Austin Garvin’s All-Ireland minor victors of 1971. The year before Mayo lost the semi-final to the Kerry team who became the dominant force at senior level.
But Mayo ruled supreme in 1974. Players like John O’Mahony, Ger Farragher, the late Richie Bell, Mick Maloney and Ted Webb, Ger Farragher, Michael Flannery, Des McGrath and the mighty ‘Tick’ Higgins became our heroes.
Other great days too.
Whenever we meet Eddie Gibbons thoughts wander back to a Sunday long ago in Irvinestown. Another All-Ireland under-21 replay against Derry.
The genial Eddie was Mayo captain. He was sent off late in the game so when it came to the presentation, GAA President, Paddy Buggy, wouldn’t present the cup to Eddie so as the protocol of not presenting the trophy to a dismissed player would be observed.
Beneath the podium a mini revolt ensued. The first howls of protest were hollered loud by the legendary and renowned, Cowboy Jack Holian from Cross.
The roars were chorused loud by the Mayo supporters. Vice-captain Ger Geraghty of Ballintubber accepted the silverware to dispense with the official tagging, but immediately shared the hoisting of the cup into a Fermanagh sky with Eddie Gibbons.
Ger Geraghty later emigrated to Chicago and there’s a multitude among the many that are long since convinced Mayo would have lifted Sam Maguire in 1989 if he was domiciled in Ireland. And on every sighting or mention of Eddie Gibbons it’s memories of the All-Ireland victory of 1983 that unlocks the mind bank.
He’s another who has etched his name into Mayo under-21 footballing lore.
And south we go again next Saturday night and, if truth be told, it’s not where we expected to be heading when the journey began. But if ever a team deserved to be in a final then surely this team does. Their wonderful All-Ireland minor win of 2013 over Tyrone never got the credit it deserved because their victory was overshadowed by the defeat of the seniors.
Kilmaine’s Darragh Doherty was a star of that minor side and had life spared him he’d surely be in the starting line-up on Saturday. But perhaps part of his wish might be fulfilled.
At the lovely eulogy he delivered at Darragh’s funeral mass, Mayo minor selector of 2013, Eoin Sweeney, told of a meeting with Darragh and his desire to get the 2016 campaign up and running.
On Saturday night his team-mates carry the hopes and dreams of a county into another final. They are within a step of crossing the threshold of glory. And as we traipse the road to Ennis we’ll think fondly of Kenneth O’Malley in a land faraway. Of Mark Ronaldson and all the braves who wouldn’t be denied.
And we’ll remember Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes too. It would be totally remiss of us to ever forget that great day of many the duo gave Mayo supporters.      

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