Back in the game
THERE seems to be something about Westport United and me over the course of my soccer career.
My first game for ‘The Town’ in the Mayo League came against them at the age of 16 — hours before my first Connacht Senior League game for the club, back when I was able to do that sort of thing!
Roll on a few years and our young team had matured but we kept coming up against a brilliant Westport United side who denied us in the league and cup on numerous occasions. That was a serious side who went on to win the FAI Cup in 2005, and much more besides over the years. After I thought I’d left my playing days behind me, I kept a close eye on the league and was delighted to see Ballina Town finally getting the better of the Covies (and Castlebar Celtic) in 2009 and 2010, and again in 2013.
However, Westport soon took control once more and when Michael Duffy rang me in January to see would I return to Ballina Town, I remember telling him I would, just to get a crack at playing the big games against Castlebar Celtic, S&F, Manulla, and especially Westport.
It was a definite goal of mine to get myself back to the level where I could get on to the pitch in those big games, and it was a real turning point in our season when we went up to Westport this season and put four past them in the league.
That was the moment, in my eyes, that we really came into our own as a team and we knew we had an amazing chance to take the title. Even better for myself, I had managed to find my way on to the first 11 and was enjoying my football as much as I had nearly two decades before. Unfortunately, that was the same night my luck changed and my worst fears (as mentioned in my last column) were realised — I tore my ACL.
Since that there’s been a lot of pain, introspection, and disappointment.
I did contemplate for a small time about not going ahead with the operation and hanging up the boots, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I just couldn’t bring myself to do that yet.
The disappointment of missing out on the second half of the season with Ballina Town has been huge, especially given how superbly the lads have taken up the challenge of leading from the front and have now grabbed the title at the earliest opportunity.
The whole squad have been superb to me personally since my injury and have continued to make me feel part of the team. I’m immensely thankful to them for that.
It’s also made me even more determined to get back to the level I was at before, and while I know there’s a long winter ahead to get back on the pitch again, there’s worst things that I could be at!
So it’s been a strange season on a personal level, bittersweet to finally get my hands on a Super League title that I had spent so long training for in my younger days, but not being able to do it on the pitch.
Here’s hoping I can get that chance again in 2019 — and getting another crack at the Covies!