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When politics and football collide

Sport

A TALE OF TWO BIG EVENTS The count centre in Castlebar will be a hive of activity next Saturday — the same day the Mayo footballers are in action in the county town! Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Next Saturday sees the GAA and local elections compete for attention

Feature
Edwin McGreal

THEY say you should never mix politics and sport.
Well ‘they’ clearly have never been to a Mayo GAA Board meeting!
Politics and football in this county are intrinsically linked, for better or worse. And this coming weekend more than ever.
Political fans will be gripped by the action at the local election count centres in the Royal Theatre in Castlebar all day Saturday and Sunday.
Football fans will be focused on action at the other end of the town as Mayo welcome Roscommon to MacHale Park.
But for many people, there will be divided loyalties and some tough decisions to be made – politics or football? The moment of truth is upon them!
When you cover election counts in this county, you are taken by the amount of football people you will meet in there.
Maybe it’s because politics is another form of sport. In ways the most ruthless type when the electorate give their say on the candidates. It’s an unforgiving arena and not for the faint-hearted. And much more of a blood sport than most Mayo GAA County Conventions are!
Several candidates have strong football pedigree. Fianna Fáil councillors Paul McNamara and Michael Smyth lined out at midfield for Mayo in an All-Ireland Minor football final in 1991, long before politics came knocking.
Claremorris Independent Cllr Richard Finn is a brother of former Mayo defender John Finn. Cllr Michael Loftus (FF) is a son of the legendary former GAA President Dr Mickey Loftus.
Louisburgh’s Austin Francis O’Malley is bidding to regain his seat. He’s father of former Mayo footballer Austie O’Malley.
First-time Ballina candidate Mark Duffy once played a bit of ‘FBD’. Paul Lawless in the Claremorris Electoral Area plays ball with Aghamore. Long-serving councillor Seamus Weir is nearly as long in the council chamber as he was a Knockmore footballer. Could there be a better breeding ground for the bloodsport that is politics than years in the white heat of championship with Knockmore?
Several more candidates have football experience, more still are heavily involved in their clubs while there is a big football crossover in the various camps too. Expect to see Connacht GAA Secretary John Prenty, County Board Chairman Mike Connelly and former Mayo captain, Alan Dillon, at the count on Saturday, to name just three. It won’t escape your attention all are Fine Gael.
The Blueshirts appear more adroit at the crossover from sport into politics and back than the Soldiers of Destiny in Fianna Fáil.
But don’t expect to see too many of the above named at the count at 7pm. There will be a large exodus to make the short journey to MacHale Park. The fact the game is in Castlebar is a huge relief to those with divided loyalties this weekend.
Had Leitrim beaten Roscommon, it would have been in Carrick-on-Shannon and would have made the logistics a lot trickier. Dare we say it, a few Mayo folk who would never shout for Roscommon may have done so last Sunday week! Except, as they are all political, they likely wouldn’t give you a straight answer if you asked that question.
Big games and counts have often overlapped down the years. The 2007 General Election took place five days after the John O’Mahony managed Mayo were well beaten by Galway. It was expected to be a fatal blow so close to the election.
Whatever about a late slip of the tongue doing damage, being the manager of a Mayo team easily beaten by Galway is the type of bad PR that political handlers dread. But Johnno flew in.
Imagine what his vote would have been if Mayo had won!
Twenty years ago the local elections also coincided with a Mayo v Roscommon Connacht Championship semi-final in Castlebar.
That time all the drama was in the TF as 0.02 of a vote famously separated Fianna Fáil’s Frank Leneghan from Independent Michael Holmes for the last seat.
Matters were nowhere near as dramatic in MacHale Park, the John Maughan managed Mayo cruising to a 0-21 to 0-10 victory en route to a Connacht title.
“If someone asked me who was playing, I don’t think I’d remember. I’d be a staunch Mayo supporter at the time but the score didn’t sink in at all,” Michael Holmes told The Mayo News.
James Horan was full-forward for Mayo that day. He’d love if 20 years on, all the drama remained at the TF.