NOTHING BETWEEN THEM Castlebar’s Padraig Healy makes life difficult for Ballina’s Stephen Hughes during last Saturday evening’s TF Royal Hotel and Theatre Mayo SFC match at McHale Park. Pic: Michael Donnelly
Old rivals reel in the years
CASTLEBAR and Ballina reeled in the years on Saturday with a performance reminiscent of old times.
Their meetings have been scarce of late, mainly because the county town had been unable to wriggle free from an inertia stretching back over a decade and a half.
The melancholy of their declining football empire deepened with the passing years, and Mayo football has been the poorer for their absence from the limelight.
Peter Ford and his management team have this season brought new life to the old club that had been crying out for motivation. Maybe next year they will fully blossom.
Ballina in the meantime have prospered. With the Everest of Gaelic football conquered and nothing further to be achieved by the old stalwarts, maybe we were watching on Saturday evening the initial stages of their temporary decline.
They will relish the thought of being written off. From a swollen scrapbook of memories they will point to the template of last year’s successful campaign for our inspection.
Underlined is the story of their sleepy opening to the championship, the general rejection of their chances as serious contenders for the title. And how they stumbled on the key to another Moclair Cup.
That key is now out of use. David Brady is no longer available to them. The rebirth of his career as full forward last year with his ability to drill in dramatic goals was their formula. They did not inspire confidence in most other positions, but Brady as a potent full-forward drove them.
So far they have been unable to find a suitable replacement.
In some of their recent league games, and in last Sunday’s defeat to freshly minted Castlebar, the county champions have been toying with Colm Leonard as leader of the attack.
Their promising centre-back has the physical dimensions of their retired former captain, and clearly they hope to sculpt him in the image of their erstwhile star. But Leonard has not yet adapted to the position, nor has he acquired the craft or the cunning of a goal poacher.
He may yet fit in to their hopes, but showed no real spark of promise on Saturday against full-back Rory O’Grady. The Castlebar man has been the big discovery of the season as a central defender, and the pity of it is that he did not come to the notice of John O’Mahony before this.
Without Brady, Ballina are now relying on the stewardship of other old hands to repeat their success of last season. No doubt Martin Wynne, Eanna Casey, Brian Ruane, Ronan McGarrity, Paul McGarry and Pat Harte are lining up to oblige. Old wiles and techniques — which come only with experience — will be summoned to recover from Saturday’s disappointment.
Harte alone saved them from a heavier defeat. He did more than any other, when moved to midfield, in their unsuccessful bid to pull back from the brink. His best performance this season for the club was crowned with a couple of excellent scores. His honed form is timely for Mayo and John O¹Mahony will be pleased.
The dominance of Alan Nolan for Castlebar forced the change of Harte to midfield in the second half. With Shane Fitzmaurice cancelling out the aerial effectiveness of Ronan McGarrity, Nolan thrived, and Castlebar’s confidence was founded on that performance.
Nor was Nolan alone in attracting notice. The entire Castlebar defence surpassed themselves in terms of grit and hunger and when assistance was demanded it came from an unlikely source.
Niall Lydon is enjoying Castlebar¹s revival, and has been a notable part of it. His appetite carried him all over the field in the second half against Ballina, and when the defence was under pressure in the final quarter his timely interventions thwarted many of the champions¹ scoring efforts.
Castlebar will not read too much into their victory over their old adversary. Revivals don’t occur overnight. But there is a bounce in their step and Peter Ford has put it there.
CHARLESTOWN ONES TO WATCH
BASED on their league performances, and against Ballintubber in the championship, few will look beyond Charlestown in their predictions for the Moclair Cup.
And if David Tiernan maintains Sunday’s man-of-the-match form, the ageless midfielder will be centre stage in their pursuit of the title. Ginger has been a central figure in the East Mayo side over the years.
He radiates eagerness in the team. His unremitting energy leaves you almost breathless. Beyond doubt he is the key to their success, and few would begrudge him the ultimate victory.
Even though Mayo¹s emerging young star, Tom Parsons, played a prominent role on Sunday he appeared pedestrian in comparison to the all-round industry of his more senior colleague.
If they are shaping up like potential champions, however, Charlestown will be mindful of what happened to Ballaghaderreen last season. Nobody, not even Ballina or Crossmolina, were expected to mount a serious championship challenge to the men from the east so dominant had they been throughout the league.
But wily old Ballina were waiting in the long grass and Ballaghaderreen¹s high hopes of taking the title for the first time in 35 years evaporated in the semi-final.
It was a lesson that will not have been lost on Charlestown. Right now they look the team to beat and will be mentally stronger following their defeat to Ballina in last season’s final. But as Ballaghaderreen found to their cost there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.
HOWLEY INJURY LEAVES A GAP
WHAT happened to Trevor Howley could have happened anywhere.
A damaged ankle has determined his fate for the opening round of the championship. And given the need for match practice the Knockmore man may not have recovered in time even for the Connacht final if Mayo qualify.
It is a costly injury, and John O¹Mahony and his selectors are unlucky to lose a player of his stature. Howley had settled in well at centre half-back on the new Mayo.
The steel in his nature ordained that, like Trevor Mortimer, he was at greater risk to injury than most of their colleagues.
Howley does not flinch a challenge. With little regard for his own safety the intrepid young man had begun to earn the respect of opponents from all sides . . . including the All-Ireland champions.
Small by centre-half back standards and on occasions sluggish on the turn, he compensates with hard but fair tackling, and an iron determination chiselled from the indigenous granite of his own club.
All that will be missed when Mayo take on a Sligo side (boosted by their comfortable win over London at the weekend) in the Connacht semi-final on June 22.
John O’Mahony has to plan without him now. Tom Cunniffe, inspirational in the All-Ireland U-21 semi-final, may be asked to fill that vacancy.
Or management may choose to install David Heaney in the centre where he impressed in Mayo’s recent challenge with Laois. Either option is practicable.