JUST one round old and the championship is rocked by the crash of Claremorris. It is not so much their defeat that surprises us as the size of it.
Last year Ballaghaderreen almost succumbed in the championship to the battling Ballintubber men. Saturday’s result is proof that the current league form of the Abbeyside men is no false representation of their growing force in Mayo football.
Claremorris were regarded as the dark horse of the campaign. Maybe they were too easily convinced. Whatever the cause, they were never able to grapple with the spirited onslaught of a Ballintubber side that will now be seen in a new light. For Claremorris, though, it has been a steep learning curve.
Elsewhere, Charlestown also reflected their true league form with their defeat of Castlebar. The ambition of their evergreens to capture another county title has in no way diminished, and David Tiernan and the Higgins brothers continue to reinforce their hopes with their experience and cuteness.
Plagued by injury to key players, Castlebar is struggling to get its head over the parapet. Manager Peter Ford and a strong selection team have brought an appetite to their charges and there were plenty of reasons in Charlestown to be pleased with their progress.
But their defence still leaks. For a while on Saturday they had control of the game and were ahead by four points. And then, a silly mistake led to a Charlestown penalty. Even then, goalkeeper Ciaran Naughton brought off a great save, but failed to get the protection of the defence to prevent Richard Haran scoring.
Alan Feeney at full-back has solved one problem. Maybe pulling back their newest arrival, Pat Kelly, from the front line would also help. Most of the garda’s football has been played in the half-back line and his attacking instinct from that position might have greater advantages than his present position up front.
Another area of concern must be discipline. Two of the Mitchels best players are already under suspension . . . Richie Feeney who was red-carded in a previous match, and Niall Lydon, who was dispatched on Saturday for retaliating after he was awarded a free. Costly retorts.
County champions Ballaghaderreen made an impressive start to their campaign with an easy win on their home ground over Breaffy. But because the Breaffy men are struggling with their game this season the true strength of Ballagh must await greater challenges.
Rossies will be hard to take out
TALK of a Connacht final may be premature in view of Roscommon’s impressive win over Leitrim on Sunday. John O’Mahony and his selectors will have been there to watch his next challengers clinically dismantle Leitrim’s dream.
There were high hopes that the host county would finally cast aside that old hoodoo of having lost every championship clash with Roscommon at Carrick-on-Shannon.
The advent of Mickey Moran, the man who in a one-year reign led Mayo to an All-Ireland final, had brightened prospects of a new breakthrough.
Mayo scraped through by the slenderest of margins from that venue the last time they met in the championship. Under new management Leitrim looked a good bet to reach the semi-final.
But Roscommon were well prepared mentally and physically for the challenge.
There’s a new buzz in the team under Fergal O’Donnell who led their minors to All-Ireland success three years ago and who is methodically changing the face of Roscommon football.
Forget about that Galway encounter for the moment. Roscommon’s threat looms large.
Achill mourns Tom Cafferkey
TOM Cafferkey was one of those on whom Mayo football dreams were built in the 1960s. His tragic death last week evoked memories of that new dawn.
A central figure in the All-Ireland winning Mayo minor team of 1966, big Tom, as we called him, embodied the new spirit of rediscovery in Mayo football. He was big, strong and indestructible . . . a new breed of Mayo footballer.
It had been all of thirteen years since Mayo won their previous minor title. Football in the county had reached its nadir, adrift somewhere in the shadow of the early golden fifties.
Many clubs, plundered by emigration, struggled to survive. Apathy was rampant.
To that sombre setting the minor team of 1966 brought new light. And Tom Cafferkey was its anchor in defence. For the first time in well over a decade an optimistic outlook took hold. The clouds had begun to shift.
Tom had been destined for county football ever since guiding Cashel/Achill to three county senior vocational titles in a row. At the age of 15 he was at centre-half back for the Achill juniors.
His transition to county football was predictable and salutary.
When 1966 dawned Tom had two years of county minor experience behind him. He soldiered with Achill colleague Pat Kilbane in 1964 but Mayo were beaten in the All-Ireland semi-final by an Offaly team inspired by Tony McTague.
The following year with Kilbane as captain they lost to Roscommon in Connacht.
1966 was a tribute to his perseverance and his promise. On that triumphant side Tom was a formidable opponent, fearless and determined. It was a team of extraordinary talent . . . Seamus O’Dowd, Tom Fitzgerald, Des Griffith, Gay Nevin, Benny McHale and the likes. And their victory over Down lifted a lot of hearts.
Tom scaled further heights the following year as a cornerstone of Mayo’s historic U-21 victory over Kerry. In the replay of that final, Willie McGee famously scored four goals.
On the crest of underage football, senior success seemed imminent. In 1967, for the first time in twelve years, Mayo won the Connacht senior title. The outlook was bright . . . two games away from All-Ireland acclaim.
The flush of hope ended, however, in Mayo’s hapless semi-final tilt with Meath. Tom Cafferkey had been on the bench that day but got no run. It was the last time we saw him in a Mayo jersey. The following year he was in England having joined the exodus of the county’s youth.
Tom returned home some years later and settled in Achill with his wife, Nora (Scott). He became a staunch member of the community, contributing voluntarily to the cause of the day, and excelling at golf in his spare time. They had three in family, Jonathon, Liam and Sara.
Accompanied by Pat Kilbane, his old football buddy, Tom renewed many old acquaintances of his playing days at the funeral recently of John Noel Carey. Now, at the age of 61, having fallen off a roof last Wednesday morning, he has gone to join John Noel.
“He was one of nature’s finest gentlemen,” said Pat, “a leader of men on and off the field, a role model who will be sadly missed.
“He gave a lot of his time to the community in voluntary work. When anything needed to be done, he was there to help. People felt better for knowing him.
”Our paths have not crossed in the 40-odd years since Tom was at the heart of Mayo’s re-awakening. But their rising, and the import of the Achill man’s contribution is an indelible memory.May he rest in peace.