HOME ARE THE HEROES Pictured is the large crowd that gathered at The Fairgreen in Westport on Sunday evening to welcome home the newly crowned history making county champions. Pic: Conor McKeown
Moclair Cup finally arrives on the shores of Clew Bay
Scenes of unbridled joy animated Hastings Insurance MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon as Westport finally delivered on years of promise to claim the Paddy Moclair Cup for the very first time.
For a town so noted for its sporting prowess, it beggars belief that the GAA club has never won the most prestigious prize in Mayo football, but that statistic has now being consigned to history after a gutsy performance saw Martin Connolly’s team overcome Ballina on a scoreline of 1-9 to 1-6.
The seeds for Sunday’s success were sown well over a decade ago when Westport’s underage structure began winning numerous county titles at the top grade. And how fitting it was that two of the longest-serving players for the club were still around to be part of the club’s most famous day.
Kevin Keane and Lee Keegan became icons in their club by playing at the very top level for Mayo for many years, and there is no doubt that their dedication and commitment made it obvious to many youngsters in Westport that hard work and application are key ingredients, regardless of their obvious talent.
Keegan of course went on to be named the best footballer in the country in 2016, and having won five All-Stars, he is, in most people’s opinion, the finest ever exponent of Gaelic football to wear the Green and Red.
It also helps that he is one of the most affable and friendly sports stars you could ever meet. His infectious love of the game and his superb athleticism has undoubtedly inspired a whole generation of Gaelic footballers in Westport, and that blend of experience and youthful exuberance was there for all to see on Sunday.
It was also very fitting that Martin Connolly as manager and Shane Conway as coach were the men to finally deliver the holy grail for Westport. Both men nurtured the talent of this squad of players all the way through their secondary-school days in their roles as teachers in Rice College, and their fingerprints were all over a meticulous game plan which over turned favourites Ballina in a really tense affair in the final.
The decision to start Killian Kilkelly was key to victory as he went on to claim the Man of the Match award. The introduction of Alan Kennedy late on also proved vital as he fired over two precious points down the stretch.
The atmosphere on the Fairgreen, right outside our own Mayo News office, on Sunday evening was truly electric as a hastily organised homecoming saw hundreds welcome the team on to a truck planted on the side of The Mall. All were in agreement that this could well be the start of something special for this group of players.
They managed to win the Moclair Cup without the services some of their best players in shapes of Eoghan McLaughlin, Colm Moran, Joe Grady and Conor McGraynor.
Those four lads are likely to be back fighting fit for the 2023 season, and there are numerous other young players chomping at the bit to play senior football for Westport.
There is also the small matter of a brand-new state-of-the-art facility being currently developed for Westport GAA on the Golf Course Road. Everything seems in place for many more years of success.
It was also fitting that great Gaels like Paddy Muldoon and Martin Keane were mentioned on numerous occasions on Sunday evening. They, like many others before them, dreamed of the day when the Moclair Cup would have a home on the shores of Clew Bay.
Westport now embark on their first ever Connacht senior championship campaign, starting with a game against likely hot favourites, Galway champions, Moycullen.
Of course, after winning the Intermediate Mayo title in 2016, Westport went all the way to Croke Park to capture the All-Ireland title. The club has enjoyed some great days in recent years, and surely there are many more to come.