WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE Crossmolina and Ballina players get in a tangle during the second half of last Sunday’s Mayo SFC semi-final.
Familiarity bred contempt
WE came to see the clash of the giants of Mayo football. What we got was an unseemly squabble between neighbouring clubs, an ugly display of enmity that ruined a promised classic.
It was billed as the match of the day, a fearless contest of the masters, Ballina and Crossmolina, two clubs who have achieved the highest honours that club football can confer.
What had begun, however, with the fervour and excitement we had anticipated degenerated into chaos in the second half as these overtly bitter enemies launched into one another with undisciplined and unrestrained zeal.
For their efforts, three players were given marching orders. Tom Nallen of Crossmolina together with Ballina’s Enda Devenney and Ronan McGarrity suffered the wrath of referee Michael Daly for their outbursts of bad temper, but others deserved a similar fate and, as in most cases of melees, the real culprits escaped punishment.
It’s not easy for referees when faced with situations in which the one-in-all-in approach to brawls often conceals the real perpetrator, but it seems to this writer that if Michael Daly had dealt severely with the little rows that flared up earlier the more serious squabbles might have been avoided.
It was a pity it all ended so sourly, for this had all the makings of a match to be remembered for different reasons. The two were fiercely determined to win, motivated to a level of intensity that made every challenge bone-crushingly tough. Nor was the tackling eased by the slippery conditions following heavy rain before the game.
Yet, for all the sliding and tight marking the level of skill and creativity was not spoiled. From the start Crossmolina set the pace with Ciaran McDonald the principal playmaker. He was the marked man. Ballina sent Kenny Golden to tag him, but McDonald slipped most of the tackles and shipped others with the forbearance of one no stranger to close attention.
They were playing against the wind with passion and style. Joe Keane at full-forward, Brian Benson and Mark Leonard also in attack, and Damien Syron, Tom Nallen and Peadar Gardiner in a tight defensive machine were the bonding elements of the team.
But a two-point lead at the interval did not reflect the grip they had on the half, and although they faced the wind after the break it was clear Ballina were still very much in the game.
Were it not for the intermittent eruptions of animosity the second half stood to be a humdinger. Ballina had improved sufficiently to steal into the lead at the end of the first quarter. By that time Tom Nallen had been red-carded and Ballina had taken a firm grip on the game.
Eanna Casey, Brian Ruane, Kenny Golden, together with the rediscovery of their earlier form of Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte had begun to play with the conviction of old. Their dominance was such that Ciaran McDonald’s influence had dwindled.
Yet, when the ball did come their way there was menace in the raids of the Deelsiders. No sooner had Ger Brady, one of Ballina’s better forwards, slung his side into the lead than Brian Benson had the ball in the net for Crossmolina. But it was disallowed, the referee having whistled for a foul on a Crossmolina player. They got a point instead from McDonald’s free.
It was tit for tat. Tempers boiled over, players were felled unceremoniously. You could not see what was delivered in the rucks, but you knew no civilities were being exchanged. There was drama in the play too. McDonald had restored the lead for Crossmolina, but Liam Brady’s marksmanship was equal to that of the master, and he drove Ballina back into the lead as normal time ticked over.
They were, however, denied in dramatic fashion by Peadar Gardiner’s goal, a punched effort from a ball timed perfectly to meet his fist in the second minute of injury time. Gardiner got the man of the match award and he deserved it. He was the outstanding figure on the field in the second half, his bursts out of defence and searing runs causing considerable damage.
James Nallen had played steadily all through at midfield, and demonstrated his capacity for calmness in the face of strong pressure when he moved to full-back following the dismissal of his brother.
Ballagh’ make break through and Board plan development
THE champions deserved their victory, and will be favourites to retain their title when they meet Ballaghaderreen in the final.
The victory of the East Mayo side was comprehensive although they had to battle to finally snuff out the challenge from Knockmore.
In a way, the events of the semi-final that followed overshadowed Ballagh’s success, their first time to contest a county senior final since 1985. They are welcome back to the top of Mayo football and the manner in which they overcame Knockmore suggests that Crossmolina will not have it as easy in the final as many expect.
They had their homework done for their meeting with the North Mayo side, and their most effective weapon was the subduing of county ace Aidan Kilcoyne. To that task they delegated Stephen Drake and the measure of his success can be drawn from the fact that Drake won the man of the match award.
The Ballaghaderreen man did not have to resort to any untoward tactics to achieve his aim. He simply shadowed Kilcoyne’s every move, closed him down, and as a result Knockmore had lost one of their chief schemers.
Vying with Drake for man-of-the-match was Knockmore’s Trevor Howley who had a towering game at centre half-back. He was spectacularly successful and it was no fault of his that his colleagues were unable to find the key to counter Ballaghaderreen’s greater balance.
The East Mayo side were stronger in most of the central positions, perhaps in all but the centre half-forward spot where Trevor Howley operated. In most other positions they had the edge. Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen were on top at midfield throughout the first half. Kilcullen’s high fielding of the wet ball was notable and the manner in which he was willing to help out in defence so effectively ought to be pencilled into Mickey Moran’s notebook.
For a while in the second half Kilcullen and Kelly were forced to concede ground to the two Sweeneys, Stephen and Declan, but reclaimed centrefield control later in the half as the Knockmore challenged began to fade.
County star Andy Moran had a quiet game by his own standards, but he did get the decisive score, the only goal of the game in the 22nd minute. Derek Moran and Barry Regan had a hand in that goal which really opened the way for their eventual victory. Regan scored five points, four from play.
Joe McCann, Declan McGarry, David Kilcullen, Thomas Regan and Gary Conway buttressed the Ballaghaderreen defence, and goalkeeper Ollie Flanagan came to their rescue on two occasions when Damien Munnelly wriggled through the defence in the second half.
Had either of those two chances brought a goal Knockmore might have found the inspiration to resurrect a serious challenge. They did expose a couple of flaws in the Ballaghaderreen defence, but not enough to cause any embarrassment.
John Brogan was another to shine in the Knockmore defence and Jason Coy and Dermot and Andrew Keane did well, but up front they lacked the penetration to cause any real trouble.
NEWS that Mayo GAA Board have embarked on an ambitious programme of development for MacHale Park will have been widely greeted throughout the county.
Plans have already been drawn up for the refurbishment, which will include the provision of several new facilities, and for an increase in the capacity of the stadium to 40,000.
The work will include the erection of a new, covered stand capable of holding almost ten thousand people. There will be new changing rooms, toilets, first aid facilities and provision for a store and shop.
A new entrance, press box and toilet facilities are to be provided as well as corporate rooms and columns for floodlights.
The cost of the development will be in the region of € 7 million, most of which will be obtained from from Croke Park and Connacht Council grants and Lotto funding.
Work is expected to begin on the project next year and when completed in two years McHale Park will again become the leading grounds in Connacht attracting fixtures well beyond the borders of the province.
Castlebar is the most central venue in Connacht for GAA followers, and while impressive developments have been undertaken at Hyde Park in Roscommon and Galway’s Pearse Stadium neither is convenient to all followers of Gaelic games in the province.
The Mayo County Board took possession of McHale Park last year from Castlebar Mitchels. The club purchased the main pitch in the 1930s, and it was officially opened on May 24, 1931 with Mayo and Kildare meeting in a football challenge to mark the occasion. It was revamped in the 1950s, and the present stand was erected around ten years ago.
The firm of David O’Malley & Associates, Engineers & Architects, Castlebar, has drawn up plans for the work.