BALLINA’S FINEST HOUR The All-Ireland club final win two years ago was the culmination of a lifetime’s work for many people. Pic: Sportsfile
Clubs face uncertain future
A FEW weeks ago we reflected on the recent Connacht club forum and remarked on the lack of attendance from some units in the county. There are days when you begin to seriously wonder if the club as we knew it will prosper into the future. The demands have increased and the number of people available to help meet those demands has fallen away.
Indeed the concept of volunteerism and the decrease in the numbers is not only a GAA problem; the Taoiseach spoke about the national situation in recent months and hoped we were not allowing our modern lifestyles rule out the service to our communities which was a bedrock in previous times.
The situation in the GAA mirrors our working lives; more outputs are demanded and very often they are accompanied by personnel cutbacks, reorganisations, and a trimming of the fat in the workforce. More pressure than ever before to produce the goods.
I do not know where it will all end but there are warning signs. I know of clubs who have yet to finalise their management teams, there are stories of officials having approached between twenty and fifty candidates in search of the right man. They usually have to settle for the available man and so the rise and rise of enthusiastic mediocrity must continue.
Of course there are clubs out there in better shape than ever before but when I mentioned in this column a few weeks ago that we have less than two handfuls of well-ordered and highly efficient clubs in the province not a single protest was raised in cyberspace. Perhaps we are even too busy to pen the few lines that one could count on a few years ago if the club was insulted in any way!
WE gathered in the clubhouse of Ballina Stephenites last weekend to focus on the great achievements of the local club. On the field they led from the off in terms of championships, winning national titles under the title of the Croke Cup in the early part of the 20th century. And in Mayo a tremendous record of championship wins was gathered together that lasts to this day. A prolific supplier of players and leaders to Mayo at all grades over the years often hid the fantastic energy of the 70s and 80s when the club grounds developed side by side with an outstanding Bord na nOg subsidiary.
Off the field of play they hosted two editions of Congress and the ‘Welcome Home Week’ that saw thousands flock to the north Mayo town. And when you look at the Mayo team of today the club can boast seven panellists with many of them key members of any starting fifteen. It is a rich history, crowned by the 2005 All-Ireland Club title a just reward after the heartache of the 1999 defeat to Crossmaglen.
The founder of the Stephenites was one James Wallace Melvin and the story goes that he left his house one morning proclaiming to anybody who cared to enquire of his task that he was going out to form a club that would beat the whole of Ireland. Formed in 1886, it took a while to get there but a short one hundred plus years later it was mission accomplished.
You would imagine this club is teeming with members and each and any committee you wish to name has the full house signs up. The reality is different and the club faces the same problems we mentioned at the top of the piece. They may have more infrastructure than most but remember it takes more people to keep it ticking over.
And there is a strong sense that despite all the success achieved the current team can, and must, gain another national title to underline the excellence of the players gathered at this time. Liam Higgins is the man charged with this latest challenge and his appointment represents all that is held dear in this great old club. He is a local teacher, a club official, a tireless leader with underage teams and now he occupies the corner office. This column wishes him a fair wind on this difficult and long journey.
TIME TO BE THANKFUL FOR MAYO VICTORIES
IN late February you can look at the NFL results and focus on the maths: how many points gained in terms of a win, draw or defeat and how many points was the winning margin? And if you are willing to park performance and leave aside the outcome of the various personnel and tactical experiments you can easily come to a most positive conclusion for the Mayo win over Limerick.
Two points collected and a six-point swing on the scoreboard has to make good reading; if a win against Fermanagh is accomplished this squad can talk in terms of the play-offs. Today Mayo lie in joint second place with Kerry and Tyrone and one can point to the lack of a natural scoring edge as the only reason we did not steal a march on our bedfellows.
The reality is the match last Sunday was of a very poor standard and the feeling among the players and management I met at the Stephenite function was one of frustration that the performance they are searching for, that might match the result, just did not surface.
That same management had made some big calls with their selection and next week this column will have a forensic look at the comings and goings in terms of the team and the squad, and what it might be they are trying to achieve. Remember that certain positions MUST be suitably filled if the side is to have any chance of going places. Where are they in terms of that search?
For now it is best if we settle for the two league points gained and be grateful that it helps to consolidate matters for the side. We must remember that this is a most cut-throat league and we have the example of our near-neighbours to highlight this fact. Galway faced a third loss on the trot when Armagh came to town but pulled out all the stops to earn the brace. Another win in round four will suddenly see them at the top end of the table.
The Mayo squad has trained well and the bodies are getting into the sort of condition needed for the summer ahead. The players are very positive about the new management and JOM is a most popular manager. New players are sticking their chest out and some are close to nailing championship positions already.
Happy days then? Too early to say really and that is possibly the best description of where it is Mayo find themselves as they head for the March madness and the business end of the league.