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Clubs save the best for last

Kevin McStay
John O'Mahony
MAN OF THE MOMENT Ballaghaderreen trainer John O’Mahony is pictured during the Mayo SFC Final at McHale Park on Sunday. 

Clubs save the best for last


IT was the best county final for a long number of years. And the pity is we could not muster a decent crowd or provide an acceptable playing surface on which to play this final. The grass was surely two or three inches too long with the boot of a free-taker often disappearing in the run up to a kick. Hardly good enough for the club’s biggest day.
And what of the attendance? A mere 5,736 patrons filed in. Longford (every year) and Roscommon (every second year) can register bigger numbers. And we call ourselves a footballing mad county. Is it any wonder Sean Feeney is inundated with requests for tickets when the big games come along? He must read the begging letters and wonder where the so-called followers get their nerve. 
Okay – those are the cribs – what about the football? The standard on display was easily the best of this busy county final season that TG4 bring us each week. I expected Ballaghderreen to tear into their opponents but must admit their standard of football took me by surprise.
    Their goal was a case in point with a superb inlet pass from Michael Solan to Barry Regan. It was wing side and to his advantage but one of the game’s star performers had the vision to spot Andy Moran peeling away from his marker. A beautiful handpass opened the defence and Moran finished brilliantly. Game on.
The first Crossmolina goal was some job too. Stephen Rochford created it with a weighted hand pass that fell into the lap of Joe Keane. My man of the match (everything he touched turned to gold) tore towards goal and finished viciously. From game over, Keane changed the drama so that we might have a final act. We did.
Ciaran McDonald had little option but to generate a goal chance. Most of us would lob the ball into the air in the hope of a good contact by fist as it fell in and around the goal. He chooses otherwise and bends a shot come centre to the heart of the goalmouth. The good captain will always keep at it and what Peadar Gardiner thought he might find is anybody’s guess. A quick flick (intentional) and anything could then happen. It did and the ball flew to the onion sack. Game over for sure now.
   A three-point lead with seconds remaining is supposed to be a safe enough lead. Better than the two point one at any rate but the four pointer is the certainty; the insurance point and all that.
John O’Mahony will have flashbacks this week to a similar time of the year in 1983 when his Mayo under 21 team held a goal lead in an All Ireland final. Again, a late Derry free (last kick of the game if memory serves me well) flew to the back of the net and a replay was ordered. Mayo won that replay and Ballagh’ should win this replay too.
The underdogs led throughout and performed excellently in most positions; quicker to the ball and to the break, Crossmolina were not allowed to dominate.
It is true to conclude that while Ballagh’ has the better balanced team, Cross’ dominate the ‘Best Players’ category. Joe Keane, Ciaran McDonald, Peadar Gardiner, Stephen Rochford and James Nallen kept at it for the whole match. But the remainder needed to offer more and they did not step up.
The dismissal of Henry McLoughlin was coming; he had introduced himself with a few hefty challenges and is getting a reputation for this over-robust approach. His use of the boot looked very bad on the TV pictures and he needs to sit down and have a good talk with himself. As ever, the reduction in numbers signalled a final Crossmolina stand.
The border town will take a few days to recover but Barry Regan, Stephen Drake, Andy Moran, the two Kilcullens and Barry Kelly will feel they can match anything from the Crossmolina camp. They would be right.
We got loads of scores, lots of chances, some great goalkeeping and unlucky misses. We witnessed a free-taking contest between Regan and McD that was at times sensational. And the last piece of action was the icing on the cake. A draw then and the replay next week is a chance to improve the attendance such a match demands.
I imagine the TV bosses find it difficult to decide where they should send their cameras when the menu has a wide selection but whoever gets to make the call over in TG4, he/she should this week take a bow. This final will not be bettered this year.
We mentioned the height of the grass earlier but McHale Park, Castlebar is badly in need of a makeover; a quick glance around the ground confirms the body of work before the committee. This is a subject I will return to later this Winter, you will notice I mentioned it needed a makeover, not a demolition and the outline plans revealed a few weeks ago appear to indicate a completely new vision.
  Will we be left with our old friend the white elephant? The Mayo sales pitch had the qualifier games in mind as one source for big games and large crowds but I read yesterday that Leitrim County Board will be in the same market place by mid 2007 when their county ground’s upgrade is complete. Do people talk to each other any more?

THE International Rules in Galway on Saturday night was a success from the promotion/marketing department’s point of view. We got a full house and the use of floodlights certainly added a dimension. It is the way forward. Pity the game itself disappointed.
Some mailers thought I verged on hypocrisy with my TV comments; last year we all abhorred the violence Down Under (fair comment for sure) but this year bemoaned the lack of aggression/contact or call it what you like.
    I stand by that for the rules allow for such legitimate contact but both teams, warned no doubt to keep things country, searched for a balance they could never find. That was the real disappointment.
Ireland won this match but I will not be surprised if they result is overturned in the wide spaces of Croke Park. But can the Australians win by eight or more?
Finally, I want to report a bold dog. Not only did he encroach onto the field of play, he resisted arrest and when eventually he was sent off he interfered with an official. Biting the Connacht Council Secretary is not good for your health but will the disciplinary committee have the courage to met out the six-month suspension this mutt deserves.
I see this one going all the way to the DRA with lawyers from ISPCA getting involved. Was the dog baited? Reliable sources inform me chasing Connacht Council officials used terms such as ‘ya mongrel’ and ‘ya stray little bitch’. We are straying into racism territory here folks. Watch this space because this dog might bite again.

LAST week we asked you what should happen when this scenario unfolds: An attacker is blatantly fouled in the large rectangle and the referee immediately awards a penalty kick and yellow cards the offending player. As the attacker places the ball on the penalty spot his team-mate exacts revenge by thumping the original fouler in the face. The referee spots the offence. What does he do?
A penalty is essentially a ‘special free kick’ and the rule on retaliation is the same. The referee should red card the offending player, cancel the penalty and restart play with a throw-in ball. It is a tough sanction but one all of your team-mates should be aware of.
This week a more straightforward case. A team manager has moved onto the field of play and annoyed by the manner in which one of his players was tackled decides to strike the offending player. The referee issues a red card to the manager and asks him to leave the field of play. Did the ref get it right?