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Reality bites for clubs

Kevin McStay
Crossmolina’s Stephen Rochford during the AIB Connacht Club Championship semi-final
TIME TO FACE FACTS Crossmolina’s Stephen Rochford appears to hide behind the ball during the AIB Connacht Club Championship semi-final at Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon.

Reality bites for Mayo clubs

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

SOMETIMES we are just plain lazy and ignore the warning signs. Crossmolina of Mayo will play St. Brigid’s of Roscommon in a provincial club semi-final, so who will win? Handy enough one that for the pundits; it’s a Mayo v Ros’ game so, only one winner there I guess. Which ignores a small shift in the summer patterns. A new confidence is emerging in Roscommon (we will have to wait another year or two before it can be hailed as a swing) and the minor win is a tide that lifted all boats.
Added to that little mood change is the recent form of the 2001 All-Ireland club champions. A last minute goal beat Ballina at the semi-final stage and a last minute goal rescued their season in the drawn county final. Another struggle in the replay and now you had an ageing team, ‘fresh’ from three big games in four weeks facing a hungry and confident bunch from Roscommon. All this evidence was ignored and so the lazy verdict.
Truth is the game was gone by half-time, at which juncture the underdogs held a six point lead. The margin was not of course insurmountable but the problem for Cross’ was greater than that; they were playing poorly all over the field and so a comeback was only a remote possibility.
In fairness, the Mayo standard bearers tried hard to turn matters around – the Michael Moyles substitution was almost Lazarus-like – but even he could not stem the tide.

WITHOUT continuous planning and the blooding of enthusiastic younger players on an almost annual basis, your status as a major force in club football can be eroded very quickly indeed. One day the rooster, the next day a feather duster, and all that.
I was reminded of this harsh reality over the past few weeks when the fate of two clubs that dominated Roscommon football over the last twenty years was in the balance. Clann na nGael and Roscommon Gaels must have won close on 75% of the championships in that period but things are changing. The O’Rourke Cup is the Division 1 of our leagues here and a few weeks back Clann were relegated from it. Last Saturday it was the turn of Ros’ Gaels and after a drawn match (0-5 each!) in the relegation play-off we, the Gaels, scraped through in extra-time.
Two major clubs involved in demotion and the bad vibe it gives. I imagine both teams will rise again but nobody is sure when.
It is crystal clear to me that club football is entering a very difficult phase for all but the best organised units. The leagues are now a joke; that’s official but you will not read that anywhere. Mayo mirror this state almost perfectly so don’t think it applies only to the weaker counties.
No sir. Mayo are at the tail end of a club audit and I understand we will get a senior, intermediate and junior league proposal with championship status a separate issue. This audit will no doubt please some but very much annoy others who will see a successful 2006 campaign go unrewarded in terms of promotion.
It is fair to print that the 2006 leagues are ending in farce and the major clubs have a lot to answer for here. A few weeks ago Ballina could be found at the top end of the table, in good shape for a league title not won since the days of JFK. A short few weeks later their efforts had run aground. Out of the championship, they downed tools and made a mockery of the home straight. Not fair to the strugglers who will know the difference between playing these teams pre-championship and post championship.
A shock defeat to Belmullet was followed by more of the same versus both Shrule-Glencorrib and Charlestown as the Ballina line-out began to resemble something from a married v singles St Stephen Day affair. The tin hat on the campaign arrives with an away thumping at the hands of Kiltane and news that the loss to Cross’ in the championship semi-final doubled up as the league rubber.
The devil is always in the detail. Ballina fielded only five of their championship team in that match against Kiltane and as line-outs tell you all you need to know about a club’s interest, it is worth going a little deeper. Only one player (Colm Leonard) played in his listed championship position. Liam Higgins took charge of the nets, which was some achievement by him as he joined the teaching staff of my primary school when I was still a student there!
Midfield found Pat Ruane running around for Ireland after a great season with the Mayo Over 40s. Mickey Tighe played up front and is as close as makes no difference to any Over 40 team you want. The rest? Under 21s and such like who wanted a game.
When clubs announce themselves as predominantly championship ones it allows for a dangerous attitude and as Castlebar Mitchels can testify, it is not a simple process to easily redress.
Ballina are not the only club involved in this approach. In such a situation it is critical that we go back to the tried and tested. Championship standing must always be a function of your league placing. The opposite gives way to ambivalence. 
A new era in Mayo club football is about to dawn and many of the traditional powers are not in a position to assume command. The cynics among us held a straw poll on Sunday and came up with only a handful of really serious clubs in the province, never mind the county.
The qualifiers and expansion in importance of the inter-county scene has inexorably led to the demise of the club programme. It is at such a low ebb now that unless the recent changes at the Special Congress are implemented in full and further developed in 2007, the health of our clubs will begin to fall into the chronic category. It is time to take a stand and the league/championship marriage alluded to in this piece is an essential part of the decision-making process.

Weekly Teaser
LAST week we asked you what should happen when a player who charges his opponent in the back, has his number noted for committing an aggressive foul (he is shown the ‘black card’). In particular we want to know if he is entitled to know his number has been noted?
A straightforward answer for a change: YES, he is entitled to know.
This week we head off into the area of Rules of Fair Play and in particular Rule 1, which deals with the actual play. It is a multi-part question as follows:
Can the ball be lifted off the ground using your knees? Does the ball stay in play if it hits a boundary line flag? How many steps can you take in football before you must play the ball? Can a player hold up his hands to intercept a free kick? Can you use your head to play a ball away in the air or on the ground? Can a goalkeeper move along his line when a penalty is being taken?