Ballagh’ look like contenders
BALLAGHADERREEN for the county senior title? I wonder. They have been makingsteady progress this year, but whether they are ready yet to reach out for the Moclair Cup may depend on how quickly they discover the art of completion, of achieving a result befitting their dominance.
They have the physical prerequisites for victory. They are also evenly balanced and lack nothing in the way of skill. Yet, they have only staggered to narrow victories in the last two games . . . to Ballinrobe the other week, and to Garrymore on Saturday evening on their home ground.
All round they are well equipped to take the title, but they have got to learn to kill off the game, to press home their advantage once they begin to open a gap on their opponents. There were moments on Saturday when you felt on more than one occasion that they were home and dry.
Yet each time Garrymore, whose championship aspirations pretty much died in previous defeats, crept back into the game with admirable fighting spirit. They reduced a six-point gap to a single point a minute before the end, and the home side struggled to come away with two points to spare.
It’s not that Ballaghaderreen lack forward power. In Andy Moran and Barry Regan and Derek Moran they have strikers as effective as are to be found anywhere. They were a bit unlucky with some of their efforts, the ball on two occasions in the first half rebounding off an upright.
But having eventually made the breakthrough, they appeared to take their foot off the pedal, allowing Garrymore back into the game. Their goal is a case in point. Andy Moran grabbed it in the 10th minute. It was a fine piece of skill in the making . . . from a ball well delivered to the left wing, from the clever pass of Michael Solan, from the coolness of Moran in the finishing touch.
It put them four points ahead and players like David Kilcullen Stephen Drake and Barry Kelly had begun to play with an aura of authority, moving the ball crisply and convincingly. Garrymore, on the other hand, were limping along in many parts of the field, no match it seemed for their indomitable opponents. But three minutes later they were back in the game with a goal, a splendid, individual effort by Enda Varley that shook the home side.
Ballaghaderreen got over that and had opened a gap of six points half way through the second half. It was a lead that accurately reflected the grip they held on the game. This was the Ballaghaderreen that many had tipped for the title, playing as genuine contenders should. Garrymore had been locked on their half-time score until 19 minutes into the second half.
It came from Varley and began a recovery that took them to within a point of the East Mayo side in the 59th minute. Just before the final whistle Barry Solan sealed it with a point. But Ballaghaderreen were relieved to hear the final whistle. They did waste a few good chances in the second half because of erratic shooting, but if the title is to cross the Mayo border this year the same effort to maintain a lead as was required to build it in the first place is essential.
Galway shot down by Westmeath
Galway’s decline since being defeated in the Allianz League final by Kerry is inexplicable. In the months up to the Connacht final they had been rated as one of the favourites to win the All-Ireland title.
They had begun to recapture their old fighting spirit, had performed against Mayo in the final of the FBD league and Allianz semi-final with the searing intensity of old. Their league defeat by Kerry may have dampened predictions somewhat but they were still everybody’s favourites to be in the final shake-up.
That promise was not evident in their opening match of the championship against Sligo. Nor did they impress in the semi-final against Roscommon. That, of course, is how they would have wanted it. No team likes to win the early championship rounds in a canter. To be unimpressive in victory is a manager’s delight. It is the motivation for greater effort in preparing for the next hurdle.
But this time their performances in the championship did reflect their true form. Only in the Connacht final did we witness the first real sign of Galway’s decline. Everyone who watched will have known that Mayo were by far the better side, better than the one point margin would tend to suggest.
Still, no one could have foreseen them losing to Westmeath. To have brought Jarlath Fallon out of retirement and to have Paul Clancy back from injury were all positive signs that Galway were planning not just for the visit of Westmeath but for the challenge of Dublin in the quarter-final.
Maybe more thought should have been given to Westmeath first. But the manner in which their form has slipped of late left you with the impression that too many of the old stars have too much mileage up. Time to bring on the new crop.
The injuries to Trevor Mortimer and to David Heaney amongst others in their club games at the weekend graphically illustrate the headaches which Mickey Moran has to face in preparing Mayo for the vital games of the championship. The absence of some players from his training sessions is perhaps what prompted the short spat between management and the county board last week when Mickey Moran and John Morrison left the training pitch prematurely and drove back home having learned of fixtures made about which, it was said, he was not made aware.
The dispute is the price of success. Your county team becomes so successful that club championship games are cluttered into whatever time is available between county fixtures. County players are expected to turn up for county training and for club training. There is a mighty tug on players. There is the fear on the part of county management that their plans will be disrupted by injuries to key players, and on the part of club managers that their stars will not be available for their championships.
The club is the basic and most important unit of the GAA. Without the club there can be no worthwhile county team. Clubs complain that their games are scattered too widely throughout the summer months, that it is difficult to have players attain the peak of fitness because they can’t plan proper training schedules.
The story is the same in all counties who have a good championship run. Star players are tied up throughout the spring and summer with county league and championship commitments. County and club training programmes have to be rearranged to suit everybody. In the end something suffers. Maybe thought should be given to starting the FBD league and perhaps the National League in November instead of the new year. That might free up more weekends for clubs games in the following months.
I’m not so sure Mickey Moran’s gripe was all about the clash of club fixtures with his training schedule, but hopefully the air has been cleared and his plans will not be disrupted by further controversy.
However you plan it, the risk of injury to key players cannot be eliminated. Trevor Mortimer was forced to retire from the Shrule/Glencorrib match with a hamstring injury just when he was beginning to recover full fitness. David Heaney withdrew from the Swinford team with a shoulder injury. How bad they are remains to be seen. Injuries of that nature are slow to heal. Hopefully they will not have been serious enough to preclude them from Mayo’s quarterfinal with Laois.
It was always going to be Laois. In defeating Offaly in the final play-off on Sunday Laois booked a date with Mayo on Sunday week at Croke Park for their quarter-final, and they will be pleased to have drawn the Connacht champions.
They were impressive in their dismissal of their old rivals on Sunday although the match, spoiled by the strong wind, was nothing to write home about. They did well, though, to shake off the the toughness and spoiling tactics which Offaly produced and will be confident of reaching the semi-final.
Their meeting with Mayo is an attractive pairing. Both are stylish and fast. Both revel in short passing and quick spurts. Both have high-fielding midfielders, and pacey forwards. Expectations will be high in Laois. They will be favourites, having produced excellent football in their more recent games. But Mayo are coming good.