Strength in numbers
WHEN Ballina run out at McHale Park next Sunday, the sight of their big guns like the Bradys, Harte and McGarrity will turn heads.
People will remark on David Brady’s air of invincibility, Pat Harte’s imposing physique, and Ronan McGarrity’s unmistakably assured body language.
In a team of stars the county men shine brightly, David Clarke, John Healy and Ger Brady completing a sextet of marquee names with impressive reputations.
But there is more to the Stephenites than their inter-county representatives. That much became apparent last year when the All-Ireland club championship title was won; Tommy Lyons moulding together a team that fused substance with style, household names with men unrecognisable outside the borders of Ballina town.
One player that fits somewhere in between these two categories is Eanna Casey, Ballina’s versatile 25 year old utility player who is currently stationed at wing-back.
The former Mayo minor and U-21 stands at 6’2” in his stocking feet and tips the scales at 13.5 stone. Countless hours in the gym and on the training field have left him ready for the hard, championship questions. His performance against Shrule/Glencorrib in the quarter-final suggests he has done his homework well.
“Being in the last four is what we aspired to,” he told The Mayo News last week. “We set out at the start of the year to win every game we played. We have a strong squad and it’s where we wanted to be.
“It was tough not playing many games during the summer,” he adds. “We didn’t know from week to week what was happening with games and that’s difficult. But we’re very fortunate that we have a very good physical trainer in David Kilgallon and Brian McStay does the football work. It works well.”
Casey speaks eloquently and passionately about Ballina and football. His work in Sligo as a Quantity Surveyor with Mulcahy, McDonagh and Partners takes up the majority of his day, but training and matches with the Stephenites fills the remainder of his schedule. He is the epitome of the ambitious club footballer that can be found these days in the squads of both Ballina and Crossmolina.
“I take my football very seriously, it’s a big part of my life,” he agrees. “Personally, I like to train hard and I watch my diet, especially coming up to a big game. Whatever you can do to improve yourself as a footballer you have to do.
“Without exception we all get on well in the Ballina squad too, there’s no politics. A huge thing for this group was the All-Ireland win. Young lads have used that win as a huge inspiration and it drives everyone on to reach high standards.
“Having a big panel is very important too, and I suppose ourselves and Crossmolina are lucky in that respect. Everyone wants to be involved in success and it’s a 20 man game now. You need impact subs.”
ONCE upon a time that used to be Eanna Casey’s role but not these days. Tommy Lyons has decided to use his pace and power at wing-back recently and it’s worked well. Everyone seems fairly happy.
“I find that the smallest thing can tip your form,” says Casey. “Things went fairly well for me against Shrule, my first touch was good, I kept things simple, and didn’t try to do anything too clever.
“We got the win the last day but we have a lot of things to work on before we meet Crossmolina and we certainly won’t be taking anything for granted.
“These are the games as a club footballer that you want to play in. You want to go out and prove yourself in these big matches. This is what you think about when you’re running around in the muck and lifting steel in the gym.”
The work that this Ballina squad have done in the gym down through the years can be gauged from even a cursory glance at recent team pictures.
Their team is peppered with imposing figures, strong defenders, athletic midfielders, and forwards that can handle themselves.
“It must be something in the water in Ballina,” chuckles Eanna Casey. “Yeah we all get on well and if one of us is doing weights then everyone does. DB and Brian Ruane would be two lads who are big into the gym and that rubs off on other guys. I suppose if nothing else we won’t be bullied in matches.”
Casey grew up on the Sligo Road in Ballina, the son of a famous footballing father. His neighbours these days include the Brady brothers, Paul McGarry, Brian Ruane and Ronan McGarrity.
He is surrounded by the Stephenites. And he loves it. The club permeates almost every aspect of his life and they have been good to him. He intends to repay them with effort, endeavour and sacrifice.
“We’re treated like professionals really, nobody wants for anything. There’s a physio, a doctor, specialists if you get injured, Gerry Kenny, our sponsor, gives us great backing, and from my own experience I’m very grateful.
“The reality is that if you’re not treated well, you don’t respond well. And we’re treated excellently. The Stephenites come first for people in Ballina.”