TRAINING The Killala team go through their paces before Sunday's final
Pride of the parish
THE strength of the GAA is not in Croke Park nor is it in its inter-county stars. True, these are hugely important elements in the GAA but there is no disputing that what makes the GAA world go round is its ordinary rank and file.
From Malin to Mizen – and every conceivable nook and cranny in between – GAA blood courses through the veins of thousands upon thousands of people. Every now and then clubs will have players pop up that step to the next level, something that will fill the locality with pride. But if every club were depending on success of their players at county level or of their own club in the county championships to survive, most would be dead in the water long ago.
No, Gaels have a great propensity to dig in and fight when the times are tough. All that means when the good times come along, their value is multiplied against the background of the harder times.
Killala is just one of many a Mayo club who could easily have called it quits long ago. Prior to their county Junior win in 2000, you had to go back to 1948 for the last time Killala stood at the top table of Junior football in the county.
Plenty of chances to call it quits, but in good times and bad the club stayed together and stayed afloat. When you are that long waiting for the glory days, it’s not something you’re inclined to forget in a hurry.
“It was a long time coming, you’d be playing a long time and you’d think it might never happen,” recalls current Killala chairman and selector Dominick Herbert, himself a player in 2000. Eddie Walsh, the club’s PRO and another selector takes up the story with a real glint in his eye. “It was a thing we were never tipped for that year, it just happened. God, it was massive.”
It may have been a long way removed from Croke Park, and it was not a major story to many, but for Killala it was their finest hour, their moment of glory. Their deliverance.
FAST forward six years and Killala are still fighting the good fight. One and a half mile out the Crossmolina Road from the town, Declan O’Dea’s men are eagerly preparing for, aptly, the road to Crossmolina. Their clash with the Deel Rovers’ second string side in the County Junior final is fast approaching.
Thursday night finds them training intensely at Gerry Maheady Memorial Park, named in memory of a club player struck down in his prime in 1996. Once you walk inside the gates you instantly get a feel for the club.
Their parish is not the biggest in Mayo by any manner of means – “We’d fit into a corner of Crossmolina” says Herbert – but Killala are resourceful. You meet club Treasurer, Kevin Walsh, at the door to the changing rooms. He doubles as the club’s County Board delegate. He’s not the only one to be double-jobbing. Soon club Chairman and junior selector, Dominick Herbert, welcomes you inside. Aged 42, Herbert only retired from playing at the end of 2003. You get the impression he still wouldn’t be out of place at top of the right.
Another selector, Eddie Walsh, also doubles as club PRO. The third selector Michael Gill is en route. Dominick Herbert can’t recall a training session he has missed in two years. These are just some of the men that give an awful lot of their time to the club, county final or no county final.
“Once you’re in this job there’s no out. You’d nearly need to emigrate to get away,” chuckles Walsh. “Even though we’re a small club there’s a great comradeship with people in the town. We could organise things and know we’d get support for it. People mightn’t be able to give the time to take over as Chairman or whatever but they’re willing to do their bit all the same,” continued Walsh, who was integral in setting up the underage amalgamated side Round Towers, encompassing Killala, Lacken and Kilfian.
That club was set-up seven years ago, circumstances dictating that if underage was to continue in the area, the three clubs would have to row together. Dominick Herbert credits Eddie Walsh with making sure that very few players were lost to the game. Regular Friday night coaching clinics were held in Killala Community Centre where people like John Maughan, John O’Mahony and Eugene Lavin gave of their expertise.
AT adult level it’s not too different. Killala are like a lot of north Mayo teams in that much of their players are based away from home. On Thursday night only the home-based players are training while the Galway and Sligo-based players make it down for Tuesday nights and all players arrive on Friday nights.
Without players commuting these large distances the club would really struggle to survive. It’s not glamourous, but yet the likes of Noel Ryan and Rory Hannick to name just two continue to do it. “It’s a massive commitment for them. It would be easy for them to transfer to a club in Dublin,” admits Herbert.
Killala is located in the heartland of the north Mayo Junior heartland. Lacken, Kilfian, Moygownagh and Ardagh all surround it with Ballina, of course, the only exception. It can often be a jungle. Needless to say the North Mayo Junior Championship continues to be one of the most competitive competitions in the county. Even when the County Junior Championship was switched to a open draw system the North Mayo championship was maintained.
“It is by far the most competitive junior division in the county,” admits vice-chairman Kevin Maheady. “You take it that I’m involved with the club for 30 years and we’ve only won two north Mayo’s. There’s clubs here who have never won one. County junior’s especially, there’s very few clubs around here who have won a county junior,” continued Eddie Walsh.
Even though they haven’t enjoyed as many wins as they would like, Killala realise their fortune relative to other local clubs. Training continues outside with Declan O’Dea putting the players through their paces. Two rabbits at the top end of the field watch on.
“They’re there every night,” says Eddie Walsh. It takes one to know one.
Mayo JFC Final
Killala v Crossmolina B
Sunday, October 22 at 4pm
McHale Park, Castlebar
Referee: J Feeney; Standby Ref: D Harrington;
Linesman: J Reynolds
FOR the third year running a B team has qualified for the County Junior Final. Ballina B and Castlebar B went in as outsiders against Aghamore and Cill Chomain respectively but this time round Crossmolina B will very much go in as equals with Killala.
The Deel Rover’s second team come into the final on the back of a hugely impressive display against fancied Balla in the semi-final. They led by nine points at half-time and while they were nearly caught late on, their 1-14 to 2-9 victory was fully merited.
Killala did enough to see off Moygownagh in the other semi-final in what was always going to be a tough game to win. The Hannicks, Rory and Marcus, ended up with 2-7 of their total of 2-10 but Declan O’Dea knows his side will need an improved all round performance.
Like the senior finalists both these sides emerged from the same section of the group stage and to continue the likeness they drew in the group clash as well, Crossmolina scoring 0-13 to Killala’s 2-7.
Cross’ have reached this stage without losing too many players to the first team, the typical curse of B teams around the county. Ian Rowland, Johnny Leonard, Noel Convey and Padraig Syron are the main men in a prolific forward line while they look reasonably solid further back.
It’s just a question of which forward line has more ability to take advantage of their chances. Crossmolina just appear to have greater scoring options.