ON THE BURST Achill’s Michael McNamara goes past Ciaran McGinley of Naomh Mhuire (Donegal) in the Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta tournament in Donegal on Saturday. ?Pic: John McConnell/jmac.ie
Crafty Cross’ will overcome
ALL the big guns are being wheeled into action again at the weekend as the championship intensifies. And for the cognoscenti there’s a bagful of attractions. Knockmore is one of the more tempting venues where the locals take on their old antagonists, Crossmolina.
There’s nothing like a good neighbourly scrap to stir the soul. Knockmore and Crossmolina have provided us with some rousing contests down the years. And while the balance of success has tilted heavily towards the Deel Rovers in recent years, there was a time when their opponents were untouchable.
Long before Crossmolina’s brave new world emerged in 1995, Knockmore had cultivated their own fertile patch and embellished it with six senior titles. Eleven years have passed, however, since they last raised the Moclair Cup. In the intervening period Crossmolina have recorded five victories. Is it any wonder the Knockmore supporters are becoming impatient?
Nothing they have done in the league suggests this is to be their year either. They have lost key man Trevor Howley. And even though the championship has a way of contradicting league form and upsetting the odds, a heavy defeat by hugely improved Breaffy is not a good augury. Yet, they are on home soil this weekend, and the game follows a convincing victory over Louisburgh. They will have Aidan Kilcoyne back, and they have inspirational players in John Brogan, Kevin McLoughlin, Damien Munnelly and James Noone.
Because it is an old rivalry they’ll not fear Crossmolina. They will have decked that Cross’ travel badly, that they are still relying on their old soldiers – the Nallens, Paul McGuinness, Joe Keane, Stephen Rochford and of course Ciaran McDonald – to rescue their bid for an eighth senior title.
They’ll convince themselves that the time is ripe for youthful enthusiasm to triumph. But waning though they are, the maturity of Crossmolina is likely to overcome. It could be the match of the day.If there is one venue in which high-flying Castlebar Mitchels could be dragged down to earth, it is Claremorris. They make the journey to the South Mayo capital fully aware that despite their victory over the holders, Ballina Stephenites, they are not yet case-hardened. They are contenders for the county title, but not favourites.
In their league clash at the same venue, Castlebar had seven points to spare. The margin, not the victory, did flatter them somewhat. They benefited from a fortuitous goal in the first half, and from the failure by Claremorris to score from a penalty.
Like Castlebar, Claremorris have been making real progress this year – enthused by the competitive Feeley brothers, Mickey Mullins, Brian Gallagher, Ger Brady, Seán Prendergast and Tomás Griffin – and their victory over Burrishoole will spur them at the weekend.It is a game fraught with danger for the visitors. But nobody who has seen them can deny that Peter Ford and his selectors has begun to weld their splintered talents into a cohesive force that is arousing respect. Rory O’Grady, Tom Cunniffe, Alan Nolan, Shane Fitzmaurice, Niall Lydon, Neil Douglas, Barry Moran and Eamon Tiernan are enjoying their football and playing with conviction. They should win, but it will be a heck of a struggle.Their draw on home soil against Breaffy has clouded somewhat the championship promise of Shrule/Glencorrib. They had been blazing a trail in the league and we thought it had them well prepared for the visit of Breaffy.But the rising tide of Castlebar football has also lifted the boat of their fellow parishioners. And, as they proved in Shrule, Breaffy are now among the dark horses of the championship.
The South Mayo side will be disappointed to have drawn and they make the journey to Ballaghaderreen with some trepidation. It’s a big game for both teams. And it has the makings of a thriller worth travelling some distance to observe.Less compelling and less convincing than at this stage last season, Ballaghaderreen will surely be the better for that.
But if they are to restore the lustre that faded after last year’s semi-final defeat, then the Kilcullen brothers, Andy Moran, Stephen Drake and company have got to do it this weekend.
The task facing Shrule is enormous. Yet if any team can rise to the occasion it is the border club. Powered by the Mortimers, the Ronaldsons, Dermot Geraghty, Kieran Conroy, Brian Murphy and Kieran Walsh, they will shirk no obstacle in their search for a way back on track. It’s a toss of a coin between them.
But I, for one, would not bet against the men from the south.In other ties, I fancy Ballintubber, Charlestown, Ballinrobe, Breaffy and Ballina Stephenites.
TIERNAN TOPS AT MIDFIELD
IT is settled now. There can be no reservations, no regrets. But if John O’Mahony could have foreseen some other midfield performances before closing his championship panel, he might have been thrust onto the horns of a real dilemma.
The manager did say recently that the panel was open-ended, that there would always be room there for the emergence of new quality players who had something to offer his county team.
David Tiernan did not wait for the opening round of the local championship to produce an incomparable performance even when measured against the twin talents of the most likely pairing of Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons for Mayo’s date with Sligo in three weeks time. The Charlestown man has been consistently impressive for his club throughout the league, propelled by an inexhaustible fund of energy that belies his years. Tom Parsons was himself sharp and intelligent against Ballintubber but, although a dozen years younger, he paled in comparison to the industry and leadership shown by his more mature midfield colleague.
His short fuse has landed Tiernan in trouble with referees on occasions. It is widely believed that Charlestown lost last year’s county final only because the mentors were forced to withdraw their star midfielder to avoid his being red-carded during a volatile period in the second half. A desire to clean the slate may be the driving force of his performances this season. But if John O’Mahony had seen him in time, age might not have deterred him from adding ‘Ginger’ to his panel.
That won’t happen now even though Ronan McGarrity has yet to rediscover the form that in the past has subdued some of the best in the country. In terms of work, the Ballina man was overshadowed somewhat by his own colleague Pat Harte in their defeat by Castlebar Mitchels. Harte gave his best performance of the season when moved to midfield in the second half, and raised a question mark about his suitability as a half-forward in which he has been less than inspiring for Mayo and for Ballina.
These developments are not, however, a rationale for disrupting the existing selection so close to Mayo’s opening game of the championship. Management will not dabble with change just now.
Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons, barring injury, will be their undivided option for the Sligo confrontation. Few will argue with their choice and Mayo should enjoy midfield advantage.
With Seamus O’Shea on the wings in case of an emergency, and Barry Moran also available, Mayo are well equipped in that sector. In such company ‘Ginger’ will not get a look in. But he has not been emulated so far this season.
THE column takes this opportunity to congratulate Seán Feeney on his appointment as full-time county secretary. As part-time secretary, and in other capacities, the Ballintubber man has given unstinting service down the years, and his appointment marks a new phase in a distinguished career at the helm of GAA affairs in this county.