PLAYER OF THE YEAR Ronan McGarrity received the Willie McNeely Memorial Trophy from John Mulligan (Mid West Radio) and Seamus Darby (Special Guest) at the Mayo News/O’Neills Club Stars Charity Banquet on Friday night. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
A night to remember in the TF
AS ever, it will have been controversial. Weeks of suspense gave way to alternating emotions of delight and disappointment, as one by one the Mayo News/O’Neills/AIB Club Stars team unfolded. No McDonald, no Mortimer, no Nallen, no Gardiner. None was nominated, yet their association with stardom is so ingrained in the psyche that you almost expected them to be greeted by Seamus Darby at the rostrum on Friday night.
Nearly 500 people joined the newly selected stars in a great night of celebration, and those who watched Ballina and Charlestown bring a late and unexpected dimension to the championship should not have been surprised that those clubs dominated the selection.
In the light of their victory in the league it now seems that Crossmolina’s championship decline was no worse than a temporary blip. But the awards are confined to championship performances, and while some of their old stars found a new lease of life subsequently, league achievements were not allowed to influence the selectors.
Some familiar faces still grace the new team. No one has been able – in the selectors’ view – to dislodge that most dependable of backs, John Brogan. The Knockmore man has the distinction of winning his third Club Star award, and the fact that he played much of his football at full-back could not preclude the selection of a defender of considerable substance. On the first occasion he was chosen at left half-back, and at corner back on this and last year’s 15.
To his clubmate, Trevor Howley, went the left wing back position, and few who have watched the full-blooded performances of this young man for his club and county will argue with his selection.
Four Ballina men hold other defensive positions, including the excellent David Clarke in goal. His clubmates, Kenny Golden, Martin Wynne and Colm Leonard are being honoured for the first time, and each contributed hugely to a defence weighed down with plaudits this season.
Dermot Higgins was one of many contenders for the right half-back berth, and won it for the driving power of his attacks down the right wing for Charlestown throughout the season.
David Brady has not figured on either of the two past Club Stars selections. And if he had not moved so successfully from midfield to full-forward in Ballina’s semi-final win over Ballaghaderreen, and in the final against Charlestown, he might have missed out this season too. It would have been difficult to omit one of Ballina’s great servants, but the selectors’ task was made easy by Brady’s success at full-forward. Thus he receives his first Club Star award, not at midfield, a position with which he has been associated throughout his career, but at full-forward, where he has reinvented himself.
No one reached the midfield standard set by Ronan McGarrity this past season ... or the degree of courage he set in overcoming the illness that threatened his football career early in the season. To have returned to full maturity on the football field so soon revealed remarkable qualities of mental strength. No argument, McGarrity was the outstanding player of the year in Mayo, and the admiration of the attendance was reflected in the warmth of the standing ovation that greeted the announcement.
He spoke glowingly and sincerely of those who helped him on the road to recovery, his family and his friends. His, truly, was the story of the year in Mayo football. Long may he continue to excite us with his adventure on the field.
‘Ginger’ Tiernan won his second Club Star award in a competitive position to which he contributed spiritedly. Without his midfield leadership Charlestown would not have qualified for the final. Colm McManamon of Burrishoole and James Kilcullen of Ballaghaderreen were the other contenders, but the garda sergeant’s endless sources of energy and ability to make himself available to colleagues in possession were key factors in Charlestown’s progress to the final.
David Brady had competition for the full-forward berth, mainly from Knockmore’s Damien Munnelly, who enjoyed one of his best years in the yellow shirt. But while the Ballina man was the dominant full-forward figure, Munnelly’s performances could not be overlooked, and he was rewarded with the right corner spot.
A rival, too, for Brady’s position was Charlestown’s Anthony Mulligan, whose impact on the championship was immense. His style and accuracy in the earlier rounds of the championship claimed the attention of the selectors and the quality of his scores was a notable feature of his play.
Nor could Alan Dillon’s endeavours for Ballintubber be ignored. The Mayo star wins his second Club Star, and was joined on the other wing by Richard Haran, a model of consistency all year for Charlestown, and in the right corner by Ballaghaderreen’s sole representative, Barry Regan.
The proceeds of this mammoth undertaking, so professionally organised by Sports Editor Mike Finnerty and his team, go to the Mayo Branch of Down’s Syndrome Ireland.