WE’RE WATCHING YOU Crossmolina’s James Nallen and Ciaran McDonald have some unfinished business to attend to for their club next year.
Pic: Keith Heneghan/Phocus
Deel Rovers ready to reign again
WHILE football success in the county these past few months has focused mostly on Ballina Stephenites, the lights have not gone out entirely on their old rivals in Crossmolina. Their winning of the Division 1 League Cup for the second year in succession was a clear rejection of the widely held view at the time of their exit from the championship that time had caught up with many of their old soldiers.
A few weeks later the smile on the face of Peadar Gardiner, as he accepted the league trophy from county chairman James Waldron, contained more than the joy of a club’s seventh league title in twelve years. In that smile also was the unmistakeable sign of a rebuke for those who had written Crossmolina off as a football force.
Their crushing defeat by Charlestown in the quarter-finals replay might have lent credence to the general opinion at the time that the reign of a side that had lit up the championship for several years had come to an end.
Nobody expected such a tame exit. Having squeezed a dramatic draw from their first encounter, the champions, were once more cast in the role of clear favourites to win the replay, and continue on to their eagerly awaited clash with Ballaghaderreen in the final.
That was the script. Like Ballaghaderreen, they were not unduly troubled early on, except by Burrishoole, in the last of their three games. They had accounted for Ballinrobe rather easily, and for Moy Davitts by five points. Burrishoole’s adventurous spirit surprised them, but Crossmolina might have excused their laboured four-point victory as stemming from complacency.
The champions were still on course towards a historic third successive title, and Charlestown did not appear the type of opposition to upset that belief in the quarter-final . . . even when they ended their battle on level terms. The talking point after Crossmolina lost the replay by nine points was not so much the rise of Charlestown as the fall of the champions.
Were we watching the end of an era? At last, it seemed, the appetite had deserted Ciaran McDonald and James Nallen. For once nothing inspirational had sprung from a duo that had shaped so many notable victories in the past. Nothing from the left boot of McDonald, less from the creative brain of Nallen.
Since no magic had emanated from either of the two in their county performances, and nothing was rediscovered against Charlestown, you would be forgiven for believing that the end was nigh for this pair of stars and that a chapter in the glorious history of Crossmolina football had been concluded.
But from nowhere, a short time later, they bounced back into the news. ‘Crossmolina far from finished’ screamed the headline in the Mayo News with a picture of Peadar Gardiner grabbing the league cup after beating Ballaghaderreen by ten points in the final of Div 1.
The hunger was back, Nallen once more delivering the quality ball, McDonald bagging half a dozen points, with the likes of Brian Benson, the danger man up front, scoring 1-5 and learning from the two masters.
That league final was the duel to which we had been looking forward in the county final. And if the result was a refutation of Crossmolina’s demise it posed a more sombre question about the future for Ballaghaderreen.
Beyond doubt, that defeat by Ballina in the semi-final was a strike at the heart of their belief. No team for years looked as well equipped to reach the summit, and in the end no team appeared so despondent. The league final offered them a chance to claw back some of their lost confidence, but no sign of renewal was apparent under the weight of that heavy defeat by Crossmolina.
Let’s hope Ballaghaderreen will return next year with the determination and collective skill that overwhelmed so many teams on their way to the semi-final this year. The shock of their defeat by Ballina conceals the fact that only a margin of two points separated them. It was not talent they lacked that day in MacHale Park, it was experience without which no team can hope to be successful.
They sacrificed a lot for the victory they expected. Disappointment must have been bitter. Clearly, they had not emerged from that setback in time for the league final, and it is to be hoped that their latest performance is not a portent of a less promising campaign in the coming season.
There is too much potential in that team to be overlooked. The loss of Pierce Hanley to Australian football should not deter them from returning with renewed determination and vigour.
The Kilcullens and the Morans, McGarry, Regan and Drake have motivating qualities. The team in general has youth on its side and plenty of time to rise about the dark clouds of September. They might find inspiration over the Christmas in studying Crossmolina’s long, painful climb to the summit.