NEW KID ON THE BLOCK Crossmolina manager Liam Moffatt leads his team into championship battle for the first time on Saturday. Pic: Michael Donnelly
Club championship takes spotlight
SHARPENED by the intensity of their league commitments, all grades are now on the leash for their championship ventures beginning next weekend. Based on league performances favourites are already emerging. But, like the inter-county competition, you wonder is league form any real pointer to championship success.
Would you, for instance, take Breaffy, who have been topping Division 1A since the league began, to win the Moclair Cup for the first time in their history?
On the other hand would you not be surprised if Islandeady, having already beaten Garrymore and offered senior sides a genuine test in Div 1B, failed to add their name to the list of county junior winners at the end of the season?
Breaffy are inching their way into senior respectability. Already they have claimed six wins in the league, the most notable perhaps, their seven-points win over Knockmore and the equally comfortable outcome of their clash with title aspirants Ballaghaderreen at the weekend.
Their one defeat was at the hands of Crossmolina, but few teams emerge victorious from the expansive wings of Deel Rovers territory. Crossmolina at home are almost invulnerable. Yet old soldiers continue to be the heart of their performances. The Nallens, Ciaran McDonald, Stephen Rochford, Michael Moyles and Enda Lavelle are still their spur. But for how long, you wonder, following their defeat by Burrishoole on Sunday.
Ballinrobe, who have shown considerable improvement in the league, will take some encouragement next Sunday from Burrishoole’s win. Problem is, Ballinrobe have to travel.
Those who made a complacent league journey to Breaffy will be aware that on home ground they, too, cannot be dismissed lightly. They do not have that luxury on Sunday having to travel to Shrule/Glencorrib, but the defeat of the south Mayo side at the weekend will not have gone unnoticed.
They could not have asked for a more difficult opener. Managed by Stephen Joyce and backboned by the Mortimers, Mark Ronaldson and Kieran Conroy, Shrule have the advantage. The O’Shea and Canavan brothers, Marty McNicholas, Kevin Scahill and Colm Jordan will not concede easily, but the home venue may decide the issue.
Other title contenders are Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen, Knockmore, Shrule/Glencorrib, Ballina Stephenites and a resurgent Castlebar Mitchels.
Castlebar host the county champions and there may be a handful still around who harbour memories of a rivalry as old as the GAA itself.
Castlebar and Ballina renew age-old rivalry
THEIR meetings in the thirties and forties were fiercely contested with pitch invasions not an uncommon feature.
Objectivity may not have been the strongest point of the following report in the Connaught Telegraph of the county final of 1947 which took place in Foxford between Ballina and Castlebar, but it does paint a picture of the intensity of their rivalry.
“Tommy Byrne for instance, a star in the goal and in any position on the field, found it a more difficult task to save his life than to save goals when he was up against it towards the end of the match. In the first half of the game he smashed home a goal for Castlebar at a moment when it was needed, and when the Ballina boys were doing fine work in the scoring line. A person a thousand miles away can guess what happened. There was shouting, arguing and turmoil over this score for some time, and off went the whistle again and off went Castlebar without the goal.
“The referee’s job in a situation of this kind is a dreadful undertaking indeed and I would not like to shoulder his task. What with one crowd shouting that it was a goal and another shouting that it was not, and yet another crowd, who had no idea of what had happened, giving their judgment free and vociferously, how could any referee do anything but give in to the noisiest section.
“At least that’s what I would do in order to save my bacon though I do not know how Mr Collins arrives at his decisions, whether he takes his courage in his hands and defies all elements, or takes the easiest but perhaps the safest way out.
“Towards the end of the second half Tommy Byrne had another but a more serious experience. Some fifteen minutes before the end of the final he was called into the Castlebar goal a berth he should have filled from the start to try to save a penalty. He was called upon to perform a heavy task, that of saving a rasper of a shot from only eight yards out.
“There was dead silence as the Ballina player raced at the ball and drove it straight for the net. With amazing skill, Byrne captured the leather and cleared. There followed a tremendous cheer, but it was only ten minutes later, as I have remarked, that he found it infinitely more difficult to save his own life.
“He had punched the ball into the Ballina net as everybody thought and many still think. But the scramble started. This goal would have left Castlebar winners, but the sideline bats and the hurlers on the ditch could not let the chance go. Into the field they rushed, down towards the Ballina goalmouth. Byrne was in agony on the ground. Who cared? Just a few. The rest, including many with more experience of football and the GAA than of controlling a crowd, started a hullabaloo around the goal and around the goalie.
“Fortunately, there were no guards present, or they might also be found with Byrne, so boisterous had the crowd become. A few men with control of their senses were asking the crowd to stand back and give Byrne air. Beside this scene was another crowd interested, not in fresh air for Tommy Byrne who lay on the ground writhing, but in hot air . . .”
The upshot of it all was that this goal also, which many claim was scored properly and fairly was disallowed. The county cup should have gone to the winners (as declared by the referee and not by the next meeting of the County Board). But uptown there was a concluding episode and Ballina were not given the cup by the losers, Castlebar.
“Loud voices were raised and there was nearly beginning more fun for the spectators, but some cool heads were in evidence at that hour. It was stated to me that Castlebar did decide to hand over the cup finally but that no one could be found to make the presentation to the Ballina team at that time. To cut a good story short as possible, the cup itself disappeared, but later it turned up in Castlebar wondering who or what its fate was going to be.”
According to a report in the club’s history some supporters of the Mitchels were not without a capacity for black humour, and on their return to Castlebar they saw to it that Ballina got the cup. They prepared a large parcel, carefully wrapped, which they posted to the club.
“Was it not a proud mentor who opened the fragile-handle-with-care labelled box to reveal what they felt was a trophy worthy of Ballina¹s victory in the final that day . . . a beautifully fashioned EGGCUP.”
On Sunday Richie Byrne maintains a fine family tradition when he lines out in goal for Castlebar Mitchels. Bonds between the two old rivals are strong now, and the commotion that greeted Richie’s grandfather, Tommy Byrne, over sixty years ago is unlikely to recur.
But the desire to win is no less powerful. While Castlebar have fallen on hard times at senior level, Ballina have been riding the crest of the wave with four wins since the Mitchels’ last in 1993. The new spring in the Mitchels’ step ought, however, to make it a lively renewal of old adversaries and, perhaps, the game of the day.
Both dominated the first half of the last century long before confident rural clubs arrived on the scene to disrupt their dominance.