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South Mayo neighbours share the big stage


SHARING THE MOMENT Kilmaine captain David Hughes and Jarlath Mullin are pictured with young supporters Cillian Mearns and Liam Dowling after Saturday’s Connacht Junior club football championship final win. Pic: Michael Donnelly

Willie McHugh

CHANCES are an historic occasion like this will never present itself again. Jim Carney, the wonderful Tuam wordsmith and a commentator with a speech flow to rival the Niagara Falls, often describes sport as a glorious uncertainty. How right he is.
And so it was on Saturday last when the next-door South Mayo neighbouring clubs of Kilmaine and The Neale travelled to MacHale Park, Castlebar, and both in search of glory in a Connacht Junior and Intermediate double-header. For one cold but dry November evening, old rivalries were set aside as they pooled their resources in support of each other.
It wasn’t confined to the participating parishes either as other clubs in the region lent their shoulders to the wheel. From across the county boundary they also journeyed from Cloughbrack, Cornamona and Clonbur to add their shout to proceedings. And why wouldn’t they. Players on either team can claim a paternal lineage to denizens of Joyce Country.
Oughterard were The Neale’s opponents. Only an eight mile stretch of Lough Corrib water separates them. Some purveyors of Cong witticism pedalled the notion of playing the match on the neutral setting of Inchagoill.
It wouldn’t be the first time this iconic oasis in the lough was linked to a sporting event.  When the Guinness family owned Inchagoill, they appointed Tommy Nevin as caretaker. As Tommy lived alone on the island, his employers furnished him with a battery radio.
On the 23rd of October 1938, the day of the All-Ireland football final replay between Galway and Kerry, over one hundred people boated from Cong assembling at Tommy’s humble abode to listen to the match commentary.
When the game ended, the roars of delight echoing from the islet reverberated off famed Mount Gable, alerting all those on the mainland that Galway had won. Even back then communications found a way of sharing tidings.
In MacHale Park on Saturday evening last, Oughterard and The Neale served up a first-half classic of all that’s good in Gaelic football. The game-changer came in the third quarter.
After a Neale goal-bound shot ricocheted off the crossbar, play moved at pace to the other end of the field. The livewire Matthew Tierney then goaled for Oughterard and they kicked on from there. They were the better team.
As always, The Neale fought to the very end but this was a bridge too far.
But what a wonderful season those fine band of footballers have put down. Since the April evening Tommy Conroy kick-started their championship journey in Cong, until the October night Seánie Cosgrove nailed the winning point in the Mayo Intermediate Final, they have given their supporters another year to treasure. Those amazing young men are a credit to themselves, their families, and stand as great ambassadors for Cong, Cross and The Neale.
Kilmaine and St Michael’s (Sligo) contested the Connacht Junior Final.
Kilmaine won this by the proverbial cricket score. St Michael’s played most of the game without their full complement after being reduced to 14 men early in the fray. It mattered not a jot. They were never in with a realistic chance of victory and to suggest otherwise would only be affording them unnecessary lip service.
Even that great orator above in the Central Criminal Court, Brendan Grehan couldn’t make a case for their defence here. It was over long before the short whistle. Even if Kilmaine appeared in the second-half wearing dallamullógs, and one hand fettered behind their back, they’d still have won pulling up.
It’s just reward for all but two players, in particular, merit a mention.
Brian Maloney and Pat Kelly keep rolling back the years in the search for fame and glory for their native heath. And nobody will utter a dissenting quibble either if we afford David O’Loughlin of the Kilmaine management team a shout-out. In a lifetime's involvement, stretching from mascot to manager, this unassuming man has given every ounce of energy and commitment to Kilmaine and Mayo football.
He is walking proof that nice guys can win too.
The Kilmaine journey continues. On the first Sunday of 2020, as the chassis of the turkey is discarded and the air resonates with New Year salaams they will play the All-Ireland Junior club semi-final. Now there’s something special to tide them over the Christmas.
They are living in the good new times.  

Kilmaine’s lucky charm
AS the Kilmaine team warmed up at the Bacon Factory end of MacHale Park on Saturday evening, the footballing skills of a young boy caught the eye.
Hugh O’Loughlin is a son of Kilmaine manager David O’Loughlin.
This garsoon has long since established himself as an integral part of the Kilmaine set-up. He’s an ever-present at all training sessions and match day outings and is on first name terms with every member of the squad.
But rulings from Croke Park surrounding the All-Ireland club championship prevent Hugh and all other mascots from inclusion in the team photograph or any pre-match protocol.
Perhaps they envisage a danger of Hugh becoming visually impaired from the flashbulb glare off Michael Donnelly or David Farrell’s camera.  
While health and safety must be paramount, this nonsensical edict bears all the hallmarks of officialdom gone mad. Have the GAA no more pressing matters to concern themselves with? But fair play to Hugh O’Loughlin. He wasn’t going to be denied the chance last Saturday evening to make memories to last him a lifetime.


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