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Winds of change blow in Belmullet

Sport

TAKING THE FLOOR New Mayo GAA Treasurer Valerie Murphy from Charlestown is pictured speaking  at Sunday’s Mayo GAA Convention in The Broadhaven Bay Hotel, Belmullet. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Sketch

Mike Finnerty

HE walked into the Broadhaven Bay Hotel in Belmullet on Sunday around 11.30am as one of the two men hoping to get the chance to change things. He left it later that evening as the first Crossmolina man since Dr Mickey Loftus to be chairman of the Mayo County Board.
During the course of Liam Moffatt’s impressive acceptance speech, the 43 year-old father of two told his audience, “The work begins now for all of us.”
He wasn’t hanging around either; a few minutes later the former club and county full-back took the microphone and announced that he was calling a brief meeting of the Executive officers at 4pm.
The new chairman was starting as he meant to continue.
A bit like Team Mayo News earlier in the day.
We were up and on the road early. But we’d forgotten exactly just how long and winding that road from Castlebar to Belmullet is, especially when there’s a cavalcade of cars heading to Convention and the threat of black ice lurks around every corner.
Heavy snow coated the fields around the musical bridge in Bellacorrick and you couldn’t but be impressed by the sheer rugged and isolated beauty of Erris on this December Sunday.
Down at the Broadhaven, familiar faces were spilling out of cars while club delegates and County Board officials mingled in the lobby and drank tea and coffee to warm the bones.
A veteran of days like this, Paddy Muldoon, was in high spirits.
He even got into the Christmas spirit and had a few nice things to say about the media.
Some of the candidates running for election looked nervous while others seemed to be taking it all in their stride. “This is worse than All-Ireland Final day” admitted one seasoned GAA politician with a dog in the fight. “The butterflies are at me” smiled another man’s supporter.
We were shown to the media table on the right wing of the impressive function room by North Board secretary John Walker. A week earlier John was named ‘Referee of the Year’ in the same hotel. And he works there.
That line about ‘ask a busy man if you want something done’ sprung to mind.
Kevin Prendergast’s ‘Back To County Mayo’ was playing through the speakers in the meeting room. ‘That’s a good, solid choice of music’ whispered one wag.
‘Don’t mention the war!’ we thought.
The show was scheduled to start at 12pm so we got ourselves organised quickly.
As it happened, it was 12.27pm when Mike Connelly finally threw the ball in.
The tension was palpable for the first few hours as the clock ticked down to the election of officers. But before then we had the usual orders of business as well as final farewells from the outgoing chairman and treasurer who, between them, have given many decades of service to Mayo GAA.
Connelly’s last address lasted just over 26 minutes while Kevin O’Toole spoke for just over a quarter of an hour. They both signed off with their voices breaking and lumps in their throats.
It was obviously a day of mixed emotions for both, but you could sense their relief.
“I can feel the weight lifting off me already” was the chairman’s opening line while the treasurer began, “This used to be an enjoyable job. . .”
Enough said.
When it was all over we made our way into another room where there was one more job to be done.
All 169 of the officials had spent just over two and a half hours on their best behaviour in Convention ‘mode’ but now, with the votes cast and the dust settling, they were ready to relax.
But first there were two more questions to be answered; and while it wasn’t the biggest decision the club reps, County Board crew or even us journalists had made all day, it still required careful consideration.
‘Beef or salmon?’ ‘Apple pie or cheesecake?’
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Midway through the meal, Mike Connelly came out of retirement briefly to announce that he had a result from the vote for the two Connacht GAA Council delegate positions.
Johnny O’Malley from Ardnaree and Vinny Neary from Bonniconlon would have enjoyed their desserts after hearing the good news, but for Johnny Hopkins and Ger McHugh it was bitter disappointment. Their dreams of serving Mayo GAA for five more years dashed.
It had been a similar story for Seamus Tuohy and Michael Gallagher earlier in the day.
You’d want to have a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy for any of the candidates who put their names forward and came out on the wrong side of the results.
They had arrived hoping that Sunday would be their day. Instead they and their family members, who had travelled to support them, left with heavy hearts.  
But it was a very different story for Liam Moffatt and Valerie Murphy, the County Board’s new treasurer, who have got their chance to play leading roles in Mayo GAA’s 2020 vision.
The honeymoon for them and the rest of the executive will be an extremely short one given all that’s gone on recently, but you could feel the winds of change blowing around Belmullet on Sunday. As the new chairman said, ‘the hard work starts now’.

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