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2001: Crossmolina’s great odyssey

Sport

ONE OF THE GREAT DAYS The Crossmolina squad and management team celebrate with the Andy Merrigan Cup after winning the 2001 All-Ireland senior club football title at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Reflections

Mike Finnerty

YESTERDAY (Easter Monday) marked 19 years to the day that Crossmolina became the first Mayo GAA club to win the All-Ireland senior club football championship.
We remember it well, watching Ciaran McDonald deliver one of those classic performances that we all love to reminsce about since he hung up his white boots a few years ago.
But there was so much more to that Crossmolina team that beat Nemo Rangers (0-16 to 1-12) at Croke Park than McDonald.
Yes, of course, he was a gifted and game-changing centre-forward. But all around him he had a blend of characters, athletes, enforcers, ball-players, stoppers and finishers. Men of style and men of substance, all moulded together by their quietly-spoken manager Tommy Jordan, selectors Michael Moore and Padraic Syron, and innovative team trainer Jarlath Cunningham.
A quick glance at the Crossmolina team-list from that 2001 final gives you an immediate insight into what made them so hard to beat in Mayo and Connacht around that time, and why they contested two All-Ireland club finals in three seasons.
Most of them had represented Mayo at one stage or another, some of them — like the Nallen brothers and Michael Moyles — would go on to win National League medals with the county team a few weeks later; while others like Stephen Rochford and Liam Moffatt have become respected coaches/managers and administrators in more recent times.
Throw in warriors like Enda Lavelle, Johnny Leonard, Damien Mulligan, Colm Reilly and Paddy McAndrew; talented and quick-thinking operators like Barry Heffernan, Paul McGuinness and Joe Keane; not to mention Peadar Gardiner, who went on to enjoy a stellar inter-county career, and you begin to realise the quantity of quality in the Deel Rovers’ dressing-room. Francis Costello, who missed the final through injury, played his part too.
And that’s before you tap into the reserves where men like Gabriel Walsh, Thomas Loftus, Paddy Whittaker and Gerry O’Malley were ready and waiting for the word.
Speaking of words, yours truly had the pleasure of visiting the Crossmolina dressing-room under the Cusack Stand that famous day all those years ago to gather some reaction for The Mayo News. We’ll never forget the sight of Ciaran McDonald walking down the tunnel towards us, customised boots in one hand and the man of the match award in the other.
‘F**k the hoodoo!’ he roared as he punched the air with the trophy.
“It’s a brilliant feeling,” he smiled, stopping to talk to journalists after a match for the first — and only — time that this writer can ever remember. McD tended to do his talking on the pitch!
“Never in your wildest dreams could you believe that you could do it. I’m delighted.”
Peadar Gardiner was 21 years of age when he got his hands on the Andy Merrigan Cup.
“This means everything to Crossmolina,” he told us shortly afterwards. “We’re a small parish and we always knew we had an opportunity to do this, but it’s a long road. This is great, not only for us but for Mayo too.”
And then there was Stephen Rochford; little did he know at the time but over the years he would come back to Croke Park as a player, manager and coach with Cross’, Corofin, Mayo and Donegal teams. Earlier this week he reflected on Crossmolina’s great 2001 odyssey,
“We were greeted at Ballaghaderreen and Charlestown, Swinford and Foxford, all the towns and villages, all the way into Ballina and I have just this memory of what should be a 20-minute journey up the road to Crossmolina that probably took about an hour and 20 minutes or longer.
“I just remember from Knockadine Bridge, which is probably about two miles from the town centre, a mile and a half probably from the pitch, just small little bonfires all the way, both sides of the road. A pipe band bringing us in.
“The place was chaos and it’s one of the things that certainly you really appreciate.
“Great memories, absolutely brilliant memories.”
We couldn’t agree more.

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