OUTSIDE EXPERTISE Mayo coach Ciaran McDonald has been taking some training sessions with Breaffy recently. Pic: Conor McKeown
WILL this be Breaffy’s year?
It’s the annual question that won’t go away; or at least it won’t until they finally win the Moclair Cup. That’s the reality for a club and a senior team that has been living in the shadow of their neighbours in Ballintubber and Castlebar for the last ten years.
That desire to win a county title is also, undoubtedly, the main reason that Peter Ford and Shane Conway have stayed on as joint managers with Breaffy for a fifth successive season.
They are two of the most ambitious, experienced and considered coaches in the county, and they obviously still feel that there is more to be squeezed out a squad that has found it impossible to break the glass ceiling so far.
Maybe this will be their year. A season when a condensed championship will be run off over seven weeks and a little momentum, a bit of luck, and a lot of consistency could carry a team to the promised land.
But you only need to look at their group — the senior championship’s ‘Group of Death’ — to see that it could all go pear-shaped in a matter of seven days: a first round home game against Westport next Sunday afternoon followed by a short trip into Castlebar six days later is as tough as it gets.
And there’s the small matter of a clash with Charlestown on neutral ground in round three.
They are three games in 21 days that will either make or break Breaffy’s year.
Mayo coach Ciaran McDonald has been in to take a half-a-dozen sessions with Aidan O’Shea and company in the last few weeks, and by all accounts the Breaffy players have left the training pitch with a spring in their step after being treated to some of McD’s magic.
The fact that Messrs Ford and Conway have invited McDonald in to freshen things up ahead of the championship suggests that the duo realise they need to do things a little differently in order to deliver the Holy Grail this season.
Last year’s quarter-final defeat to Ballina Stephenites hit everyone in the club hard, coming in the wake of County Final defeats in 2013, 2015 and 2018.
Not to mention their underwhelming campaigns in 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Getting out of their group has never been a problem for Breaffy, but they have found everyone from Knockmore to Claremorris to Castlebar Mitchels to Ballina Stephenites to Ballintubber too hot to handle in the knock-out stages.
For one reason or another, they just haven’t been able to get over the line in a series of make-or-break championship matches going back the years.
And you have to wonder if all that baggage isn’t starting to weigh heavily on them at this stage. Until they get their hands on the Moclair Cup the jury will be out.
Talent and ability certainly isn’t a problem; the likes of Rob Hennelly, James Minogue, Michael Hall, Matthew Ruane, Tommy O’Reilly and, of course, the O’Shea brothers would make any club team in the country better.
Breaffy also powered their to the 2017 Senior League title and have put enough good teams to the sword in league games and the group stages of the championship to leave none of us in any doubt about their capabilities. And yet, when the chips have been down in do-or-die championship matches, they have blinked.
A mistake here, a missed chance there, a lapse in concentration or a systems failure — Breaffy have had reason to lament them all since this group started knocking on the door.
Three years ago, during the course of a wide-ranging interview with The Mayo News, Peter Ford talked about what had attracted him to work with Breaffy in the first place.
“Breaffy haven’t won a senior title, and you’d love the challenge of that and of being involved in that,” he explained.
“And the challenge of bringing together the Breaffy players who have played for Mayo at different levels, and the other guys, to just see can you make a better unit, and get a bit of consistency.”
That remains the challenge heading into Championship 2020.