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Our review of Mayo’s beautiful game

Sport

ALL HANDS Ballina Town’s Chris Maughan and Ballyheane’s Liam Irwin compete for the ball during a Mayo Super League match last season. Pic: John Corless

Last year threw up plenty of talking points for Mayo soccer fans

Feature
John Corless

UNDOUBTEDLY 2021 was Ballyheane’s year. They won the Super League without losing a match or even going behind. They won eleven of their thirteen league matches. They scored more and conceded less than any other team in the league.
Once they got their noses in front in a match, they knew how to manage the game. They always kept their shape and their cool.
Ballyheane won a league that contained two other superb teams.
The previous season, Westport United were on course to do what Ballyheane did a year later, when the season was voided by the Mayo League amid the Covid chaos. United were unbeaten and within touching distance of the silverware. 2020 was harsh on them.
Westport are currently rebuilding what will be another great side.
Ballina Town were champions in 2018. Their manager. Mark Beattie, told The Mayo News last week they he felt they had lost the 2021 league in the first two games, after which they had one point and Ballyheane had six.
In recent years, while Westport and Ballina were winning leagues (or at least finishing in the top three), Ballyheane were often struggling to stay in the division. They spent three seasons (2016-2018) narrowly avoiding relegation, once relying on goal difference.  
In 2019 they finished seventh. Their rise to the summit began in the voided 2020 season when they went unbeaten in the last five games – form they carried forward to 2021.

Google that there, lads
THE best entertainment of the season came in October at Pat Quigley Park, Ballyheane when the hosts defeated Ballina Town in the FAI Junior Cup on a 4-1 scoreline. This was a proper cup tie with goals, efforts disallowed, eight yellow cards and a single red.  
The lasting moment of the season for me came in that game when Ballina’s Benny Lavelle ‘double feigned’ on the run-up to a penalty, which resulted in referee, Damien McGrath, awarding a free kick the opposite way.
This little-known rule caused confusion for Ballina Town – especially their bench – which consulted Google for clarity. As the search engine was populating its findings, Nathan Reilly-Doyle was at the opposite end, popping in Ballyheane’s fourth goal to send the hosts through to the next round.
McGrath was correct in his decision, of course, but the few minutes of chaos were compelling, given what had come before and what followed. The last thing you expect from a penalty is a goal to the opposition!

Claremorris on the up
2021 was a great year for Claremorris; manager Paul Burke leading them to third, their highest position ever. They were aided in this achievement by the collapse of Castlebar Celtic and indifferent seasons for Manulla, especially, and also Ballyglass.
Claremorris are great going forward. They have young, fast and skilful players and Danny Broderick – who is fast and skilful, while not as young. They are exciting to watch.
But they have two major problems preventing them from going any further.   
Concannon Park is too small for their style of play. It is barely minimum regulation size. The opposition are never more than two kicks of the ball from the Claremorris goal. As well as being short, it is narrow, which doesn’t adequately facilitate the speed and passing ability of the present squad. I hope they can negotiate with the community owners of the adjoining lands to extend the pitch because it’s a brilliant location (the best in Mayo), and one with huge fundraising possibilities.
Their other major weakness is their defensive brittleness. Claremorris never boss it at the back. While they have good enough players, their defence is not solid as a unit.
If you arrived a few minutes late to a Claremorris match you would need to ask someone the score because it could be anything – such is their ability to score and to concede.

No dull Celtic moments
BRYAN Mannion did a great job with Castlebar Celtic this season. Things started off poorly for the side and a tweet from the club in July said that manager, Michael McNicholas, had ‘been relieved of his duties’.
I thought at the time (without knowing any of the internal background) that the wording of the statement was strange, and whilst the club did thank him for his work, (which brought them a Super League title in 2019,) and said he would always be welcome at the club, there was a coldness about the statement.
It was more akin to something you would read from the English Premier League than an amateur club in the Mayo League. Mannion stepped in, and while things didn’t improve greatly and he struggled to field a strong side due to injuries and departures from the squad, he held it all together with great dignity and resolve.

GAA gains is some clubs’ loss
MANULLA fortunes were greatly affected by the promotion (in 2020) of Balla GAA to senior status. They will continue to struggle on the pitch until they establish a squad that is wholly committed to the club.
Ballyglass suffered similar problems with different GAA clubs and were relegated.  Ballyhaunis Town survived and will look to consolidate in 2022. Glenhest survived, but the call of GAA has them under pressure too. The ask of Swinford proved too big in the end.
The new season will begin in March and reverts to an eighteen-match format. Straide and Foxford United and Kiltimagh/Knock United return after their respective relegations in 2019 and 2018.

 

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