FORWARD THINKER Ballina Stephenites’ Conor McStay is pictured in action. Pic: Sportsfile
Conor McStay has been one of Ballina’s best players this season
Name: Conor McStay
Club: Ballina Stephenites
Occupation: Bank official
Mayo SFC 2022 scores: 1-6
Did you know? Conor is a son of the former Ballina and Mayo forward, Paul McStay, and a nephew of the new Mayo manager Kevin McStay.
SIX months to the day after he was an unused Mayo substitute in this year’s National League Final defeat to Kerry, Conor McStay was doing what he does best on a football field.
He finished Ballina’s easy win over Claremorris in the Mayo SFC quarter-final with three points from play but on another day could have shot a few goals to go with it.
Wearing 11 but operating in a two-man full-forwardline with Evan Regan, McStay was following in his footsteps of his father, Paul, and uncle, Kevin, as a tidy inside forward.
The 24 year-old has many of their moves and mannerisms on the field too; the ability to take on and beat a defender, sell a dummy, operate in tight corners, and put scores on the board.
That’s why James Horan drafted him into the Mayo squad at the beginning of last year after impressing at the ‘combines’ in Bekan; he liked what he saw of the Stephenites’ playmaker.
Unfortunately, an ankle injury derailed any plans of seeing game-time in the National League and his only appearance in a squad was on that forgettable day against Kerry.
But McStay has made his mark on the club season in a big way with Ballina; Niall Heffernan has given him a new role, closer to goal, and he seems to be revelling in it.
You ask if he’s happy with his own game?
“To an extent, like the lads make it very easy for me. They’re doing a lot of the donkey-work out the field and I’ll be the first man to tell you that,” he told The Mayo News after the landslide victory over Claremorris.
“We’re all training hard, the lads who are away are making a big effort to come down during the week for training, and that lifts everyone’s performance, not only my own.
“Things are going okay, but there’s always room for improvement; there were a few chances there that I missed at the end. .
“It was one of those things, I was cramping up a bit there at the end so I’ll put it down to that.
“But I was happy we got the win, that was the main thing. If I didn’t score at all, it doesn’t put me up or down as long as we get the win. We’re back where we want to be.”
There are a few recurring themes in our short conversation; mainly Ballina’s appetite for hard work this season, the momentum they have gained from three wins in a row, and the feeling that by reaching next Sunday’s semi-final, that they are ‘back where we belong’.
“Momentum is going well, there’s a good feeling in the camp, and we’ve had three good performances now so we’re looking forward to a county semi-final, back where we belong, in my opinion. For too long we couldn’t get there, but we’re in a good place,” explained McStay.
“Lads like Sam [Callinan], Dylan [Thornton], Frank [Irwin], Danny Loftus, Ciaran Boland and Mark Birrane, who came in this year, have strengthened things up.
“We’ve a strong bench, Mikey Murray has come back in this year after a long-term injury and that sort of thing helps morale.
“We’re just clicking at the right time, but we have nothing won yet.
“We’re the first ones to tell you, we’re in a county semi-final, but we haven’t won anything.”
Their run to the last four has seen them installed as title favourites in some quarters; a first round draw with Ballaghaderreen now long forgotten after an impressive win over Aghamore and two facile victories against Aghamore and Claremorris.
The quarter-final gave an insight into their mentality as they scored 2-6 in the first half and 2-7 in the second, which restricting their opponents to just 0-7 in total.
“We’re all about working hard and everything else then will fall into place,” he explained.
“I know myself, even if things aren’t going well, once you start tackling then things start falling to place.
“We have those sort of non-negotiables that, if we work hard, then things will happen for us.
“We brought that into the last few games and, as you can see, we are scoring a bit heavier and getting a couple of goals on the scoresheet. So hopefully we can continue that.
“We’re getting some additions back too, Evan [Regan] has come back from America, and it doesn’t take much to turn things around, and the atmosphere, the vibe. .
“If we can keep the performances going, anything can happen.
“But we understand we haven’t won anything yet.”
A first Moclair Cup since 2007 still remains a possibility though.