By Anthony Hennigan
Days like last Sunday are never advertised in the job description of a local sports reporter.
The warmth of the welcome in Glenamoy was at odds with the harshness of the weather.
As the players of Cill Chomain and Ballycastle duked it out in pursuit of landing a trip to the national finals of this year’s Chomórtas Peile na Gaeltachta in Gweedore, the rain flew sideways at those of us watching from the sideline and the cloud hung lower than what used to divert planes from Knock.
In fact, if anyone from Belderrig to Bangor had been caught off-guard and left clothes out on the line on Sunday, chances are their long johns are now snagged around that spiky tiara atop the Statue of Liberty – or depending on what way that swirling wind was actually blowing, they might only be across the bay in Bundoran, in which case they’d make for a handy pick up on the way to this weekend’s league clash with Donegal.
Whether the two points will be as handily picked up by Mayo is another question altogether.
Such was the force of the elements in Glenamoy that in the first-half, referee Declan O’Boyle eventually told Ballycastle goalkeeper Christopher Walsh not to bother even trying to keep the football placed on the kicking tee and, in a throw-back to underage days, allowed him to boot the ball clear from his hands instead. It seemed the sensible thing to do – yet how it might all have stacked up in a boardroom had the full-time result gone against the home side is anyone’s guess. The Kilmacud Crokes and Glen controversy would have been child’s play to sort in comparison.
Thankfully, it never became an issue; let’s just say Walsh was given far more practice at kicking out the ball in the first-half than his opposite number Kian Gallagher was given by the Ballycastle attack in the second.
It’s also worth saying that while it wasn’t the highest scoring of Comortas finals (Cill Chomain won 0-11 to 2-1), there were still more flags raised than words spoken as Gaeilge, at least up until the post-match presentations. I was reminded of John Cuffe’s observations in the Western People last month when he bemoaned the embarrassment that with the regularity of TG4’s coverage of the Mayo senior football team, the county “seems unable to find either a player or simply someone from the management team capable of holding a two-minute conversation with them in our native tongue.”
That accusation certainly cannot be levelled at the Cill Chomain players, some of whom spoke eloquently in the aftermath of their victory, but it would seem in the spirit of the Chomórtas Peile na Gaeltachta competition that all communication – or as much as possible – during the games themselves should also be in the native tongue, or else what’s the point? You’d be as well inviting Hoboken Gaels or Brooklyn Shamrocks to Gweedore this June. Come to think of it, they could pick up and bring home those long-lost long johns too.
The poor weather was, of course, not confined to Erris last week, and an unplayable pitch at the home of St Brigid’s GAA Club in Kiltoom, just this side of Athlone, led to the postponement of Saturday’s Leo Murphy Cup final.
Maurice Sheridan’s Mayo U20 footballers were due to face Meath, having come through their three-team group of Sligo, Derry and Donegal, but word filtered through that the snow, ice and rain of last week had rendered the Roscommon ground unfit for use.
The Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence stepped in to make its facilities available for both teams to fulfil the fixture as scheduled on Saturday, however, the understands that Meath declined to travel. Mayo were also open to the possibility of the game being delayed by 24-hours and refixed for Sunday but Meath are believed to have said they would be unable to play then either due to the unavailability of some of their players.
Without stating explicitly that the game will now not be played at all, the communication sent by Croke Park to the county boards of both Mayo and Meath on Saturday night read ominously when it wished the best of luck to both teams in their upcoming championship campaigns.
Meath commence the round-robin Leinster U20 Championship this Tuesday night with a trip to Longford whereas Mayo now face a four-week wait until playing either Sligo or Roscommon in a straight knock-out Connacht U20 semi-final, so you could understand the anxiousness of the Green and Red to have gotten that extra game last weekend.
The postponement is sure to have frustrated Maurice Sheridan and his management team as the match was also going to represent their one and only opportunity prior to championship to blend Sam Callinan and Bob Tuohy into their team. Heretofore the pair have otherwise been engaged with Kevin McStay’s senior squad and quite possibly will now remain so for potentially the next four games and weeks running – Donegal, Monaghan, the Division 1 final and the Connacht SFC opener against Roscommon on April 9 – prior to the Mayo U20 side’s own championship opener on Wednesday, April 12.
This week the sports department of the bids farewell to ace reporter and columnist Mark Higgins who is moving to pastures new.
Mark has been a trusty sidekick to myself in particular for the best part of a decade and indeed before that, spent many a weekend while still a student at St Nathy’s College in Ballaghaderreen travelling the highways and byways to cover all variety of events for the WP.
An astute and shrewd analyst of both the playing and politics of sport, and a top-class writer to boot, above all Mark is as decent a fella you could ever have wished to call both a colleague and a friend. He’ll be sorely missed.
Ours and journalism’s loss could, of course, turn out to be Kilmovee Shamrocks’ gain, since now removed is that eternal curse of every local sports reporter whose weekends tend to be spent writing about rather than actually playing matches.
So long Mark and… Mayo for Sam.