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Ballintubber still the team to beat in Mayo SFC

Sean Rice

Sean Rice

Ballintubber still the team to beat

VARYING degrees of expectation accompany those teams testing the senior championship water on Sunday. The milestone for some is the knockout stages. For the top contenders, however, any advancement less than the play-offs will be seen as abject failure.
Before a ball is kicked Ballintubber, the holders, Castlebar Mitchels and Breaffy are front-runners for the title. And of those three, it is hard to disagree with the consensus of opinion that the champions are still a nose ahead of the rest.
Breaffy and Castlebar may fancy their chances, but their doorstep rivalry has a way of galvanising the champions to exceed their normal limits of toughness and self-assurance whenever they meet.
Ballinrobe are unlikely to trouble the champions on home ground on Sunday, a task made easier for the Abbey men by the absence of four of Ballinrobe’s regulars.
It is the penalty the south Mayo men are asked to pay for the negligence of the County Board in cancelling the original date fixed for these games.
Shane Biggins – who had arranged to travel from Birmingham (where he is working as a physiotherapist) for the original fixture – is unable to make similar arrangements for Sunday’s game.
Team captain Eugene O’Malley, a veterinary surgeon, is in a similar position. Next week he travels abroad with members of his final veterinary class and lecturers.
David O’Connor, a student in Limerick, had pre-arranged plans to go abroad from Wednesday, while Dara Conway is in a similar situation.
Ballinrobe asked to have Sunday’s game put back for a week to facilitate two of the above four. Their request was refused even though the game between Aghamore and Crossmolina has been re-fixed for Sunday week, presumably because of hurling commitments.
Have Ballinrobe not had equally firm grounds for seeking a postponement?
Barring a change of heart, the Robe now travel to Clogher with little hope of surprising the champions who are backboned by the O’Connor brothers, Gary Loftus, Alan Plunkett and Mayo stars Alan Dillon and Jason Gibbons.
Expectation will centre generally on whether Cillian O’Connor lines out. The fitness of the full-forward is everyone’s concern ahead of Mayo’s championship joust with Galway. Otherwise, Ballintubber will not be troubled.
Castlebar Mitchels are at home to Ballaghaderreen and the result is not as conclusive as it might seem. Ballagh’, now under the guidance of former Sligo great Eamonn O’Hara, are lying third in Division 1B of the league while the Mitchels have won only one of their three 1A outings.
Key battles to be played out are those between the visitors’ David Drake, Barry Regan, Andy Moran, Barry Solan and Cormac Doohan and the Mitchels’ Donal Newcombe, Patrick Durcan, Eoghan O’Reilly, Neil Douglas, Danny Kirby and Barry Moran.
Alan Feeney has been missing for most of the season so far and his loss has been sorely felt in the Mitchels’ full-back line. It’s an opportunity for Andy Moran to demonstrate some of his old verve. Still, I think the Mitchels will survive the determined effort of O’Hara’s men to create a surprise.
Davitts along with Claremorris are hugging the bottom of Division 1A without a point from their three games and it’s doubtful that even on their home ground the great Colm Boyle will motivate his team-mates sufficiently to mount a serious challenge to Breaffy ... especially if the O’Sheas start.
But Claremorris could trouble Ballina Stephenites who have had just one win in the league. Surprisingly, that was over the county champions, a bolt from the blue that was not repeated against the Mitchels.
Bangor has been the graveyard of so many aspirations that Shrule/Glencorrib will travel there warily on Sunday. On their home ground Kiltane often rise above their perceived standard, and Mikie Sweeney might be just the man to lead them home.
One of the closest tussles of the day is likely to be at Garrymore when the locals meet Charlestown. It’s a scrap worth watching and may tell us a lot about the potential of each side.

Raising a hip flask to Michael Parsons

ON a shelf in my office in its original presentation box is a pristine hip flask given to me by Michael Parsons. The treasured gift marked my retirement from the Connacht Tribune.
It was neither expected nor deserved. And it stands as a memento of his gratitude to our efforts in portraying Mayo’s unremitting pursuit of an All-Ireland senior title.
I value it so much more now that the colourful Castlebar man has passed away, his dream unrealised. It evokes a thousand memories of his effervescence, the buoyant hope in which he followed Mayo’s championship journeys and his utopian vision of a Mayo in festive mood with the Sam Maguire the centre of attraction.
He was not alone in his optimism or unfulfilled dreams. Nor did he brood or lose heart when Mayo underachieved. Undimmed, his uninhibited predictions of a Mayo rising from the ashes of every defeat resonated wherever he celebrated.
He was generous man, gracious and full of life. He was immensely proud of his Mayo roots, respectful of every player who represented his county, always conscious of their battered emotions and ever ready with the cheerful word of encouragement.
I remember him as a teenager learning the ropes of his father’s business in Castlebar, when Michael’s sense of adventure led him to pursue the purchase of a motorbike in what was then Josie Bourke’s Garage.
The sale was agreed if not sealed and the salesman showed him how to handle the bike. But Michael fell and was injured on his first spin, after which his father intervened to stop the sale ... and perhaps save the life of his intrepid son.
Michael, or Mickey P as he was generally known, was born in Cornanool, a stone’s throw from the national school which he and Enda Kenny attended. It was there his interest in sport was cultivated which would grow into the twin passions of Mayo football and horse racing.
Cheltenham was his annual mecca. Every spring he mingled with the moguls of the sport of kings, and he was on first-name terms with many racehorse owners and jockeys. He socialised with them. He loved the muffled roll of thunder from hooves hitting the turf, and the thrill of an outsider finishing in front.
Of course not all of his energies centred on football or the horses. As footwear experts the Parsons were known far and wide, his brother Brendan carrying on the business. It was where Michael learned his trade, developed a lucrative drapery business and later, together with his wife Margaret, built the thriving Don Racine business.
He died rather suddenly in Mayo General Hospital, and the huge crowds at his funeral were testimony of the esteem in which he was held. To Margaret and family go our deepest sympathy.
Dammit, it’s time for a toast from that flask to the man with the big, broad smile who was never less than good company.

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