CAPTAIN FANTASTIC Claremorris captain James Shaughnessy holds the Sean McManamon Cup after beating Salthill/Knocknacarra last Sunday. Pic: Ray Ryan
THE late Seán McManamon would have been proud as punch last Sunday.
His home club, Claremorris, and his adopted club, Salthill-Knocknacarra, meeting for the third time in the annual fixture to honour his memory and, in a quirk of fate, competing for the first piece of silverware to be presented since Gaelic Games activity resumed last week.
As it transpired, James Shaughnessy became the first Claremorris man to lift the ‘Seán McManamon Cup’, dedicated to the former chairman of the Mayo Association in Galway, who passed away three and a half years ago.
Seán’s family and friends were well represented among the crowd in Claremorris last Sunday morning as the homeside produced a strong second half display to pip their guests by 3-7 to 2-8.
Afterwards, James Shaughnessy reflected on being back in action again after the Covid-19 shutdown, and on picking up the first trophy of the new season.
“I don’t know about being captain for the rest of the year, but I was told to go up for the cup anyway!” he laughed. “We’d lost the last two finals to Salthill so it was nice to finally win it.”
The 26 year-old admitted that he and his team-mates were ‘really up’ for the game after a challenge match last Wednesday against Milltown had ‘blown off the cobwebs’.
“We had to come togged because the dressing-room is off limits now [due to Covid-19 restrictions],” he explained. “It’s like when you were Under-10. You turn up togged and are handed a jersey!
“It was high-intensity from the word ‘go’ and, while we didn’t really get going properly until the second half, we were delighted to get the win,” he added. “Winning is a habit, but the main objective at the moment is to produce some good performances and work on our game-plan ahead of the championship. Because if you’re not ready then you can get left behind very easily. So Sunday was a chance for us to clear out the pipes.”
The Claremorris corner-forward is the first to admit that he’s missed football over the last few months. He’s missed the structure, routine, camaraderie and competition.
So ‘Shocks’ was delighted when he heard that a club season would go ahead after all, although he admits he was ‘happy enough’ that the Mayo GAA Senior Leagues were being scrapped this year.
“If we’d gone down the route of playing two or three league matches before the club championship started, and another two or three after it was over, I think it would be hard to keep lads interested,” he said.
“No disrespect to the league, but the championship is the be-all and end-all for a lot of lads.
“The question is often asked, ‘who won the league last year?’ And a lot of the time, lads wouldn’t know.
“In fairness to the [Mayo GAA] CCC, they had fixed that problem of league matches running on after the championship in the last few years, but I think having any football at all this year is great, considering everything that’s happened.”
Claremorris have appointed Ray Connelly and Johnny Mulkeen as joint managers this season, with former Louisburgh manager John Kelly on board as their coach.
And while the South Mayo club have flattered to deceive over the years, a conveyor-belt of talented young footballers, along with the return of 39 year-old Mickey Mullins, means they remain a team who are capable of making headlines.
“We were disappointed with how last season went, and we ended up in a relegation battle,” reflected Shaughnessy. “It was a season of small margins really, if a couple of decisions had gone either way things could have been different.
“We have a sticky group this year too; Knockmore away, Ballina at home, and Kiltane at a neutral venue. Our objective, first and foremost, is to get out of the group.
“I think this is going to be a season of survival of the fittest. The games will be coming thick and fast so injuries will play a big part. And whoever hits form at the right time could win a county title.
“I would see Ballintubber, Castlebar and probably Breaffy as the top three, but anyone could come from anywhere this year to win a county title.”