FLYING THE BALLA FLAG Pictured on their way into MacHale Park, Castlebar for the recent Mayo Intermediate Football Final were Balla supporters: Helen and Richard Monaghan, Emmet Flanagan, Liam Flanagan, Breege Cronin, Ger Flanagan Snr, and Pauline Dunleavy. Pic: Conor McKeown
A NUMBER of weeks ago — during a general GAA-related conversation — this writer suggested that 2020 would be a terrible year to win a championship.
Little did I know what the next few weeks had in store, the comment having been made on the grounds that the conventional, tried and tested methods of preparing for — and then celebrating —a county title win were gone out the window in light of Covid-19 restrictions.
Of course, the reality is that winning any championship at any time is an amazing occasion for the GAA club involved and, if anything, winning it during the strangest year in any of our lifetimes makes it all the more memorable.
True, it was a shame that more Balla GAA club people weren’t allowed in MacHale Park to see a small bit of history being made by our Intermediate team last week, and there were no dressing room celebrations afterwards either.
But there were plenty of special memories that only came about because of the pandemic too.
Like the small cavalcade home through the parishes of Belcarra and Manulla before venturing on to Balla. Only the lucky few got tickets to the games, meaning the rest stayed at home. Another ‘lucky few’ booked in to Corley’s Pub, to tune in and watch on Mayo GAA TV.
The homecoming produced unforgettable memories of seeing bonfires aplenty and floods of people lining the usually quiet streets of Belcarra as we drove through, before passing similar scenes in Manulla.
The housing estates on the way into Balla flooded the footpaths with maroon and white flags and bonfires along the new road, while The Square hasn’t experienced scenes like that since our 2018 County Junior Final win.
Normal times would have seen the crowds head straight for the public houses and that would be that until the early hours of the morning. But Covid-19 restrictions meant their doors were shut.
Instead there was a flat bed truck where the team could address the hordes of supporters that had gathered in The Square, and thanks to some excellent stewarding work a safe, socially distance celebration could occur.
It was a really intimate affair, compared to the hustle and bustle of what would have been experienced in the pubs. Packs of excited kids could witness a night they may never forget for the rest of their lives and it gave everyone on the team an opportunity to meet all the supporters and club people who could not attend the game.
It was a much calmer and homely affair than what would have occurred in a normal year. Many lingered in The Square until the early hours, reminiscing on the past six months and reflecting on how bizarre it all is.
Being able to sit back in Corley’s on Sunday, enjoy a a barbecue outside in the sun and watch the County Senior Final on TG4 with rest of the team was an enjoyable affair.
And some ‘normal-ish’ scenes returned when The Rendevouz Bar opened its doors at 12pm on Monday afternoon!
While nobody in the world will ever forget what 2020 was like in their world, those of us in Knockmore, Balla and Kilmaine GAA clubs will remember some of it for very different reasons!