Mayo Under-13 League Division 1 Final
Ballintubber 1-12 Westport 1-8
Days like these are to be treasured.
Long before we danced under the bright lights of MacHale Park on those golden autumn days of 2010, 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2019, we had days like these.
Years before our county stars went toe-to-toe with Goliath - be it in MacHale Park or Croke Park – they were slaying Goliath at underage level, far away from flashing cameras and television screens.
Our Under-13s did this for the second time in seven days when they toppled the mighty Westport en route to a historic four-point county final win/
Not a week after they beat Castlebar Mitchels in a classic in Ballintubber, our young cadets have now conquered the club with the third-biggest pick in the county.
It was truly a comprehensive, assured and skilful display by this group, who have been under the capable stewardship of club stalwart Michéal Hoban and his dedicated lieutenants. Renowned as a midfield general in his playing days, Hoban’s soldiers were armed and equipped with all the skills, fitness and talent you need to compete at such a high level.
Only once did we trail in the entire game, when we leaked a free to in the third minute. After that, we controlled every aspect. Restricted to one hop and one solo, we moved the ball with skill, pace, purpose and precision. We were fair and uncompromising in the tackle, constantly looking for the player in the better position, and ruthless in our score-taking.
There was never going to be a runaway victory here.
Much like our gallant Castlebar Mitchels opponents, Westport rocked up to Castlebar with no shortage of talent. However, an outstanding display by our middle eight snuffed out most enemy attacks before they got going.
We were made to work for every single score, and that we duly did.
The uncharacteristic concession of a goal in the fourteen minute was a real stone in the shoe for our lads - e kept on running but couldn’t get far enough ahead for comfort. It wasn’t until Finian Brady crashed a rocket into the net with five minutes to go that we were able to breath and anticipate the sweet taste of county glory.
The goal was a long, long time in the making.
We got the basics right from the very start, getting off the mark in the seventh minute when Brady tipped over two points. Minutes later Noah Donnelly sent over a point from an angle Ciaran McDonald would not have attempted. Despite having all the possession and dominating every inch of the vast, carpet-like MacHale Park surface, we still shipped a rather unlucky goal just before the water break.
A high, hopeful ball fell to the right man, in the right place, who swung a leg at it and stuck it in the net, putting Westport a point up. Our discipline and fitness ensured that no panic ensued. Slowly but surely, we worked our way back in front, with our inspirational captain Conor Hoban leading the way.
He hit two points – one of which was a free that bounced over the bar á la Colm Coyle in 1996 – keeping the ‘Tubber in contention. Hoban swapped frees with Westport danger man Fiachra O’ Cinnseala to leave us 0-6 to 1-2 ahead at half-time. We should have been further ahead at this stage, but that early goal would keep our opponents in the game for a long time to come. There was no let up in our display at the resumption.
Conor Hoban released a warning shot when he drove up the middle and blasted a shot on goal narrowly wide. Westport levelled three minutes after the restart before Finian Brady kicked us back in front after being well set up by Adam Burton.
Target man Dermot Kelly doubled our lead with his fist as the Westport defence was given a stern stress test. We were denied the chance to go five points up when the outstanding Richie Finnerty had a shot saved by Westport’s impressive goalie Jack Collins. A pair of Conor Hoban frees but us five up, but there was more to come.
Westport reminded us that they had not gone away as they kicked the next three scores to tee up the kind of final quarter that every Mayo supporter can relate to.
But Michéal Hoban’s warriors weren’t going to leave it late. Our captain Conor Hoban hit his sixth point of the afternoon to put us two ahead with eight minutes remaining before we produced the coup de grace.
Having been unable to sit still for more than 50 minutes, supporters leapt in adulation and relief when Rory McGreal sent a kick-pass from heaven into Finian Brady, who showed equal skill and conspire in finishing an excellent goal.
Hoban added his seventh and final score, but Westport fought on to narrow the gap back to four.
But deep down, everyone knew that our boys were never going to be beaten.
Within seconds of the full-time whistle, the green sod of MacHale Park was bedecked with Red and White. Smiles of delight were etched onto every face of all those who had just seen out club win Division 1 underage silverware for the first time in nearly a decade.
Hands were shaken, tears were shed and hugs were exchanged before our best and brightest young footballers ascended the stand with their chests out and their heads held high. Conor Hoban from Errew delivered an acceptance speech with the eloquence and maturity of someone twice his age, and one that John Feeney, Tom Early, Jason Gibbons and Damien Coleman would have been proud of.
Former chairman, county stars, current and ex-club players and small army of mammies and daddies were among those who lingered, chatted and dissected what had just transpired for ten or fifteen minutes after all was said and done.
From there, a Red and White convoy assembled at the car park before making the short victory parade back to the kingdom that stretches from Errew to Kilawalla and back to Annies.
A feast of pizza and sweets was held in our Clogher clubhouse for a fine group that will be at the top table of Mayo football for some years to come.
Days like these are to be treasured.
It’s likely that these boys will have plenty more of them.
Ballintubber scorers: Conor Hoban (0-7, 5f), Finian Brady (1-3, 1f), Noah Donnelly (0-1), Dermot Kelly (0-1)
Ballintubber squad: Christopher Feeney, Cian Brady, Tiarnan Walsh, Eoghan Lyons, Cillian Donnelly, Finian Brady, Noah Donnelly, Conor Hoban (captain), Darragh Breslin, Rory McGreal, Cillian Reilly Richie Finnerty, Conor Fahey, Dermot Kelly, Niall Spellman, Ryan Summerville, Noah Murphy, Adam Burton, Ethan Clarke, Ethan Nally, Jack Loftus, Sean Prendergast, Matthew Corbett, Mattias Dolan, James Staunton, Conor McDonagh, Ross Malone, Cian McDonagh, Daithi Feerick, Ryan McDonnell, Ciaran Early, Darragh Kay, Aaron Foley
Ballintubber Under-13 team management: Michéal Hoban, Cathal Hallinan, Eamon Thomas, Lyndon Reilly, James Corbett, Iver Loftus, Steven Clarke, Micheal Prendergast
Referee: Walter Doherty
Photos by Tom Quinn