Face the ball Ballintubber

Those of us who played for Ballintubber during the 1960s will always remember the voice of Thomas McCarthy ringing in our ears, loud and clear above all others on the sideline: “FACE THE BALL BALLINTUBBER”. Whenever there was a kick-out from either team, taken always by the full back in those days, Thomas called the troops to attention without any need for a microphone or a loud- hailer. Before it became fashionable to have managers for teams, “Carthy” as we all knew him, kept all of us Ballintubber lads on our toes. In the less structured clubs of that era, Thomas had a unique role in our club even though he did not appear on the list of club officers! Of course he was in that position for many decades and in addition served as transport manager with a lorry at first but with a red Bedford van (BIZ 80) which brought us to games all over Mayo in the relative comfort of sitting on the spare wheel or a mineral crate in the rear of the van with sliding doors to cool us off! As cars were few in 1950s and early 1960s most of us would never have got to matches but for the kindness of Thomas McCathty, Go ndena Dia trocaire air.

From our house at home I could see the football when it was kicked in the air in “Matt’s” field, which was the ‘HOME’ venue for Ballintubber for many years. So from a young age I was able to get to the games played at home. I remember the heroes of the early 1950s: Jimmy McNally, Anthony Lally, Mick Bourke, Martin Walsh, Mattie Philbin; Aidan Horan and Garda John Byrne from Partry; Mickey Conroy, Seamus Langan, Michael Joe Sheridan from Ballyglass; Matt O’Malley from Ballybourke; Michael Cannon - a teacher in Ballyheane - and ‘young lads’ of the time like Murt Prendergast and Liam O’Toole. The E.S.B. came to Ballintubber during that time and provided two players Paddy Moran and Eamon Kelly. I can only remember one game that I saw Paddy Prendergast play with Ballintubber. This was the nucleus of the team that won the West Mayo Championship in 1954 and went on to defeat Swinford in the Co. Final on a terrible wet day in Hollymount. Because it was ‘away from home’ I didn’t get to the match but I remember clearly the talk afterwards about a great victory. Then there was on objection from Swinford to Micheal Cannon as being illegal to play with Ballintubber and after long and bitter sessions at the Co. Board and the Connought Council the Final was awarded to Swinford. I remember reading the inscription on one of the medals awarded to the Ballintubber players, “West Mayo Champions and Winners of Co. Final 1954”.

A new squad of players had arrived on the scene by 1960. I was playing football with St. Gerald’s College in1959 and 1960 and I used to join the local lads for ‘practice ‘ in the evenings in Murt Prendergast’s field. I was a sub on the Ballintubber team that played Claremorris in the Co. Final on 2nd October 1960 and hoped to win a medal on the eve of my sixteenth birthday. But it was not to be!


That summer of 1960 Joe Mulrooney took on the training of the team and with the talented bunch of young players blended them into a succesful force to win the West Mayo Championship and the Cusack Cup.

All the semi-finals and finals in the West were played in Westport. I have no lists of the teams but from memory they were selected from the following. The goalie was Pake Joyce and sub Mickie Donnelly, Backs Jimmy Murphy, Ray Prendergast, Tommie Lally, Mickey Heneghan, Liam Horan, Vincent Keane, Seamus Conroy, Walter Carter, Tom Keenan, Centre field were Martin, Martin Reilly and Willie Brennan, Forwards Mickey Dermody, Murt Prendergast, Liam O’Toole, Sean Bourke, Seamus Langan, Martin Lydon, Sean Malone and Tim Nestor. There was a great commitment to training in preparation for the final stages of the championship. It was the era when Joe Lennon on Co.Down fame produced the first book on coaching Gaelic Football and Joe Mulrooney introduced many elements of Lennon’s approach in the training.

The county semi-final on 1960 was played in McHale Park, Castlebar and it was a victory for Ballintubber over Ballyvary. The county Final was also in McHale Park against a powerful Claremorris team who swept to victory, some of them using strong arm tactics to put it mildly!. I saw hardened members of the Ballintubber team cry with pain in the dressing room after that match. The same Claremorris team was then promoted to Senior ranks and swept the Boards to become the Senior Champions of Mayo in 1961.


West Mayo provided a senior team that took part in the Senior Championship around this time. In 1960 the Ballintubber club provided the backbone of the West Mayo team that won the Senior County Championship, Pake Joyce, Ray Prendergast, Mickie Heneghan, Tommie Lally, Liam Horan, Murt Prendergast, Martin O’Malley and Liam O’Toole were all part of that team.

There was practically no employment opportunity in the West of Ireland for young men in the 1950’s or early 1960’s and many of that 1960 team had stayed at home for the football, earning a few pounds here and there for pocket money. When the County Final was over many of them started preparations to emigrate and make a living abroad. When the Ballintubber team went out early in 1961 to play its first match eleven of the fifteen who had played in the County Final the previous October had emigrated! Thankfully when things improved later on many of them did return to live at home and rear their families. Among those was Liam Horan who went to England, then to Australia, from there to New Zealand where he met Josephine and brought his family back home to Ballintubber. The loss of such talented players through emigration was on opportunity for another generation of players, many like myself still only minors, to fill the ranks and listen to the moaning of the supporters for the great players who had emigrated.


During 1961 and 1962 I was on the panel of players that played Minor football with the club even though for tactical reasons we called the Minor team ‘Partry’, in order to get more All-Ireland tickets. Tommie Staunton, father of Steve was prominent and for those who saw him play he was so similar to his son Steve in build, pace and left-footed free taking that when in later years we saw Steve’s performance on TV for Ireland it could well be a video of Tommie. One evening in a Minor match in Westport we were four points down and got a fourteen yards free, as Tommie walked up to take it, a sideline direction was given: “Hit the crossbar” in the hope that his bullet like shot would slip in underneath for a goal. He hit a left-footed shot that did exactly as he was told hit the crossbar and bounced out the field almost forty yards! He was in goal for the Mayo Minor team in1961. Other Minors I remember from those years are Martin Donnelly, Val Hynes, Tommie Joe Nally, Micheal Garry, Sean Horan, Tommie Ludden, John Dermody and later on Mickie Lally and Sean Feeney, both students in St.Jarlath’s. All of those I mention above were involved with the Ballintubber Junior and Intermediate teams of the 1960’s combined with the returned emigrants from the 1960 team. A most frustrating memory of those years was that Val Hynes, Mickie Lally and I were students for the priesthood and missed a series of County Finals as we were not allowed home to play club matches once we returned to the Seminary in September. When I was ordained in 1969 I went as a curate to Inis Oirr in the Aran Islands and so that effectively put an end to my playing days with Ballintubber. Jimmy Murphy and Tommie Staunton were in the Garda Training Centre in Templemore but they were more fortunate as they could get home to play matches. Unfortunately Ballintubber lost all the finals and by the narrowest of margins. It was little consolation to be told that we could have made the difference.

For a few years in the mid 1960’s a combination of three clubs, Ballintubber, Breaffy and Balla, formed a Senior team - Abbeyside - and played in the Co. Championship, while continuing to play Junior football with their club. It was a great experience to play against the best teams in the county and to mark players on the senior county team. We must not have been hugely successful as I have no memory of being involved in Finals but it was arguably better than having too many Senior teams and as a result a lower standard of football. I mentioned seven - a - side competition already and this was very popular with tournaments on an annual basis in Ballyglass, Kilmaine, Gortjordan, Foxhall, Belcarra and other areas. Some clubs had excellent teams for the Sevens where their Fifteen-a-side was poor. Senior teams from Dunmore, Tuam and as far away as Co. Down would put out Sevens but did not often win against the ‘specialists’. Ballintubber had a good record in the Seven-a-sides and we often put out two teams in a tournament.

I am speaking about a generation before the Ballintubber Club came to have a pitch of its own in Clogher. During those years we had many different venues for training and for “home” matches. I have a vague memory of my father bringing me to a match in Keane’s field inside the gate that leads to Lufferton House. My father also told me of matches played in “Log” - a field behind the orchard in Tuohy’s land in Drumminroe.


Club matches in the West Mayo championship were for many years played in “Matt’s Field” which is in front of the home of Paddy O’Malley in Skehenagh, on the left hand side as you go towards the Abbey. A small rent was paid for each match played there, but it was not normally used for training. Other teams had a dread of playing Ballintubber there as it was a saucer shaped pitch which could be exploited to home advantage. Those of us from Ballintubber used to gather in Murt Prendergast’s field beside the main road most evenings of the week for a kick about and some running.

We also used the ground where Mattie Dolan’s house is now built, opposite the old school for training. As more cars became available we moved to the “Turlach” in Ballyglass for regular training. I remember also playing Minor club matches in the “Turlach” and one in particular where we defeated the Castlebar Mitchells in a replay after we had drawn with them in McHale Park. At different intervals during the 1960’s it was the home venue for Junior and Intermediate matches but as it was subject to flooding in winter and was considered too short for championship matches, there was pressure to find a regulation size pitch. Every year in conjunction with the Ballyglass sports, a Seven-a-side competition was held with a large number of clubs taking part. The “Turlach”was an ideal size for Sevens. In a crisis situation when the “Turlach” was unexpectedly flooded some one or two matches were played in the field where the Ballyglass school is now. Another pitch that was used for at least one or two seasons was in the land of McNallys behind the home of Maura (Walsh) down from the Abbey. This was an area where a hill of sand had been quarried by Tommie McNally and a team of workers over a number of years and was then levelled out to form a good playing area. The land where the Ballintubber school and Community Centre is now was owned by the Newell family of Cortoon and was purchased by the Development Association. A small pitch was developed behind the Community Centre and used for training and for underage matches. It was only when the ground in Clogher became available that a proper sized pitch was developed and it commemorates two of the great names associated with the Ballintubber GAA Club - the Ray Prendergast Memorial Park and the Thomas McCarthy Stand. Up until then in all the venues I have mentioned players had to tog out in the open in all kinds of weather with only the shelter of the wall to protect them and no way of keeping clothes dry. In many cases the players had also cycled to the pitch and had to cycle home again without even a chance to wash their hands. Thank God things are better now but it was very poor treatment for players and it was no different in all the rural clubs at the time.

I was involved in the Club as Secretary from the time I was in Inter Cert in 1959, first as Secretary of the Minor Club and then as a delegate to the West Mayo Board. When Sean Bourke, Lufferton, went to England after the 1960 County Final I replaced him as Club Secretary and filled that position until I went to Maynooth towards the end of 1962 when I was replaced in turn by Paddy Joe Murphy. From a generation of officers like Mike McHugh, Anthony Lally and Jimmy McNally a younger set had come to the fore. Eamon Jennings was Chairman, I was Secretary, and Tommie Lally was Treasurer. Later Joe Mulrooney was Chairman and Paddy Joe Murphy was Secretary.


Very few meetings were held except for the A.G.M. Secretarial facilities were minimal at that stage and the only means of communication was what we know now as “Snail- mail”. Very few houses had phones or cars and I remember having to send telegrams to players when a match was cancelled at short notice. Martin Lydon who had a hackney car and was also a player brought players from Tourmakeady. Mike Willie Hughes, Carnacon, who also had a hackney car, brought players from Ballyglass. At one A.G.M. held in the old school in Ballintubber I remember that the greatest expense of the club for the year was for transport of players to training and to matches. I have great memories of West Mayo Board meetings over a ten year period from 1959 to 1969, held in the smoke filled snooker room in Westport Town Hall where I got to know the delagates from other clubs in West Mayo very well; Tommie Lyons and Jack Rice from Breaffy, Sean Moylette and Dickie Conaboy from Islandeady, Denis Gallagher and Paraic Seoighe from Achill and the famous Larry McGovern from Newport. This was in addition to the players I got to know through playing against rivals; Achill, Balla, Breaffy, Burrishoole, Islandeady, Louisburgh and Westport. Here in Achill I meet players of that era all hail and hearty and we enjoy shared memories of games. The Championship was played on a league basis with home and away fixtures for each club. So you got to know the other teams very well. Life long friendships were made through football. Indeed it is the friendships with the members of the Ballintubber team that last - long after the games, the results, the winning and loosing are forgotten. Thanks for the friendships and the memories! For those who have died go ndena Dia Trocaire orthu uilig.

Paddy Gilligan