18 Mar 2015

Air Jordan 2011 Ireland’s Triple Crown

1985 was the year of world titles for Dennis Taylor and Barry McGuigan, Ireland’s Triple Crown, and moving Air Jordan 2011 statues at Ballinspittle. It was also marked by what The Mayo News described as “one of the most exciting and keenly contested Mayo Senior Football Championship finals ever”.

In 1985, Ballaghaderreen were chasing their first title since 1972. Astonishingly, Ballina Stephenites hadn’t won the prize since 1966. The final they served up produced one of the strangest scorelines in Mayo club history 4 2 to 1 10.

Two people did more than most to break Ballagh’ hearts that day. The game was illuminated by an outstanding performance from Liam McHale, and won by a long range free from Kevin McStay. Next Sunday, manager McStay and coach McHale will be hoping their St Brigid’s team can get the better of Ballagh’ in the Connacht final.

“1985 was the beginning of a great time for Mayo,” says McStay, recalling the Connacht title and draw with Dublin in the All Ireland semi final. “We had just come through a very exciting summer, and the club scene kinda got lost in it even though Ballina had, for the first time in a long time, started to get a bit of a run.

“We hadn’t won it since the 1960s, and for a club with our tradition, that was a monstrous break [But] unknown to ourselves, we were winning games. And the old adage was ‘if you left Ballina in the competition long enough, they’re going to cause trouble’. The place to beat them was early on.”

That didn’t happen the Stephenites KOBE 9 beat Ballinrobe, Davitts and Belmullet (after a replay) to book their place in the final. One of their two meetings with the Erris side stands out in McStay’s mind, because he had flown from San Francisco to New York to Shannon in the previous 24 hours, having been on an Army tour in America. “I was cuckoo!” he laughs.

Ballina had “a great sense that we could win” the final, McStay recalls, “notwithstanding the fact that Ballaghaderreen probably had their best team in a long time”. The East Mayo side included two of McStay’s county team mates (Dermot Flanagan and Noel Durkin) as well as John O’Mahony, still playing two years after managing Mayo to an All Ireland U 21 title and with whom McStay remembers having “a right good battle” in the final. What of the game itself?

“The scoreline always provides a bit of a laugh when we’re looking back on it,” says McStay. “But it really shouldn’t have been such a mad scoreline, because we had an awful lot of misses We had a very strong breeze [in the first half] but we were struggling, we weren’t getting scores. But the next thing, we got an avalanche of goals, and that changed everything.”

Three goals in the space of four minutes, to be precise, which lifted the Stephenites from a point behind to eight in front. And, as Sen Rice put it in the Mayo GAA Yearbook of 1985, these “came more from defensive errors by Ballaghaderreen than from Stephenites’ creativity it was as if the gods had conspired against them”.

McSTAY himself got the first, taking full advantage when given a second bite of the cherry. Brian Williams then punched the ball into the net after McStay’s attempt for a point from a sideline kick “didn’t make it [and] fell in among 20 fellas”. Brian Molloy also goaled after intercepting Pat Towey’s kick out.

The Mayo News match report notes that Ballaghaderreen felt Molloy’s goal should have been disallowed, but McStay says there was “nothing wrong” with it. He adds wryly that the Ballagh’ goal (from Tommy McBrien) “didn’t even cross the line” according to Ballina goalkeeper Liam Higgins. In the event, both goals were permitted, and the Stephenites were 3 1 to 1 2 ahead at half time. They were in for a battle though.

“Ballagh’ made a great game of it after half time,” McStay says. “All you had to do was get the ball up in the air the breeze was bringing it 60 yards. ‘Flanno’ [Dermot Flanagan] and ‘Durks’ [Noel Durkin] started getting back at us and it was getting very squeaky.”

The gap was back to two before McStay’s brother Paul struck for the best goal of the game, a blistering left footed shot which “gave us a breather”. But Ballagh’ weren’t finished yet, and got back to level before McStay’s decisive free.

“Jimmy Browne was to take it, [but] I was taking frees for Mayo at the time, and I fancied it, really because I was hoping to centre it for Liam [McHale] to get a flick on it,” the fomer All Star recalls. “I felt I was more accurate than Jimmy, but Jimmy had more distance than me. I just got it under the breeze, I suppose, and against the wind, it was a fair one to get.”

Minutes later, amid scenes of elation, Jimmy Browne became the first Ballina captain to receive the Moclair Cup, presented to Mayo GAA Board 14 years previously by Paddy Moclair. McStay remembers “incredible celebrations” and having a few beers in Walsh’s in Charlestown, the town where the game was played. “It was an awful relief to have won it after so long,” he says.

“We had a very good team. I think we were a better team than Ballagh’. But if the goals hadn’t gone in, we wouldn’t have won it. The two teams were very well matched. Air Jordan 20s I was training in Dublin with Dermot [Flanagan] and driving to all the matches; we were Air Jordan Fusion 4 very close. Noel [Durkin] was on the All Ireland U 21 team two years earlier, so I was very fond of him.”

But it was another Mayo player who literally and figuratively stood head and shoulders above the rest. Writing in the Mayo GAA Air Jordan 6 Rings Yearbook, Sen Rice described Liam McHale’s performance as “the cornerstone” of Ballina’s victory. McStay wholly concurs, and says that more than any other individual, his brother in law was responsible for clinching a 30th title for the club.

“Liam was fantastic. He was only a young fella. He was a sub on that [Mayo] ’85 team, and the terrible pity was that just through pressure, the management felt he was too young and too soon on the panel to be brought on. But sure he was the best midfielder in the county. We knew that. That’s why we were in the county final. And he had a marvellous final.”

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