Corofin's Martin McNamara and David Brady of Ballina (file pic).
Turn back time

'It was outrageous' - 25 years ago Corofin and Ballina met twice in the one weekend

You could say that before they meet in Pearse Stadium this Saturday, there is a small bit of history between the sides.

25 YEARS ON, and Paul McGettigan still finds it leaves a sour taste.

Almost a quarter of a century to the very weekend Ballina and Corofin meet in a Connacht championship game, the previous meeting became an article of curiosity, a puzzling footnote in the history of the GAA.

At the time, Galway football was enjoying a glut of success. Earlier that year, Corofin had become the first club team to have brought the Andy Merrigan Cup into Connacht. That summer, John O’Mahony delivered a hugely popular All-Ireland for the county.

But then, the problems began mounting up.

Michael Donnellan, fresh from becoming the new Gaelic football superstar, wanted to play for Ireland in International Rules. This led to a dispute between his club, Dunmore McHales and the Galway county board.

They threw Dunmore out of the competition. Then they reinstated them. But the championship dragged on a little and the Connacht Council made a bizarre insistence that the first round of the Connacht championship would be played in Ballina. And settled in Ballina, if the occasion demanded.

And so, we had a drawn game on 21 November in James Stephens’ Park, Ballina. Even though there was an empty weekend the following week, the replay was fixed for the very next day, in Ballina as previously threatened.

It seemed ludicrous. The Connacht Council offered up an excuse that there was a round of National League matches the following weekend but nobody in the immediate aftermath of the first drawn game was taking that seriously.

“When we went into the dressing room, the general consensus was that we would just ignore it,” recalls the then Corofin manager, Paul McGettigan, a former Corofin player who also lined out with Donegal and Ulster, from the famous footballing McGettigan’s of Letterkenny.

“But it was made very clear to us that if we didn’t travel up again, we would be eliminated from the competition by the chairman of the Galway county board. That was a shameful way to treat the All-Ireland champions.”

He continued, “I said a lot about it at the time as I was interviewed by a number of people. I said that it was outrageous and completely contrary to the spirit of the game, it had no regard for players or player welfare.

“It was a very tough game played in winter conditions, soft going and so on that takes it out of players.

“It was a decision that you would question the sanity of people taking it. It was that outrageous.”

Inside the Ballina dressing room, they learned early on that they were getting the replay and it would be at home – back in that days when these games were hosted by the competing clubs.

What they also had, was Brian McStay. Brother of Kevin, he was an accurate free-taker who sealed the draw on the Saturday game.

He was also working in Boston at the time and this was his fourth flight home to play and win a championship with Ballina that campaign. So to have the replay on the Sunday, suited them down to the ground.

“We were in the dressing rooms,” recalls Ballina midfield enforcer David Brady, “and one of the selectors said, ‘Boys, if you are going to have a pint tonight, you will have one or two at the most.’

“And Liam McHale nearly had a conniption. He said nobody would be having anything. I think the selector was thinking more about himself than anybody else.

liam-mchale-1731999 Liam McHale (file pic). Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

“But the ball was in our court and if we agreed to it, it was going ahead. John Prenty (of the Connacht Council back then and still now) asked us and we said yes.

“So we went out and had one pint. Maybe two. But as bad as the conditions were the first day, they were really bad the second day.”

If such a thing were to ever re-occur, it would be a riot of ice baths and compression trousers and protein shakes by the barrel full.

Martin Brown was the Ballina masseuse and was forced into overdrive, poking and pressing the pains out of players’ legs. But Brady had other pressing matters that he needed to sort out in the tight timeframe.

“My biggest concern was that I had two brothers on the team, Liam and Ger. And my lucky jocks, togs and socks had to get into the washing machine before theirs. I played in the same rig for years until they fell apart, but Mammy Brady had a big job to do that evening to get all washed, dried and ready,” he recalls.

If the Ballina 0-9 to Corofin’s 1-6 the first day was a struggle, the second day just took off in similar style.

When that Ballina team recently gathered up for a 25 year reunion, the stories were flying. Naturally, the Corofin saga was at the heart of most if it. But when they recounted incidents and happenings, they found they were completely unable to distinguish between what occurred in the first game and the replay.

A look back on the accounts of the matches had it that Corofin were a team coming to the end of a cycle.

Dáithí Burke’s father, Gerry, had won man-of-the-match in the All-Ireland final that March, but he was turning 40 by that stage and their Galway players were coming off a marathon effort of winning All Irelands with club and county.

The big thing didn’t go with them. They had to make a 70 mile journey home on a bus with legs cramping, only to have to come back the other way the following morning.
They had a chance through Shane Conlisk to win it the first day but it tailed wide and the deflation carried over.

Prior to the replay, a gang of Ballina youths made their way to behind the Corofin goal where they started to rag Corofin goalkeeper Martin McNamara. He gave as good as he got up to the point when he lost it and invited a few lads to come his side of the fence and see how they got on.

“And no better men from Ballina to jump over the fence!” says Brady.

Writing in the Mayo News a few days after, the former Ballina player and brother of the jet-setting Brian — whom he called ‘The Yank’ throughout his column — Kevin McStay had a different view.

‘The taunts were not kind and in a lovely world they would have been removed. Just to prove that keepers are indeed a funny breed and to further his image as a ‘character’, Mac decided to engage these clowns. This was fine and dandy until they really upset him and we ended up with a class keeper inviting three or four gobshites to his side of the fence to sort things out. Concentration? Focus? Silly.’

David Bray should have been sent off in the replay, according to McStay. And yet, he saved a Corofin player a red card in the first game when he was on the receiving end of a head-high tackle. Instead of staying down, he bounced back up. Ray Silke actually applauded his sportsmanship.

The matter was settled with Martin McGrath’s five pointed frees, some of them monstrous as Ballina squeezed home, 0-11 to 0-9.

By this stage, Roscommon Gaels were already waiting in the final from 8 November, but Ballina didn’t play their semi-final until 6 December, beating Eastern Harps before they secured Connacht on 13 December.

So yeah, you could say that before they meet in Pearse Stadium this Saturday, there is a small bit of history between them.

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