Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Brendan Parsons, Conor Horan, Damien Keane, Frank Molloy and Sean Malee.
# Northern Exposure
The Mayo men helping a Scottish GAA club on historic tilt at All-Ireland glory
Dunedin Connollys are into the semi-finals of the junior club competition.

THE GREEN AND Red of Mayo was a song that was undoubtedly played numerous times on jukeboxes around Edinburgh recentlty as Dunedin Connollys toasted an All-Ireland JFC quarter-final win over Rosenallis of Laois.

They went into the game as big underdogs, partly to do with the fact that they had never beaten an Irish side in championship football; while club football in Scotland has hardly ever been a hotbed for successful jaunts at All-Ireland championships. The last time they played on such a stage was in 2009 when they lost to Emyvale of Monaghan, a year in which they won the British Championship for the first time in the history of the now 28-year old club.

They have gone on to become the dominant force of Scottish GAA, winning nine out of the last 10 Scottish titles, but they had previously failed to make waves outside of the north of Britain. A fabulous extra-time win over John Mitchels of Liverpool in the All-Britain final in mid-November gave them their chance in the All-Ireland series, and they grabbed it with both hands when they welcomed their Laois counterparts to their home ground in Granton.

Their charge to the last four of the All-Ireland has been largely backed by a spine of Mayo men, with no less than six making up the starting 15 on a regular basis.

Former Mayo U21 footballer Conor Horan lines up at wing-back, Charlestown native Brendan Parsons  – a brother of Mayo star Tom — is in midfield, while Sean Malee, Daniel Loftus, Frank Molloy and Damien Keane all populate the Connollys’ forward line.

Malee, along with his sister’s husband, Frank Molloy, present the biggest threat going forward for the Scottish club, despite the fact that they have a combined age of 73.

“He’s my brother in-law. He’s 39 going on 19. He’s the Maurice Fitzgerald of our team,” remarks 34-year-old Malee about the Bohola man.

Molloy played in some league games for the Mayo senior team a number of years ago, while Kiltimagh native Malee was a regular with the Mayo junior team. Such pedigree throughout the ranks at junior level means that the ambitions at their adopted club have heightened, but they have even surpassed what they set out to do this year.

“It has been the goal for the last number of years,” said Malee of getting to an All-Ireland semi-final.

“Last year we basically bet ourselves; we lost the British semi-final to a team that’s much worse than us so this year all the guys really rolled in together and we finally got over the hurdle by beating Mitchells. It’s been a good year. The goal was to get to a British final, some of us would have bigger goals and thought we would be good enough to get into the All-Ireland series. Obviously our goalposts have changed now; we’re looking to get to an All-Ireland final.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that the centre-forward has featured in an All-Ireland JFC final if he were to help his team get there. He was one of the main men on the Kiltimagh side that agonisingly lost out to Kerry side Castlegregory in the 2009 final on a scoreline of 1-14 to 0-15 after extra-time, and, from a personal point of view, there is more to do.

“Obviously there’s a bit of unfinished business there,” he says. “I didn’t play well that day and we did leave it behind us because we were the better team. When it went to extra-time that day their bench was just that little bit stronger than ours, but we should have won it in the 60 minutes. Two points up with 30 seconds to go, it’s hard to take that. There’s definitely unfinished business there. I’d love to get back there and there are not too many Mayo men with All-Ireland titles,” explains Malee.

Day jobs

Malee works with the Ministry of Defence in Scotland, while Horan is in the final stages of his studies to become a qualified teacher. Such varying careers are common throughout the Connollys team, and Malee outlines the social advantages of playing with a club in Edinburgh.

“Essentially it’s kind of a social thing. It’s the easiest way of meeting guys because when you come over here to a new city the best thing to do is go training with a team. To be fair to the guys that are over the team, they have a hard task trying to keep everyone off the beer in Eddinburgh because there’s obviously so much happening around here all the time. It’s a social thing though, there’s a good team spirit there.”

“It’s not dissimilar [to playing at home] at all and it’s definitely not a pisstake. It’s very serious. Cormac O’Gara — our manager — is very serious and has everything really well organised. We started off the year with a strength and conditioning programme for 12 weeks. It’s slightly different because the level of intensity isn’t there early on in the year.”

That upsurge of intensity is something that Connollys have to deal with every year thanks to the largely uncompetitive nature of the Scottish Championship, and when they went in search of a decent challenge game in Newcastle this year it turned out to be a bit of a whitewash.

“The year is kind of different over here because you don’t really get going until August. You play a few league games but you’re playing against Scottish teams and they’re not the strongest to be fair. It’s very hard for us to get a proper challenge. We travelled down to Newcastle this year to get a decent game but we ended up winning by about 40 points or something like that. So, when you get to a semi-final then it’s the only real time you start to get a bit of a challenge. The intensity is at a whole different level then and that’s the real challenge we have, but thankfully we managed to deal with it this year,” said Malee.

With three Tyrone players on the Connollys team, they will have a bit of local knowledge on their next opponents, and the build-up has already begun.

“They have info; it has been sussed out already,” said Malee when discussing his teammates from Tyrone.

“We were getting Snapchats from their dinner dance last night,” he continued.

The Scottish club have representatives from all over the country involved, with Tyrone and Kerry providing three players each, Roscommon have two men in the panel, while Longford, Offaly, Galway, Leitrim and Down are also represented, while manager Cormac O’Gara hails from Donegal.

The Mayo link is strongest however, and victory in their next outing would ensure that there will be plenty of Mayo fans making the trip to Croke Park once again for an All-Ireland final, this time to cheer on a Scottish team.

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