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15 Aug 2022

Inside Track: Game differs from one St Marys played and Mairtin’s have perfected

JP Rooney, St Martins, and Paul Clarke, Geraldines

The evergreen JP Rooney taking on Geraldines defender Paul Clarke. (Photo: Arthur Kinahan)

St Mary’s had Pairc Mhuire and its surrounds in excellent condition for the senior and minor finals. Nothing they could do about the parade; the decision to have a lone piper instead of a band leading the teams around was the County Board’s.

It was the same at the junior and intermediate finals. Money-saving, perhaps, but not what you expect on such occasions. No criticism of the bagpiper; as always he played his heart out.

There’d have been a band at Dundalk’s Athletic Grounds – maybe Ronnie Roslyn and the Emmet – for the many finals played there before its gates were shut for the last time, in early 1960.

Mary’s would have been on parade on several occasions back then, lining up alongside Stabannon Parnells, two Dundalk sides, Young Irelands and Gaels, and other teams prominent at the time.

There were many reminders of the winning blue-clad teams of the past at Pairc Mhuire on Sunday week. The stairway to the Mary’s club centre’s main room is festooned with photos and newspaper cuttings. Beahan, Boyle and another Beahan, Malone, Markey and McArdle, Ross, Roe and Reilly. They were all there, along with the rest.

The football played then and for many years afterwards was much different from what we’re seeing now. There are many who’ll argue it was more attractive before ‘blanket defending’, ‘parking the bus’ and such expressions made their way on to the lexicon.  

Players were numbered 1 to 15, but unlike today, lined up as the programme said they would: the goalkeeper, fronted by three full-backs, and going forward, three half-backs, two midfielders, and then three each in the half-forward and full-forward lines.

The midfielders could be guaranteed to do most running, going back to defend 50s, or forward when their side got one, as well as covering their own patch. A full-back getting a score was as rare as a corner-forward not being first to be told to ‘lie down, you’re coming off’.

The formation appearing on today’s programme follows tradition, but is not a reliable guide as to where players will line up. And even if the No 15 is in the corner for starters, and 8 and 9 are in for the throw-in, usually it won’t be long before they’re on the move, with all fourteen outfield players sometimes – make that many times – congregating in one half of the field.  The positions allotted to them mean nothing nowadays.

This is not the game that made the St Mary’s teams and others from the 1950s great, but it’s how it’s played now, and as they showed in Ardee just over a week ago, Naomh Mairtin have perfected it better than any other club in the county.

Fitness and a willingness to stick to the match-plan is central to everything they do; and given the back-up the team had leading on to the final, and maybe before that, it’s no wonder they run as fast at the finish of their games as they do when they leave the traps.

Fergal Reel headed the sideline team, taking assistance from, among others, All-Ireland-winning manager, Donegal’s Jim McGuinness, who is wanted by Down, but says he’s not heading for the Mournes. This was the South Armagh man’s second championship with Mairtin’s and fifth in all, having previously led St Patrick’s to a three-timer. He also won a Monaghan junior title with Doohamlet.  

It was a campaign in which Reel would have had few worries. Mairtin’s ran up big winning scores along the way, and finished eleven points clear of first-timers, St Mochta’s, in the final. It was their fourth final in successive years – there could be more before a different name is etched on the Joe Ward.

In the meantime, Louth supporters will be hoping Sam Mulroy carries club form on to the county side. There’s no reason to believe he won’t. The No 14 has had an exceptional championship, claiming at total of 5-34 in five games. There hasn’t been scoring like it before, an average of just short of 1-7 per game.

Mulroy should have Wayne Campbell among his National League colleagues. Here’s a player built in the mould of some of those mentioned at the beginning of this piece, with the ability to take a score. There are others from Monasterboice who could have caught Mickey Harte’s attention, if they haven’t already.

Mochta’s were unlucky that their opponents on their first county final appearance were the title-holders, who are so well organised and have such a huge management team behind them. The Villagers were competitive in the opening half, and as they would have a strong breeze in the favour after the interval, a recall of the form they showed in the semi-final defeat of St Mary’s might, it seemed, have them in with a chance.

Mochta’s, however, never really got motoring. Declan Byrne’s free-taking was their main source of scores, while the backs gave Mulroy too many chances to test his free-taking skill. Midfield belonged to Mairtin’s.

And to make a disappointing day even worse for the underdogs, as the game ebbed well away from them, one of their players took a huge red-card hit, his injury requiring hospital attention. Hopefully, Stephen McCooey will be back when Mochta’s renew their challenge for honours next season.

Take a line from Tullyallen to Termonfeckin and you’ll find the winners of the county’s three major football championship winners. Neighbouring Naomh Mairtin are Glen Emmets (junior) and St Fechin’s (intermediate), and if the latter manage to add the minor title, well, it will be a clean sweep like no other. Also lodged beside the sea is hurling’s top prize.

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