One of the topics that came up on our first Mayo News football podcast episode of the year was that of home venues that Mayo have used in the Championship aside from MacHale Park. It’s a subject worthy of a bit more discussion.
First up I have to acknowledge that I made a right bags of the point I was endeavouring to make on the podcast, as I got my facts wrong about the most recent time we contested a Connacht SFC match on home soil away from Castlebar. The year this happened was 1988 alright and it was a match against Leitrim but the venue was Charlestown and not, as I asserted on the podcast, Crossmolina. The most recent time we played there in the Championship was, in fact, in 1980, also against Leitrim.
In my defence, I wasn’t at either game. I sat the Leaving Cert in 1980 and I’m not sure if I’d emerged from that particular rite of passage by the time the ball was thrown in at St Tiernan’s Park on 22nd June that year. Eight years later, I wasn’t in the country, having emigrated six weeks or so before that game at Fr O’Hara Park was played.
No matter. The point I was making on the podcast was that, although it’s been a while since we used a home venue other than MacHale Park for a Championship match at Senior level, we’ve played in a variety of home venues over the last century and more.
Charlestown was our most popular home from home in more recent times. Aside from that 1988 match against Leitrim, we also lined out there against the same opposition in 1976 and 1971, as well against Sligo in 1965, 1962, 1958 and 1952.
Other than Crossmolina, the only other home venue we used since 1950 was Ballina. Leitrim were the opposition when we played at James Stephens Park in 1978. Back in the Forties we played three Connacht SFC matches there in four years, with a 1947 meeting with Roscommon bookended by clashes with Sligo in both 1949 and 1946.
As you venture further back, other places start to get a look in. Gilmartin Park in Kiltimagh staged our sole Connacht SFC outing of 1943, as we went under to Galway by seven points.
Ballyhaunis – a frequent enough venue in modern times for pre-season FBD jousts – got its moment in the sun in 1928. Roscommon are usually the opposition for FBD games there and it was the Rossies we met there in the Championship 93 years ago too. We won as well.
June 1924 saw us take the field at Ballaghaderreen. Punters hadn’t a whole load of cheering to do that day as we drew two points each with Leitrim. We won the replay, though.
The same year we contested an even more thrilling drawn game at home in Connacht. That was in the final against Galway, which was played in Balla, which ended all square at a point apiece. We won the replay of that one too.
Swinford – where, at the amenity park pitch in the town the Mayo LGFA team play plenty of home games nowadays – hosted its one and only Connacht Championship tie back in 1918. Sligo were the opposition in that one.
The only other home venue we used was Claremorris. We played there seven times between 1902 and 1907, four times against Galway, twice against Roscommon and once against Sligo.
The most recent of those clashes with Galway, in the 1906 Connacht semi-final played in April 1907, saw us win by a mammoth 2-16 to 0-1. That was the game that GAA historians were scrambling for details of after we walloped Galway by 17 points at Salthill in 2013, as that encounter more than a century previously was the only time we’d beaten the Tribesmen by a bigger margin in the Championship.
Those seven matches played at Claremorris mean that it shares the honour of our most popular home away from home for Championship fixtures with both Ballina and Charlestown. That’s not bad going for a venue we last used in 1907.
Claremorris would, however, be the most used alternative home venue in its own right had the 1909 Connacht SFC match against Roscommon that was fixed for there in February 1911 gone ahead. That game was, though, postponed due to the lack of a guarantee of sufficient train services for the game.
As an aside, towns on rail lines were popular venues for big matches in Connacht up until the late Thirties. As well as Claremorris, Castlerea was the location of many such contests in those years, as was Tuam. Athlone was also called upon on occasion to host Connacht matches.
Back to that Roscommon match in 1911, though, which had an amusing finale. Athlone was chosen as the venue when the tie was refixed for July that year. Roscommon won the game by six points to five but we lodged an objection, setting out five grounds of appeal. These were: (1) the referee was from Roscommon; (2) the venue; (3) the first half lasted 20 minutes; (4) the second half lasted 40 minutes and (5) the pitch was too short.
Who could argue with that weight of evidence? Our appeal was successful and we went on to defeat Galway in the 1909 Connacht final. I don’t know when that match was played but the records (such as they are) state it took place in Ballina. And we won.
That victory helps Ballina to claim the title of our happiest home away from home hunting ground in the Championship. We won six of the seven Connacht SFC ties we played down the years there, losing only to Roscommon, back in 1947. The record for Claremorris is five wins and two losses while for Charlestown it’s four wins, two draws and one defeat.