While much of the focus for this coming weekend is on the glamour fixture with the Dubs at McHale Park on Saturday night, Davitts are preparing for the biggest day in the club’s history as they prepare to take the field at Croke Park in the All-Ireland Intermediate club final the following afternoon. With this in mind, I’m delighted to welcome Davitts Man into the guest slot to set the scene ahead of Sunday’s decider.
It’s very strange to be getting excited about an All-Ireland final in the middle of February. What is even stranger however is to be getting excited about an All-Ireland final involving Davitts GAA club. Come the second weekend in February, I can say for certain that Valentine’s Day will not be in the minds of most locals. I’d say the closest some will get to romance that weekend is if they take a trip to Coppers! The lads from the border finally have something to shout about. For a long time Davitts were the forgotten team of south Mayo. They looked on as other clubs such as Claremorris, Hollymount and Garrymore were cock of the walk. Well now, the noisy neighbours can well and truly be heard. (I could even mention that they are the first south Mayo club to reach Croke Park but let’s not go there!)
So how the hell has this happened? Let’s be honest, most locals don’t even know! Who would have thought the O’Mara Cup in January 2011 would be the springboard to an All-Ireland final appearance the following year? 13 months ago, the 2011 season got underway for Davitts. New man Pete Warren (yes, he’s from across the border) had got the gig and hopes were high that this would be the year to get back to the senior grade. A number of other mangers had tried and failed. So why would this year be any different?
Davitts always had the reputation of the hard men of Mayo football, whether they liked or not. Indeed I can remember many a ‘scrap’ from under age games to senior where they might not have won on the scoreboard but certainly knew how to ‘take care’ of themselves. Nobody liked travelling to Ballindine as they were always guaranteed a tough encounter but from a Davitts point of view, more often than not the visitors would walk away with a win. In 2011, that was all about to change.
Under Pete Warren (who has since become the mayor of Ballindine and Irishtown) – ably assisted by local men Jarlath Trench and John Tracey – things changed dramatically. Early victories in the O’Mara Cup culminated in a hard fought one-point final win over Shrule-Glencorrib in Ballinrobe. This was the springboard to the greatest year in the history of the Davitts GAA club. And the wins kept coming. Next up was the Micheal Walsh Intermediate league final in which Davitts beat Burrishoole by two points – in a game that would turn out to a repeat of the intermediate final a few months later.
While the wins kept coming there was a notable change in the mindset of Davitts players. While they were still the ‘hard men’ they could mix it with playing a brand of quality football. The same word kept coming up in conversations with both management and supports alike – it was all about Discipline. It was plain to see the Davitts boys were able to hold their heads on the pitch and if anybody looked like they were going to step out of line, Pete and the management team weren’t long reminding them of their responsibilities.
As the long evenings approached and the ground got firm the Davitts boys were chomping. Training was intense and lads were flying, there were even reports that a few players dusted off their boots to make a comeback for the juniors. That surely is a sign that it’s championship time.
Davitts won their group with three wins out of three. A victory over near neighbours Kilmaine, followed by a tough semi-final win over Parke meant Davitts were in their first intermediate final since 1981. Young and old set off for Castlebar with the hope that this would be their year. They dared to dream that the big time was within reach. Surely they would not be denied, surely?
In the final, it was glory days as Davitts came out on the right side of a two-point margin over Burrishoole. Words cannot describe what followed. There were bonfires aplenty as the team got back to Ballindine and Irishtown. The border area was certainly alive and kicking. Thankfully the environmental officers don’t work Sundays as they amount of tyres burned that Sunday would surely have the placed the Kyoto agreement under pressure.
But, although they celebrated in style that night, the lads had their eyes on a bigger prize. The next challenge was to become intermediate champions of Connacht. They got the required semi-final victory over Melvin Gaels in Carrick-on-Shannon before the masses descended on Kiltoom to see Davitts defeat Padraig Pearses of Roscommon and gain the Connacht intermediate title. Surely this could not go on…but indeed it did.
Christmas time for the majority is about rest, relaxation and Santa. The Davitts lads only had one Christmas wish and that was a trip to Croker. The one team standing in their way were Eire Óg of Wicklow. On a cold crisp Sunday afternoon their faithful followers made to the trip to Tullamore to witness some black magic first hand. Cars, buses, trains, the supporters made their way by any means possible to see if the fairytale could continue. Some lads had barely been outside the county. Now this team had taken them on a tour of North Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Offaly and many more places in between. The Christmas break had clearly done the trick as the boys were on fire from the off and had the game wrapped up well before the final whistle, to the delight of travelling hordes. So what happens now?
We’re not really sure. The people – and indeed the players of Ballindine and Irishtown – have never been in this position before. What I can say for certain is one section of Croke Park will be decked out in black and red on February 12. The lads will have support like no one has had before. Without a doubt, the team will give it their all and if at the final whistle they make their way up the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect that trophy, we will be overjoyed. If it they don’t, then we will be equally proud and we will start all over again with hope in our hearts.
Davitts GAA club has been one of the cornerstones of the community since it was founded, it was officially called Davitts in 1973 – albeit the first football teams in the parish were formed after the ending of the Civil War (1923-1924). Undoubtedly, it is now safe to say the club has a place in the hearts and minds of young and old. This is evident from the flags and banners that can be seen flying from all corners of the parish – from Crimlin to Kilvine from Skevard to Cloonmore the black and red is plain to see.
Make no mistake, something crazy is happening along the border. Granted, most people don’t quite know what it is but they sure are happy to be along for the ride!