Erris footballers

Ahead of Kiltane’s big day out at Croke Park this coming Sunday, this guest piece by Roger Milla, which was first published on the site in September 2011, is worthy of a second airing.

Kiltane Connacht IFC champions

Photo: @pbrogan1 via Twitter

At the age of four, young lads are taken down to the park in Bangor Erris and taught to solo the ball, to pick it up at speed, to hand pass, to field and to challenge – the skills of our game.   It is no different throughout Erris and, having taught these skills in Germany, I know that there is a connection between all of us who have been so inculcated.  But some were born merely to participate and others to dominate and so with thanks to our aptly named host blogger I would like to give you my memories of the men who dominated my youth even more than Liam Brady, John Barnes, Mark Knopfler and Bruce Springsteen.

It’s a Munster championship day in Killarney and the streets are packed with Kerry supporters, you duck into The Tatler Jack for a pint or two and admire the jerseys which adorn the walls, the Kerry greats and the respected opponents. Immediately you see Gabriel Irwin’s jersey and of course further on hangs, as is his due, the jersey of the great Willie Joe Padden.  Surely any Mayoman would feel the swelling of the chest just as I did, but an extra wave of pressure to the cavity came as I knew that these were Erris men like me. To find that they were thought of as exceptional by Kerry supporters was a source of great pride – yes, they were always my heroes but surely a hero held in high regard by the foe is the greatest hero of all?

I must confess that when Gabriel Irwin broke into the Mayo team he wasn’t really on my radar. He hadn’t attended school in Belmullet, played for the parish of Glenamoy (which played junior football when they could get a team together at all) and what’s more Eugene Lavin was a fine guardian for the Green and Red at the time.  All the better when he proved to be a gifted custodian in the massive games that were the Connacht finals, the All-Ireland semi and the All-Ireland final of ’89. It was always his agility which impressed me the many times I saw him play for Mayo: he pulled off saves that would have impressed any watching soccer scout. He served us fantastically well in those four or five years as Mayo’s number one and I am proud to say he is a fellow Erris man.

And as for Willie Joe, what more could possibly be written? His iconic bandage  in our semi-final in ‘89 summed up how he served our county, his All-Star awards to my mind a poor return for a man of his ability, it is impossible for me to mention where I come from to any GAA supporter without them mentioning his name. He will be the Mayo footballer foremost in people’s minds long after he departs this earth.  He plucked the ball from the air regardless of the number of challengers and could then take it on or pass it with hand or foot; he was the complete Gaelic footballer. That his jersey resides with the greats in The Tatler Jack is no surprise. That the man behind this blog chose his name as a pseudonym is only logical.

Mayo has been served well by Erris men throughout our years of contesting the All-Ireland Championship – my uncle speaks of the McAndrews of Kiltane who were exceptional talents. Most Mayo supporters would recognise the name of Johnny Carey who was an All-Star before I was born. Very good players like Joe Lindsay, Ciaran and Sean Carey, John  Conmy, Billy Joe Padden,  Stephen Carolan and now Chris Barrett and Mikey Sweeney all pulled on the colours during my own years as a supporter. If we can gripe that some did not get the chance, or enough chances, well we are not alone or indeed different to any other parish or area of our island.

There have been a lot of discussions on this blog about what our county has to do to win the All-Ireland title once more, distinguished journalists and learned bloggers have all added to the debate and it has been a pleasure to read and to contribute. When we do win it, however, we can safely say that it will be because we found a manager with a vision, who then found the players to implement it and all of whom overcame Mayo football’s particular historical burden and indeed thrived on the pressure of it. But more, much more than all of this, it will be because, at the age of four, young lads are taken to the park in Bangor Erris and to the pitches of the parishes all over our county and taught to solo the ball, to pick it up at speed, to pick out a pass, to field and to challenge.

18 thoughts on “Erris footballers

  1. A very good article there. You can add to that list the countless talented footballers that Erris has lost due to emigration, probably more so than any other area of Ireland.
    A very successful year for Erris with the achievments of Cill Chomain and Kiltane. A credit to the barony to be able to have 3 established clubs.
    Reckon Mikey Sweeney will be a huge addition to the Mayo squad this year, hopefully he’ll get to prove himself in a few league games.

  2. Nice piece Roger. That’s some snap,of WJ soaring … Assuming that snap is from our sf clash with the dubs in 85? Is that Brian Mullins on his back?

  3. Great piece Roger.Do you or fellow bloggers still believe we have that manager that has the vision who can find the players to implement that vision? Now that’s a question.

  4. Good piece Roger. Best of luck to everyone from Erris on Sunday. Here’s hoping ye come away with the spoils.

  5. It is, Mister Mayor – I think it was from the semi-final replay in 1985 and that is Brian Mullins getting a lift from the great Willie Joe (i.e. the one and only real one). Our number 6 in the picture is John Maughan (who had a full head of hair back then) and the Dublin no.11 is Tommy Conroy, who is also a St. Vincents man and is incidentally the manager there at the minute. If you double-click on the photo in the piece you’ll get a higher-res version of the photo.

  6. Great piece Roger and thanks WJ for putting it back up. I was at those games v Dublin in ’85. My first ever visit to Croker was the drawn game and I remember being at the very back of the old Hogan, banging off the sheets of galvanise as we all roared “Mayo, Mayo”. The Dubs didn’t know what hit them. Mullins was the stand-out midfielder in the country at that time, probably even ahead of Jack O’Shea, and our Willie Joe bet him up and down the pitch for the entire game. Just looking at that picture demonstrates what an athlete WJ was as well, his feet are easily 2 foot above Mullins’ and WJ was probably 3″ or 4″ shorter in height, sos it was a remakable leap. The power he could generate in his leap was extraordinary, and that at a time when the only S&C was the sand dunes inThe Mullet and dragging tyres behind you on 100yrd sprints!

  7. Yes I was there too Pebblesmeller and it was one hell of a match. You might also recall in that game with about ten minutes to go, Padraig Brogan (cousin of the now infamous Brogan brothers) was brought on at centre field and made an immediate impact. Dublin supporters I was with, couldn’t understand why he wasn’t playing for the entire match, but sin sceal eile…..

  8. wow I didnt realize that was John Maughan…was at both those games meself…only 14 at the time, still remember leaving Ballina that morning with me friends on the train, packed to the point where they were hanging off it….was buzzing with excitment.

  9. Well done Roger Miller, I enjoyed that piece! If I remember correctly, Brian Mullins wouldn’t shake hands with Willie Joe after that game. When the game was over, Mullins ran straight off the pitch with Willie Joe running along side him, with his hand out but Mullins just kept running down the tunnel, he knew Willie Joe had got the better of him that day! …….. Best of luck to Kiltane on Sunday, they have a lot of firepower up front, so thats a real plus for them. Surely if Tommy ‘Goals’ Conroy wins another All-Ireland medal, he will become the first Mayo man to win two within six months. Well done to all involved so far and best wishes for the final….

  10. I ll never forget the bullet of a goal Padraig got that year against the Dubs. Was there for both games with family and friends , many no longer with us a n d it seem like yesterday .

  11. Fantastic piece roger, between here and facebook you have definitely been responsible for me having an added interest in Kiltanes journey . The video of the buck singing the ballad , this piece and your own dedication ” from the German stock exchange ” , all good stuff.
    Best of luck to Kiltane.

  12. Im going to put out the call again to see if anyone from Galway is going to match on Sunday in Tyrone that might have a spare seat.Ill will help with petrol monies:)

  13. Yes Nephin that was some goal all right and from a good 30yds out, Padraig was some talent in his day, a good Knockmore man, but I guess he just didn’t fit in. And you’re right, so many absent friends.

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