Erris footballers

Pride in those who line out for the county is one thing but to see lads from your own locality making the grade is something else entirely. I’m delighted to welcome into the guest slot Roger Milla, a long-standing contributor to the comments section, to provide his thoughts on the footballers from Erris who have cut a dash at county level.  

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.

8 thoughts on “Erris footballers

  1. Lovely article Roger Milla. And a well chosen subject…the often forgotten Barony of Erris especially when Mayo teams were picked.

    Between 1971 and 1976 Knockmore, Kiltane and Belmullet dominated Mayo club football at senior, intermediate and junior however very few of the players from this area ever got to wear the county shirt. Seems you needed to be from around Castlebar or 20 mile radius back then.

    Just to add Roger, the McAndrews were super. John won 2 All Ireland’s and a National league with Mayo. Pat played in the thieved final of 1948 v Cavan and won a National league medal with New York v Cavan in 1950. New York were a force in those days and the finals attracted 50,000 plus.

    Erris tended to throw up entire families of footballers. The Maguires from Blacksod, the O Sullivans from Ballycroy, the O Tooles, Walshes and Healys from Drum (pound for pound the best road in Mayo for producing great under age footballers when we add in the late Mick Togher).
    Belmullet had its Barretts, Reillys and Donoghues.

    Forgotten places like Glosh threw up Sean Meenaghan (son won a minor for Mayo in 1966 Bernard), PJ Monaghan, John Gallagher Padraig Keane hailed from those environs as well. Problem for a lot of young bucks from my era was this; if emigration didn’t take them many had to compete with the newly arrived guard/teacher/bank offical or whoever. By the time everybody copped on that whilst those were good jobs they never guranteed good footballers, the discarded played soccer with us on Caislean banks and were just as happy.

  2. That was a question i wanted to throw out to the blog ontheroad as i have no recollection of a ballycroyman lining out for mayo in my time also i believe that the o’sullivans in ballycroy were originally from kerry , they were well before my era which only really began in the early 80’s .

    Willie Joe many thanks for the chance to appear on the blog ,

  3. Well Roger I am no expert so check out what I say. What I know for sure is this. The Sullivans parents were teachers from Kerry indeed. The mam was related to the Myers I think, blue blood Kerry stock. But the lads were Ballycroy true and true.

    Michael and Kieran played for Mayo minors and Sean was more than useful. Ballycroy had a great player called Micheal Padden who played for Mayo U21s circa 1970/71.

    Loads of great footballers lived in pockets in that area. Noel Joyce was from Mulranny and won a minor All Ireland in 1971 with Mayo. Not sure that we can drag Mulranny, or is it Mallaraney nowadays, into Erris!

  4. Thanks for the history lesson, ontheroad – – – of course you have one big advantage over the rest of us in that you can go back a lot further! ! Any chance you might compile a DVD tracing the ups and downs of Mayo football during the twentieth century – – you could call it “Reelin in the years” – could be a best seller. Saw you getting out of the car with the tinted windows going into Bertie’s Bash at Croke Park the other evening – – – fair play to you- – was there any extra time at it? ?

  5. Samuel, all of Mayo’s ups and downs are well recorded and a lot of them would be best viewed through the fingers with all the kids out of the room.

    Can I remind you that Willie Joes site is for football not resurrecting political careers, however if you really want to insult me you have already done by mentioning ontheroad in the same sentence as Bertie.

    Obviously my lighting of a few candles in Knock and Medjugurje has had a good effect on you!

  6. No malice intended ontheroad – as I’m sure you will acknowledge. I will concentrate on the round ball from now on – – – twas just that you immediately came to my mind when I observed a corncrake flying low over the house a few minutes ago.

  7. Got the grant for the corncrake last week , so I told him to shag off until next spring and to come back with a few friends…we need the cash!

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