Lahardane emerge from the fog as Connacht champions

Lahardane MacHales this afternoon clinched their second Connacht Junior football title, beating off the spirited challenge of a youthful Owenmore Gaels team at a fog-bound Hastings Insurance MacHale Park.

The men from the butt of Nephin came out on top by 3-10 to 1-12 after what was a rip-roaring provincial title decider between two teams who really went for it. In the end, Lahardane had the greater guile and, crucially, superior finishing ability and that’s why they’re Connacht champions tonight.

Strolling down MacHale Road on my way back from the town centre – where I finally got my hands on Declan Varley’s book – I could barely make out the outline of the match venue, where, in less than half an hour, the ball was due to be thrown in. The entire town was shrouded under a soupy gloom and, with no wind to speak of, it was clear – on a day when precious little had any clarity about it – that the fog wasn’t going to lift any time soon.

I took my place high in the stand. I couldn’t see the media tower on the far side, with no more than half the pitch in any sense visible at all. Despite this the two teams trotted out, did their warm-ups and then, once Amhrán na bhFiann was dispensed with, went to battle against each other.

The opening half went by in a complete blur. Owenmore Gaels began in lively fashion but their attacks emanated largely from the left wing on the far side so it was impossible to discern how the ball was moving. Lahardane, helpfully, attacked mainly from the left too so their offensive sorties were visible – just about – to those of us in the stand.

The Sligo lads enjoyed marginally the better of the exchanges in the opening quarter, at the end of which they led by a point. But then, a bit like the snowbound picture you’d get when trying to watch The Big Match on UTV in the early Seventies, there were signs of a flurry of activity in the goalmouth at the Albany end. A big roar went up from the noisy Lahardane fans, the umpire on the near side reached for a flag, which wasn’t white, so I concluded that MacHales had scored the opening goal of the game.

Which they had but it’s only after reading Michael Gallagher’s match report for the Mayo News (here) that I’ve come to know that the ball was palmed to the net by Matthew Maughan.

Soon afterwards Lahardane raised their second green flag of the afternoon. I’d thought this one was smashed home, after a superb defence-splitting run, by co-captain Aaron Murphy but I learned when chatting with Mike on the Final Whistle pod afterwards that it was Man of the Match Kyran Jordan – who contributed 1-2 to his side’s total in what was a stellar midfield performance from the 19-year-old – who’d bagged that one.

The goals propelled Lahardane into the ascendency in this contest. Two late points, however, by Owenmore – who, like their opponents, brought vociferous support with them to Castlebar for this provincial final – cut the gap to three at half-time.

Despite the conditions – which really had to be seen with your own eyes to be believed – this game already had the makings of a minor classic. What followed in the second half made it even more so.

Lahardane started well after the break, with points from Adrian Leonard and Mark Noone – who played off each other so cleverly all day – followed by an inspirational, long-distance score from Darragh Walsh. Six up now, Lahardane were flying.

I had a better vantage point now too, having abandoned my perch at the back of the stand at the break. Much closer to the pitch and down towards the bacon factory end, I could at last see what was happening on most of the pitch. After the blurry confusion of the first half and, with the fog finally beginning to lift, this was more like it.

The Mayo lads seemed to have settled matters when Mark Noone off-loaded to the in-rushing Shane Finnerty to palm the ball to the net for his side’s third goal. But Owenmore came with a determined fightback, scoring 1-2 without reply, the goal by Dillon Walsh reminiscent of the screamer Joe Lindsay bagged for Mayo against Down in a League match back in the Eighties, as he ran half the field before smashing it home.

The gap was, from Lahardane’s perspective, an uncomfortable three points as injury time beckoned. Owenmore pressed hard for further scores but the final say on the board came at the other end when Mark Noone and Adrian Leonard combined once again, the latter firing over the point that sealed Lahardane’s win.

Despite the fog, this was a cracking match between two teams who went at it hammer and tongs. The fog was the only blanket in evidence today, as both sides attacked at will for much of the hour. Even in the depths of winter, Gaelic football can be a thrilling spectacle when it’s played in the right spirit, as it surely was today.

Lahardane’s journey now takes them onwards to the All-Ireland Championship where, on the first weekend of 2024, they’ll face Munster opposition in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Munster final is set to be played next weekend and for Lahardane their New Year opponents will either be Listowel Emmets from Kerry or Cork’s Kilmurry.

There’ll be talk in Lahardane tonight, no doubt, of the next hurdle they face. But there’ll also be justifiable satisfaction at what Eddie Conroy and his charges have achieved this year, having bounced straight back up from Junior at the first attempt and now having added a Connacht title for good measure. It’s set to be a very happy Christmas for them and more power to them for it.

Our Final Whistle pod from MacHale Park is up now on Patreon. Mike and I are joined on it by John Maughan, who managed Lahardane when they last won the Connacht JFC title and whose three nephews are on the current panel, as well as Eddie Conroy, Kyran Jordan and Aaron Murphy. To get access to this pod and all our other great content, join the club here.

2 thoughts on “Lahardane emerge from the fog as Connacht champions

  1. Well done Lahardane, couldn’t attend yesterday so decided to watch the stream. Haven’t a clue what happened due to the fog. Hard to know how accurate the commentary was either as I’m sure it was just as difficult for them to see what was going on. Such a pity as WJ said it was a great game on the podcast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *