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High stakes as old foes meet again

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Date Published: 12-Nov-2009

OLD foes will meet on a familiar battleground when reigning All-Ireland Club kingpins Portumna and 2006 county champions Loughrea face off in the long overdue Galway senior hurling final– degraded and dogged by controversies in recent weeks – at Pearse Stadium on Sunday (2:30pm).

In many respects, the good has been taken out of Galway’s hurling showpiece. Originally fixed for October 25, then November 8, before being assigned its current date of November 15, the decider has been tarnished by the ongoing controversy surrounding the fall-out from the Mullagh and Loughrea semi-final.

The saga took another twist last weekend when local referees indicated they were considering strike action after the County Hearings Committee reduced 48-week bans imposed on three Mullagh players for allegedly striking match referee Christy Helebert to 12 weeks.

While the position taken by Galway’s referees did cast another doubt over the county senior hurling final, in a statement from Galway Hurling Referees this week they have agreed to officiate the fixture, but “under protest”.

The gesture has been welcomed by all concerned, with Loughrea manager Padraig Duddy stating: “It is a huge occasion for Loughrea and Portumna and for the county. A good county final is what is needed after the last few weeks and, hopefully, we will get it on Sunday. I think it is important, though, that the referees are looked after and supported as well. They are coming out to ref this match and fair play to them for doing it.They are an integral part of the GAA.

“I don’t know the ins and outs (of the Mullagh controversy) – and I don’t want to go into that particular case – but we would not have the match on Sunday if we didn’t have the referee. There would be no hurling match played without them. Fair play to them for refereeing the match on Sunday and, hopefully, things in the whole county will be sorted out after this.”

Of course, the current fall-out occurred following Loughrea’s dramatic semi-final victory over Mullagh. Rejecting that his charges were lucky to come out of Kenny Park with the win, Duddy adds: “We got a decision, we got a free, and we took it. Christy Helebert had a call to make and he made it.

“I don’t think we have been lucky. We have had tough, tight matches and I think that is where the mental strength of the lads shone through. That is what I would take from it. The lads’ mental strength, against Beagh and against Mullagh, shone through and that is what I would be happy about.”

No doubt, Loughrea – who are chasing an historic treble, having already claimed the minor ‘A’ and junior ‘A’ titles – are in the decider on merit. Unbeaten in the group stages, they recorded victories over Killimordaly, Carnmore and Castlegar, while drawing their other Group D encounter with Ardrahan on scoreline of 0-14 to 1-11.

They continued to drive on in the knockout stages, accounting for Kiltormer by 1-15 to 1-5 in the preliminary quarter-final. They were subsequently held by an ever-improving Beagh outfit, 0-13 apiece, in the quarter-final, but showed their steel to see the job through in the replay, winning 2-12 to 0-14.

This set up a county semi-final meeting with Mullagh, which finished in acrimonious circumstances after referee Christy Helebert made the hard call of awarding Loughrea a free in injury-time and the placed ball was converted by minor star Neil Keary to secure his outfit a 0-16 to 0-15 victory.

Certainly, coming through these tight scrapes has fostered a winning mentality in the club – also evident in the minor and junior championship wins – but Duddy agrees Loughrea face a very different challenge on Sunday.

“No one can argue with what Portumna have done and what they have achieved in the last few years,” continues the Loughrea boss. “But we have just been concentrating on ourselves all year and we are just glad to be in a county final, no matter how we got there.

“Definitely, those close games will stand to us, and when you get through a tighter match you appreciate the win more. So, definitely, the two matches against Beagh would have helped to come through the Mullagh match. The tight games have helped us.”

They will also be buoyed by the fact that when these sides last met in a county decider in 2006, Loughrea entered the contest as underdogs. However, after a severely bruising and physical battle – that held the monopoly on media headlines for all the wrong reasons afterwards – Loughrea emerged victorious on a scoreline of 1-13 to 0-15.

One would hope the scars of that particular battle have long healed, and speaking to Portumna manager Johnny Kelly, he is adamant his charges only focus on the game in hand. That they do not dwell on the past, that they do not daydream about potential three-in-a-rows, and that they do not get caught up with records.

“No, we don’t speak of the three-in-a-row here at all,” says Kelly. “I mean, it would be foolish to do so, I think anyway. It has never been spoken about and I would be completely honest about this. We don’t speak about three-in-a-rows and we don’t speak about records. We try to go out and give as good an account of ourselves every day as we can and that is what we will be trying to do on Sunday as well.”

Without a doubt, Portumna have been the team of the decade so far. This Sunday, they will appear in their seventh consecutive county decider, having already won four county cups in their previous six appearances. In addition to this impressive record, Portumna have also won three All-Ireland club titles, and this season they are also chasing an unprecedented three-in-a-row nationally.

First up, though, they must negotiate their old nemesis Loughrea if they are going to secure a coveted three-in-a-row at local level and on this year’s form they would appear to be raging hot favourites to do so. Portumna started 2009 as they finished 2008, tearing apart Kilkenny champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks by 5-11 to 1-16 in the eagerly anticipated All-Ireland club semi-final back in February, before they quashed Waterford and Munster representatives De La Salle by 2-24 to 1-8 in the All-Ireland decider in March.

Back in the Galway championship, Kelly’s men subsequently topped their group, completing the clean sweep when winning all four games against Athenry, Beagh, Turloughmore and Tommie Larkins. They devoured St. Thomas’ (5-13 to 0-12) and Castlegar (3-18 to 1-11) in the preliminary quarter-final and quarter-final respectively, before coasting past Gort in the semi-final.

The latter was an odd affair. Having controlled the game for 50 minutes of the tie, Portumna, incredibly, then conceded 4-1 in the dying minutes. Fortunately, they had already built up a 14-point lead by this stage and they tagged on two points themselves late on to win 4-14 to 6-5.

Still, it raised a few questions about the Portumna rearguard, while the absence of Galway midfielder Eoin Lynch – forced to withdraw with a shoulder injury early in the contest – was distinctly noticeable.

“Yeah, Eoin picked up a pretty severe shoulder injury in the county semi-final against Gort and his absence would have been sorely missed coming towards the end of the Gort game,” agrees the Portumna mentor. “So, at least the break has given Eoin the chance to recover completely from what was a fairly hefty challenge. We would be happy enough that he will be starting on Sunday.”

Indeed, with Lynch once again available, the reigning champions boast a full bill of health for this clash. Consequently, Ivan Canning will line out in goals, while Eugene McEntee, Ollie Canning and Micheál Ryan will lead the defensive unit. Lynch and Leo Smith will make up the midfield pairing.

In attack, Kevin Hayes, Andrew Smith and Niall Hayes can be relied on to produce consistent performances, but, of course, the real scoring threats will come from Joe Canning and Damien Hayes who have tallied 7-57 and 8-16 respectively in the county championship.

As for Loughrea, their main striking duo to date has been Johnny O’Loughlin (2-41) and All-Ireland winning minor Neil Keary (0-27). Keary’s addition – along with that of fellow county minor Johnny Coen – to the forward unit has certainly been critical to the Town’s progress, as two of their big name forwards, Johnny Maher and Kenneth Colleran, have been dogged with injuries this year.

They also boast a steady midfield unit in Gavin Keary and Brian Mahony, while in defence, goalkeeper Stephen Morgan, full-back Damien McClearn and captain Thomas Regan have backboned their endeavours in this sector.

Unfortunately, they will be without their centre-half back Nigel Shaughnessy, after he picked up a suspension following his sending off against Mullagh, while there is also an injury doubt over corner back Dermot Melia (foot injury). That said, Duddy has not ruled out a return for Gregory Kennedy, although it is unlikely as he just underwent an operation on a shoulder injury over a fortnight ago.

If there is one team that seem to get under the champions’ skin, it is Loughrea, however, all the signs for Sunday – semi-final jitters aside – point to a Portumna victory.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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First local bragging rights of the new season go to Mervue Utd

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Date Published: 18-Mar-2013

Mervue United 2

Salthill Devon 1

Jason Byrne at Fahy’s Field

Mervue United have earned the early bragging rights in the latest instalment of a derby clash with their old rivals Salthill Devon thanks to first half goals from Tom King and youngster Ryan Manning at Fahy’s Field on Friday night.

Old teammates were re-united on the field as the likes Jason Molloy, Tom King, Gary Curran, Paul Sinnott and new Devon signing Derek O’Brien were among the names who used to wear the maroon of dormant Galway United.

Mervue came out of the blocks strongly and Curran unleashed the first meaningful shot after six minutes which failed to trouble Ronan Forde and glanced wide.

Two minutes later, former Mervue striker Enda Curran fired Devon’s first effort from distance but steered well clear of the target.

Almost immediately at the other end, Mervue thought they had taken the lead when King was released into the box and his shot squirmed under Forde towards goal, but Devon skipper Eugene Greaney was at hand to clear off the line.

Three minutes later, an almost identical move was executed by Mervue as Brendan Lavelle played King in, who this time opted to dink over the advancing Forde for a marvellous finish to give Mervue a deserved 1-0 lead.

Mervue immediately searched for another as Manning picked out Varley, and with his cross he searched for Lavelle but William Enubele cleared just as Lavelle was about to head it.

From the resulting corner, Manning whipped it in to Varley, whose shot was well blocked by Colm Horgan.

A second goal was coming, and it arrived on 18 minutes when King played a neat exchange with Paul Sinnott and he squared for Manning, who shot first-time to bag his first League of Ireland goal.

Following this it looked as if Mervue could further stretch their lead by half-time, but Devon kept their heads up and as a result of their hard work they eventually began to find their feet.

As the interval drew closer O’Brien – who had been eventually signed by Devon just hours before the kick-off – collected a long hopeful ball from Forde and cut inside but blazed over with the goal at his mercy.

Five minutes later, Enda Curran won a loose ball and his pace proved too much for Michael McSweeney but his shot was well saved by Gleeson.

On the break Mervue pelted forward and Lavelle saw another effort blocked by the omnipresent Greaney who was a rock at the back. Lavelle collected again and squared for Manning, but this time he mishit his shot and Forde caught easily.

On the stroke of half-time the teenager had another go at bagging his second but his free-kick sailed well over into the astroturf cages at Fahy’s Field.

A crowd of almost 300 people made their way to the east side of the city to witness the encounter, and perhaps a mixture of the heavy rain in the hour before kick-off along with the racing at Cheltenham earlier in the day affected the attendance.

The second-half failed to prove as entertaining as the first as Devon kept fighting hard to claw back into the contest and prevent a third goal which would have ended their chances of getting points on the board.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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Festival whets the appetite for new food experiences

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Date Published: 21-Mar-2013

I know it’s hard to believe, but there are well-grounded, consistent reports in recent weeks that Fianna Fáil nationally has been receiving a large number of new applications for membership of the party.

When I heard it first, I thought to myself – sounds like new recruits to join the crew of the Titanic. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if they knew something that the rest of us didn’t.

For, FF showed a bounce in two recent opinion polls. And then George Lee did his walkout from Fine Gael, leaving FG and Enda Kenny to watch anxiously in the coming months as further polls come in, and the Kenny leadership comes under renewed pressure.

 

Fine Gael is still well ahead in the polls, but you write off FF at your peril. The old Fianna Fáil ‘faith’ still runs deep even among many of those who are now angry at the way the country was allowed to run on to the economic rocks under FF stewardship.

On the face of it, it sounds like FF shouldn’t be an even vaguely attractive prospect for new members . . . you can be damn sure that FF unpopularity was one of the main reasons that Galway West TD Noel Grealish (formerly of the PDs and now Independent) wouldn’t touch joining the FF Parliamentary Party with a barge pole and has been flexing his political muscle in recent months as an Independent.

That’s despite FF Ministers Eamon Ó Cuív and Noel Dempsey courting Grealish for months to join FF, with even speculation of a junior ministry ‘sweetener’ at some stage when Brian Cowen eventually carries out that long-threatened reshuffle.

Wonder if Grealish would reconsider now? For there’s no denying that in recent weeks in FF there has been a sneaking dawning feeling that, if they could just hold off the General Election until 2012, then maybe – just maybe! – at least their bedrock support might have come back by then and the massacre of FF TDs might not be quite as bloody as has been predicted for the past year.

Why, some FFrs believe they might even have enough TDs left to cosy-up to the Labour Party. That’s provided of course they can hold out to 2012 and their government partners, the Greens, don’t tear themselves apart in the meantime with their habit of washing dirty linen in public.

People like Grealish would have been hoping that some of the FF voters might go for the ‘first cousin’ in the shape of a former PD like himself – well weren’t the PDs just a family row in FF? The big test for angry or wavering FF supporters on election day in a place like Galway West would be just how many of them would vote Fine Gael? I have always been of the belief that ‘the hand would wither’ before they could give ‘the blueshirts’ a vote.

Meanwhile, in the past few weeks, the pressure has transferred to Fine Gael. They are the ones who now have to worry about any slippage in support, they have convince us that they could run the economy better . . . and against this shaky new background, they also have to worry about ‘upping their game’ in key areas like Galway West.

One of the most recent opinion polls showed the highest regional level of support for Fine Gael as being in Connacht-Ulster, which was traditionally the area which Fianna Fáil could count on as heartland. That has to be ‘the Enda Kenny factor’ coming through in constituencies close to his Mayo base, where FG had a huge 53% of the first preferences in 2007.

For more, read page 12 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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