DOWN ON THEIR LUCK James Shaughnessy of Claremorris is pictured after a Mayo SFC defeat to Ballina Stephenites in 2013. Pic: Ray Ryan
Victory over Balla would likely secure a rare quarter-final place for Claremorris
IT was a typically Ger Brady-inspired performance that catapulted Claremorris up to the senior grade in a Division 2B league clash with Breaffy in October 2002.
That’s how long ago it was – back when league positions determined championship places.
Remember those days? It’s safe to say we’d be having different arguments about the split season were that format still en vogue.
But it serves to underline how long Claremorris have been at the top table.
Only three clubs have remained at senior longer – Ballina, Knockmore and Garrymore.
Clubs who have went onto win multiple county titles since – Ballintubber, Castlebar Mitchels and Ballaghaderreen – were all down in Intermediate after Claremorris.
But for the South Mayo club, their senior years have been more about surviving than thriving.
Since the group stages first came into being in 2004, Claremorris have finished in the bottom two in their group in 14 years out of 18.
In eight of those years, they’ve ended up in the relegation play-offs, fastidiously avoiding the drop every time. Indeed, they’ve generally won play-offs quite comfortably.
They’ve only made it to the quarter finals four times – back-to-back in 2017 and 2018 as well as 2012 and 2008. In 2008 and 2017 they won their quarter-finals against Knockmore and Breaffy respectively, losing semi-finals both years.
Their win record demonstrates their inconsistency.
In the last ten years, since the start of the 2013 season, they’ve won only seven games in championship (not including relegation play-offs) and lost 22 games in that time.
They’ve also had three draws.
Their most recent win was, of course, the second round victory away to Belmullet, a stirring response to a very disappointing opening round defeat at home to Breaffy.
“We had a lot of soul searching to do after last weekend against Breaffy,” Claremorris manager Kevin Beirne told The Mayo News after the final whistle in Tallagh.
“There were some harsh words spoken during the week. We have plenty of good players, plenty of young players coming through, but if you don’t turn up on the day and be on the money, you’re going to get beaten like we did last week.”
Their fully deserved win over Belmullet gives them a right chance at making the quarter-finals, going into their final round clash with neighbours Balla in Hollymount on Saturday evening.
However, to beat Balla and give themselves the best chance of qualifying, they will have to do something they’ve only managed four times since they went back to senior in 2003 – win back to back championship matches.
They did it in 2003, 2008, 2012 and 2018.
THEY are oft-criticised for not delivering on their underage success. Sometimes such analysis can be simplistic, but there are a few things Claremorris cannot dispute.
Since they last won a Mayo SFC in 1971, they’ve won six Mayo Minor ‘A’ titles but have watched on while neighbours like Garrymore and Hollymount, with much less playing resources, went on and lifted the Moclair Cup.
And Claremorris are fortunate in that the population of the parish is not only remaining constant, but growing. It’s location as an ideal commuter base and the growing urbanisation of Ireland has benefitted Claremorris.
For instance, since 1994, at the cusp of the Celtic Tiger, to now they’ve seen their national school numbers climb by 14 percent in that time, from 636 to 724.
At a time when the size of the average family has fallen, that’s impressive growth.
Have they such an embarrassment of riches that they don’t need to mind players as much as smaller clubs?
Billy Fitzpatrick has seen both sides of the coin, growing up in Garrymore where he won six Mayo SFC titles and living in Claremorris for most of his adult life, where he has been involved in coaching underage sides.
He’s increasingly frustrated by the inability of the club to transfer underage promise into senior success.
“It’s a mortal sin. It saddens me,” he told The Mayo News Football Podcast. “I’m 50 years here in Claremorris and I’ve seen it every year, time and time again. It happened me with a group of young players. I started with a group of young players at 13 years of age and we reached a minor (A) final in Castlebar (which they won, in 2015) and we were unbeaten for six, seven years. Thirty players togged out that day in Castlebar.
“The present Claremorris team, out of those 30 players, have only five of that team left. So there’s the answer. They’re all in their prime, 25, 26 maybe,” he added.
There’s little doubt that the current senior squad has ability. Sometimes, as anyone in Mayo knows only too well, the hand of history can weigh heavily and some year, a Claremorris team is going to need to break out of the shackles.
Time will tell if that is this year or not.