No divisions as this Rossie town firmly backing Mayo
Some may usually back Roscommon, others Mayo, but the people of Ballaghaderreen know where their allegiances lie for tomorrow’s final
WELCOME TO Ballaghaderreen, the Rockall of Gaelic football. It’s claimed by both Mayo and Roscommon. Officially, the town is in Roscommon but spiritually it has always been Mayo. As if to underline that, the ubiquity of the green and red flags and bunting has made it indistinguishable from any Co Mayo town.
And yet, scratch beneath the surface and the identity of Ballaghaderreen becomes a little more complex and oblique.
Six years ago Roscommon won the All-Ireland minor football title, a massive breakthrough for a smallish county. Anyone who visited was confronted with a town decked in the Roscommon colours with the iconic Dillon building on the square painted yellow and blue.
The confused allegiances of its 2,000 citizens can be traced back to 1898 when John Dillon, the MP for East Mayo and a member of the town’s most powerful family, tabled an amendment to the Local Government Act in Westminster.
It redrew the county boundaries, pushing Ballaghaderreen from Mayo into Roscommon. The reason? Rates were cheaper in Roscommon – but the GAA club had already been formed and it refused to budge.
The more they explain it, the more confusing it becomes. When you are pointed in somebody’s direction, they’ll either say: “He’s a Rossie” or “she’s pure Mayo”.
In the 1980s, some Rossies in the town tried to set up a rival club that would play in the Roscommon championship. That was quickly shot down by the GAA authorities. However, when a women’s GAA team was founded later, it pledged its allegiance to Roscommon.
The town’s current hero is Andy Moran, Mayo’s captain. Sadly, Moran, a wonderful Gaelic football craftsman, has succumbed to serious injury and can’t play in the final. Everybody here knows how he has dedicated his life to Mayo football, and they feel bad for him. Those who are Rossies tell you in the next breath that his father was Roscommon.
Maybe it is its “contested” status that makes Ballaghaderreen so desperate, so full of longing for success. Everybody will tell you that it’s calmer this time – but it’s frantic too.
John Duffy was on the Ballagh team that won the Mayo County Cup in 1971. A couple of minutes in his company and you know how passionate a Mayo supporter he is. He owns the large Supervalu shop on the outskirts of the town.
Last weekend, he organised a competition where he gave eight match tickets to those who made the biggest effort to show off the Mayo colours.
He was expecting about a score of entrants but 250 turned up. “They came from Westport, Belmullet, Kilkelly, Claremorris, everywhere,” he says. “There were a few cars painted red and green, a painted goat, dogs, donkeys, the lot. We were swamped. An out-and-out Roscommon man picked the winner. It gave us all a bit of a lift.”
Yet the refrain is that it’s low key – with good reason. The team has lost five All-Irelands since the late 1980s: 1989, 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2006. They came close in 1989 (when the great Willie Joe Padden was still playing) and even closer in 1996, losing out to Meath in a replay. That was lost partly because the elegant and rangy Liam McHale got sent off after a schemozzle at the start of the second game.