As the season wore on it was becoming obvious to all that we were playing a style of football that was radically different to the Renvyle adult team and if the truth be known, it wasn’t too well received in certain quarters. Our home pitch in Tullycross didn’t suit our newly established style of play at all because, like Gaelic Park in New York, it was too tight and confined thereby restricting the players from expressing themselves properly. I dreaded the home fixtures because there would always be an overly vocal section of supporters in attendance who would dish out fierce abuse to some of the lads and destroy their confidence. Then, there would be the traditionalists who’d keep shouting, “Drive it, drive it,” every time one of our guys would secure hard earned possession. Now, I’ve no problem with a long ball, if it’s delivered early and accurately to the intended target but to be persisting with a policy of long, aimless high balls just for the sake of it is pure folly because one was only playing into the opposition’s hands. The whole supporters thing reached farcical proportions one evening during a league match. Our opponents had been reduced to fourteen players and I redeployed the extra man as a third midfielder. A few minutes later, I couldn’t fathom out his whereabouts. I eventually located him in at corner forward and when I asked him why he had abandoned his post, he gestured towards one of the supporters who had instructed him to move in beside the full forward. I was so flummoxed by the sheer audacity of the supporter in question that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The sad reality for every club I suppose is that they’re burdened with a minority of so called followers who appear to be only able to express themselves in a negative, abusive fashion and who also appear to be totally oblivious to the devastating impact of their misguided exhortations on vulnerable young footballers.
The away fixtures were much more enjoyable on a number of different levels. For a start, it was only the really genuine supporters who would travel and they would never interfere with players or management in a derogatory manner. The lads thrived on the wide open spaces of Clonbur, Moycullen, Oughterard and Rosmuc and slowly but surely we developed a habit of winning matches, through playing to a particular pattern and sticking to the game plan. At one of the above venues, a club mentor who was also a high ranking officer of the Galway County Football Board said to me, “Fair play to you, you have some team there, I never thought Renvyle lads could play like that.” It was most unusual to receive a complimentary comment of that nature from a mentor of the opposing team during the course of a match and I’ll always remember him for it. We won the match in question but more importantly we earned the respect of the other club and I got a great reception from their players when I went in to commiserate with them afterwards. As for my own players, I soon came to realise that the same modus operandi didn’t work for all of them, so I had to tailor my communicative strategy to suit. Some guys were like fragile goods and had to be handled with care, others just needed the odd kick up the arse (metaphorically speaking, of course!) and the majority were somewhere in between. I got better at the mentoring as I came to understand the relative strengths and limitations of each and every one of them, and in time, a mutual respect and affection developed among us, which ultimately manifested itself in a collective sense of unity, purpose and destiny in everything we did.
Renvyle U16s progressed to the penultimate stages of West Board C League in 1996. The team were undefeated and oozing confidence going into that semi final and were very much in the ascendancy, both in general play and on the scoreboard when one of the Leitir Móir players incurred a really serious injury which necessitated the referee abandoning the match as a result. Two missed penalties in the ensuing replay cost us a place in the final and when I exclaimed in the dressing room afterwards that we’d qualify for the County Championship final, the players’ reaction was understandably muted. In the days that followed, we regrouped and refocused for the upcoming quarter final against Renmore in Tullycross and thankfully everything went to plan on the night in the form of a very comprehensive victory. I informed the players that they were now on the verge of creating history as Renvyle had never before reached a County U16 championship final. I also informed them that a repeat performance against our semi final opponents Glynsk was an absolute must if wanted our big day out and they didn’t disappoint on the day. There was a great sense of anticipation in the parish in the lead up to the final and hopes were high that we’d go all the way. The match was played in Clonbur and the opposition was provided by Menlough. A large crowd of supporters travelled down more in expectation than hope but they would be destined to return home empty handed. All I can say in hindsight is that we didn’t do ourselves justice. The hype and the pressure in the build up took its toll on too many of the lads who underperformed badly. The decision making at times left a lot to be desired and many of the bad habits which I thought I had eradicated for good, came back to haunt us. Menlough made less mistakes and that was ultimately enough to land them a County championship title on a scoreline of 0-9 to 0-7. The turning point arrived late in the second half when our best move of the match culminated in a very well taken goal. The guy who gave the final pass was taken out of it but instead of allowing us the advantage, the referee blew his whistle to award a close in free and then disallowed the goal to allow the free to be taken. The free was duly converted but the loss of that goal cost us dearly in the final analysis.
Remembered by Thady Salmon and written by Paul Gannon.
Thady Salmon, a native of the townland of Tullybeg, is a permanent resident of the townland of Cloonluane, on the Renvyle Peninsula, in the Parish of Letterfrack-Ballinakill.
Full Version Available in “Pride in the Parish: Volume 2”