By Cian O’Connell
Eddie Conroy laughs about the madness of it all. Football is always on the agenda. Just when Conroy thought he might get a break from sport, Lahardane MacHales hooked him back in.
Not that Conroy needed too much persuading. There was just something about Lahardane that appealed to him.
“They got me involved, I don't know how, I was humming and hawing, then I said I'd give it a go, that is where we are now,” he remarks. “You have to enjoy these days and to enjoy life, as much as you can. This is just another one of these days that you will enjoy.”
Conroy and Lahardane have connected. “It probably is a good fit,” he acknowledges ahead of Saturday’s AIB Connacht Club JFC Final against Sligo’s Owenmore Gaels at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park.
“I liked the way when I was talking to the chairman Derek Sheridan - the way he was talking, I said I'd give it one year, to see how we go. I didn't know anything about them.
“All I knew was that they went down from intermediate last year. After Christmas I met the lads, we had a plan going forward what we would do. It just clicked after the league. When the league was over we clicked together.
“We had a plan in place, we said the league didn't go the way we wanted, let us just focus on championship. Every team is like that. When the league is over, you concentrate on your championship. That is what we did and it is where we are now.”
Conroy has relished the Lahardane adventure. “I played football for Breaffy, I'm originally from Charlestown, I played senior football with Charlestown,” he explains.
“I left Charlestown early and I was then with Breaffy. I spent longer with Breaffy than Charlestown, where I played all my underage football. I played one year senior and I moved to Castlebar after that and joined Breaffy. Then Lahardane came calling, so I've three clubs now that I'm attached to.”
Two decades ago Conroy featured in a successful campaign for Breaffy at this level. “We were junior when I joined, Charlestown were senior,” he recalls. “I was going giving up football until Breaffy came calling.
“I stuck with Breaffy right up until I was 44, I played adult football right up until I was 44. With Breaffy we won the junior and intermediate one year after one another. Breaffy haven't gone down since -once we went senior.”
In recent times Conroy has been a key figure in Mayo Masters teams. “I played right up until this year, I'm 48, but I said it was my last year playing football,” he chuckles. “I did my shoulder in my last game, so I said I'm finished with playing - staying on the sideline. It might be easier, but it isn't easier.”
Conroy, though, has still found a way. Football peppers the conversations in Mayo, but in Lahardane there is a real sense of optimism once more. “It is great any time you get to a final, especially for a small community like Lahardane,” Conroy comments.
“It is a tight knit community, so it is great for them to look forward to another day out. That is all we are looking at, it is another big day out for them.”
Following a relegation it can be a demanding time for a club. Undoubtedly it was a challenge to get Lahardane motoring again, to instil belief and generate momentum. “It is very hard,” Conroy responds.
“I've seen many a team struggle. I said to the boys that it is very hard when you go down, you can get stuck down for three or four years before you get out of it. So, it was a thing that was in my head, if we were going to do it, we were going to do it this year.
“We've done it, we've came out of the junior, but it is very hard. Even for players, to motivate themselves, thinking do we give it another year to get back up.
“In fairness, we held off training until April and that has kinda stood to us in the later stage. We didn't start training until April and I think that has benefited us more than anything else. We seem that bit more sharper.”
Through winning matches and having fixtures on the agenda the winter is being shortened. “Christmas is around the corner, and you are thinking are we still playing football?,” Conroy says enthusiastically.
“When we were training the last night I was saying t the boys, who would have said at the beginning of April that we'd be still training at the end of November?
“You take it. There isn't many teams out there still training in November so we are lucky in a way, that we are still involved in a competition. I think it is great.
“You have two teams left in Connacht, somebody has to lose at the weekend, but it is a great achievement to get where we are after what happened last year.”
Opportunities to perform on the Castlebar stage must be relished. Playing games against unfamiliar opposition in the province adds another layer of intrigue. “There is a big excitement,” Conroy admits.
“At senior level everybody is trying to cancel each other out. At junior level you are trying to see what they do or who are their best players? At the end of the day, you just have to mark up with who you have.
“I think they just have to go out to enjoy themselves more than any other team. That is my motto, the next day, to just go out, enjoy it, hope for the best. If it works out, it works out.
“If it doesn't, we are unbeaten in Mayo for the year and we got to a Connacht final, that is a great achievement for the lads.”
That approach has worked nicely for Conroy and Lahardane MacHales.