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2002 Keeper of the Faith

Keeper of the faith

28 February 2002


Ballinagore net minder Martin Seery reveals the benefits of trading an outfield jersey for the No 1 slot.

Before we begin, a word of advice to every young Ballinagore man with aspirations of being the next Michael Ennis. Proceed no further. Leave the book aside, go off and have a kick around, or do something useful like washing the dishes. If you must read something, pick up a Harry Potter novel…or the Colm O’Rourke column…even David O’Leary’s World Cup predictions.

Should you choose to ignore this advice then be warned: the words which follow may seriously shorten your outfield-playing career.
You see, Martin Seery was one of Ballinagore’s most prolific forwards throughout the eighties and nineties. Whether it was top of the right or in a deeper role, he always pitched in with a couple of scores. His two points in the junior championship final of ’94 helped sway the game in Ballinagore’s favour, as they did when Ballinagore captured the Division Two title three years later at St Loman’s expense. Only Michael Ennis outscored Seery that year as they came agonisingly close to adding the intermediate crown to their distinguished roll of honour.

But in recent years the success has dried up. Successive championship semi-final defeats dampened the enthusiasm and last year’s failure to qualify for the quarter-final stages left them with little to get excited about. The shrewder members of the club pointed to an over-reliance on Michael Ennis in attack. With Seery now operating between the sticks it was left to Ennis to get the scores.

Between the sticks, I hear you cry. Yes, Seery decided it would be better for everyone – especially himself – if he occupied the goalkeeping berth. “You don’t have to do as much running,” he explained. “And anyway, I’d be great under a high ball.”

NOW, here’s the disturbing part: he hasn’t looked back since. “Ah, it suits me,” he grins. “You don’t have to do as much running in the goals. And when the lads are doing the laps I go and practice my kick-outs. You get the best of both worlds.”
Doesn’t he miss the more glamourous outfield role? “A little,” he concedes.

“But I like the change. There’s a lot of responsibility when you get handed the goalkeeper’s jersey. You can afford to make mistakes further up the field but you can’t afford to make them in goals.”

As a forward, you could say that Seery enjoyed the sort of luxury, which he is now denied. Forwards, after all, can erase earlier mistakes by kicking a couple of points. Goalkeepers have no such latitude. Every incoming ball carries potential for disaster and nobody walks the tightrope more than the ’keeper. Martin needs no reminders.

“There’s been a few blunders,” he confesses, “but not too many. A ball went in over my head one day but I blame the wind for that one! I still get slagged about it all the same.”

As it transpired, Seery has matured into a top-class goalkeeper. An uncanny ability to spread his body to block shots has become a recognisable facet of his game, but he is also sufficiently adroit to engineer saves from the reflexive end of the scale. By now Ballinagore supporters would not feel secure without him as he offers vital leadership in what’s essentially a team in transition.

“We’re not the force we were a couple of seasons ago,” he offers. “We lost a few players for a variety of reasons and we’ve struggled to cope without them. Not reaching the quarter-final stages last year was a major disappointment. It meant we had gone from being intermediate finalists, to semi-finalists, to quarter-finals, to non-qualifiers in the space of five years. It’s a downward spiral that we have to put right.”

Ballinagore may have failed to progress to the latter stages of the championship for the first time since gaining promotion yet they can still claim to be the only side to have defeated eventual champions St Malachy’s in the championship. “We beat them by two points (0-12 to 1-7) but defeats to Miltownpass and Rosemount, and only drawing with Athlone (0-11 to 1-8) meant we missed out on the top three. Still, it proved that we can beat anybody on our day.”

St Malachy’s exacted revenge for that defeat when they recorded a similar victory over Ballinagore in the Intermediate Cup quarter-final, 1-11 to 1-9.

The club also narrowly avoided relegation to Division Three having barely survived a relegation tussle with Milltown. But despite the lean times, Martin’s faith holds firm. “We have to learn the knack of winning games again. You have to grind out results, win games by a point if necessary. We lost too many tight games. That’s something we’re working on though and I believe there’s enough strong characters on this team to turn things around.”

Seery is a model figure in terms of attitude and approach. A survivor from the 1986 junior winning side, he looks back with a wry smile on those days.

Back then, Jim Mahon, the full back, was the team’s captain, Pat O’Connor, its heart, John Deegan and Gerry Claffey at midfield its engine, Gerry Linnane, at centre forward, its steel and John Pidgeon, in the corner, its wit. All have been lost to the corrosive effects of time but are still an important part of Ballinagore folklore.

Now, as Martin approaches the twilight of his career, another opportunity beckons. The chance to make another piece of history and be a part of the first Ballinagore team to win an intermediate championship. He has already experienced the anguish of losing a final – on two separate occasions – so will it be a case of third time lucky?

“I certainly hope so,” he replies. “Losing those two finals was fierce disappointing, especially the second one because it was after a replay. I don’t think anyone would begrudge us if we won one.”

A bright note in an otherwise forgettable year for Ballinagore was the performances of their star forward Michael Ennis in Westmeath’s All-Ireland adventure. He was superb all through the campaign and Martin reserves a special mention for him. “He did everyone in the club proud,” he beams. “It gave us all a great lift to go and see him playing so well against the likes of Meath and Mayo. He’s a very level-headed fella who works extremely hard on the pitch and he deserves all the recognition he gets.”

Ennis recovered from a potentially long-term knee injury sooner than expected so he’ll be fit to play a part in Ballinagore’s championship quest this season. They have been pitted in the same group as Maryland, Tubberclair, Ballymore, Tang, St Loman’s, Athlone and Castletown/Finea/Coole/Whitehall, in what looks like the easier of the two divisions. “It could have been worse,” Martin agrees. “We avoided three of last year’s semi-finalists, as well as Kilbeggan so we have to be happy with that. There’s still some strong teams in our group but I’m confident we can reach the play-offs.”

Ultimately, Martin Seery won’t gauge his career on the events of the coming season. Win or lose, he remains one of the most popular figures in Westmeath GAA circles and that, to him, is reward enough. For a man who toiled through the bad days and luxuriated in the good ones, his career has earned him many friends. Those who know him can understand why.

Under 21 glory for Ennell Shamrocks

Three goals just after half-time propelled Ennell Shamrocks to victory in the delayed 2000 under 21 ’premier’ football championship final last November.

Ennell Shamrocks followed up their minor championship success of 1997 with victory over Inny Gaels in the delayed 2000 under 21 football championship final at Ballynacargy last November.
Three goals in quick succession paved the way for a comfortable 3-10 to 1-7 success. Inny Gaels tried hard throughout but the greater experience of Ennell Shamrocks - who included county senior players John Brennan, Michael Ennis and Alan Mangan in their line-up - proved decisive.

An amalgamation of Kilbeggan Shamrocks, St. Malachy’s, Ballinagore and Loughnavalley, Ennell Shamrocks signalled their intentions with three early points from Alan Mangan, Emmet Dalton and PJ Ward. But Inny Gaels battled back and with Aidan Finnan, Enda Murphy, Daniel McDermott and Conor Newman all in fine form, they had restored parity, 0-5 to 0-5, at the interval.

Ennell Shamrocks upped the tempo considerably on the restart, however, and a trio of goals effectively ended the game as a contest. Michael Ennis set up Alan Mangan for the first and moments later, Ennis was brought down for a penalty which Mangan convincingly dispatched to the back of the net.

The Shamrocks continued to apply strong pressure and, after PJ Ward had landed an excellent point, Bobby Elliffe scored an unanswered 1-2 to put the result beyond any doubt. Kevin Brazil converted a late penalty for a deflated Inny Gaels but by then, Ennell Shamrocks supporters were already celebrating.

The Ennell Shamrocks team which captured the 2000 under 21 ’premier’ football championship title was: Brendan Clarke; John Tuite, Leon Carberry, Richie McMahon; Adrian Austin, Colm Ruane, Barry Whelan; John Brennan (0-1), Tommy Carey; Ronan Whelan, Bobby Elliffe (1-2), Michael Ennis (0-1); PJ Ward (0-4), Emmet Dalton (0-1), Alan Mangan (2-1). Subs used: Eoin Millar, Darren Rigney, Alan Fennell, Breffni McHugh and Eddie Bouabbse.