McStay & McHale
June 21, 1991
Paul McStay and Liam McHale
McStay and McHale
Mayo's little and large act
The billing remains the same - McStay & McHale, Mayo's favourite Little and Large act. The stage is again McHale Park. Galway are the opponents, as so often before.
But this time there's a change of character that may have gone unnoticed to people who didn't read the credits too closely. A leg break at the tail end of last season has ruled out the lithe Kevin McStay, but his place has been taken by his younger brother Paul.
It's a combination that has induced nightmares for opponents of team Connacht Gold in the National Basketball League, culminating in an unforgettable victory in the final of the ICS Cup earlier this year.
Paul and Liam have spent quite a deal of time in each other's company in sporting arenas since they figured on a Ballina team which lost the 1979 All-lreland Community Games U15 Basketball final to St. Declan's of Cabra. Ironically, Liam, who was just 13, was the smallest player on the side and shared the ball-handling duties with Paul, two years his senior.
McHale was a late developer in a footballing context, and he was never good enough to play at juvenile level with Paul. His sudden assumption of the mantle of Mayo's top footballer was a major factor in helping Ballina to two county senior titles in 1985 and 1987 - he was man-of the-match in both deciders, while McStay flashed in for vital scores. McHale was just 15 when he broke onto the local national league basketball team, the same year as McStay made his debut also.
The Ballina Stephenites Mighty Macs will carry much of the two responsibility in the Mayo attack on Sunday next. Liam McHale's brawn and brain make him the ideal ball-winner and distributor - Paul will await the crumbs from the master's table to send vital scores over the Galway bar. A further twist to the story is that Liam has a long-running courtship with Paul's sister.
Liam invariably lists Kevin McStay as one of his favourite forwards, and their unique creativity has tortured defences within and without the province for years. Now he sees a stockier McStay at corner-forward and he is no less enthused.
"I always felt that Paul should have got a shot at county football. He's a colossal scorer for Ballina, usually 1-5 or 1-6 per game. He's a different type of player to Kevin - when you give the ball to Paul, you don't expect it back. It's his job to kick over the bar and he does that very well," points out Liam (25).
Kevin and Liam regularly sought each other out while in the Mayo colours - sometimes to the chagrin of a minority of followers who were quick to level the charge of 'townie' bias - but Liam doesn't expect the new Little and Large act to run along the same lines. "Paul is a great scorer, and that has always been a problem for Mayo."
Paul (27) is one of those players - there are dozens in every county - who have had frequent 'runs' in league games but seem to have fallen by the wayside come championship time. This year he has bridged the gap, and he's excited. Having to wait so long - too long, many would say - has only strengthened his resolve to make the most of it.
"I was disappointed to have been dropped after two league campaigns, particularly last year. I even felt like packing up football at one stage, but I'm enjoying my chance this year," says Paul, who comes from a football household, as distinct from the McHale homestead which is more basketball orientated. Incidentally, Liam's brother Anthony, captain of the ICS Cup team, is a regular at midfield for the Ballina Junior team, which keeps him in trim for the basketball season.
Their basketball experience together has a great deal to do with their easy relationship on the football field. "Liam has certainly helped me along, and I'd like to think that I have been of benefit to him also. I will admit that he has done more for me."
Kevin's lofty reputation and eye-catching style have cast a long shadow over the football career of Paul, but the basketball success has given him an identity of his own. "I don't feel any way different because Kevin is my brother. That's just the way it is and I can't do anything about it," added the former St. Jarlath's College star.
Events elsewhere in the football world have taken the spotlight off the Mayo/Galway match, and neither side has been setting the world alight in challenge matches. Mayo had a particularly depressing outing against Dublin in Parnell Park, but Liam reckons that this can work to Mayo's advantage.
"Other years we were killing everybody in challenges, and then we'd lose the first round of the championship. About eleven of the team beaten by Galway last year will be playing next Sunday, and we're very keen not to let that happen again. I think we were up in the clouds a bit then," he argues.
Paul detects a mood of "quiet confidence" in the camp. "We're not saying all that much, just getting on with preparations. Nobody expects much from Mayo this year, so we won't have that much pressure. It suits us to be underdogs," he stated.
Rumours that Val Daly is likely to miss the game because of injury will bolster Mayo hopes, for Daly has been the province's best footballer in recent years. Galway's dependence on him has bordered on addiction.
McStay and McHale have come a long way together, since the late 70s when Paul was taller than Liam and dreams of basketball and football glory occupied their minds. They have stood by each other in pitches and basketball courts the length and breadth of the country, always fighting for a Ballina win. Theirs is a camaraderie linking two sports.
Despite the realisation of some of their sporting goals their dreams for 1991 are as strong as ever.
Taken from Hogan Stand
21st June 1991
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