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From the sideline to the frontline


MAN AT WORK Peter O’Malley is pictured at the Covid test site at MacHale Park, Castlebar last week. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Peter O’Malley from The Neale is seeing another side to MacHale Park

Mike Finnerty

LAST Saturday marked nine months to the day since The Neale made history by winning the County Intermediate football championship title. Peter O’Malley remembers it well.
He’ll never forget it. As a former player with the South Mayo club, he treasured being part of the management team when they beat Ballyhaunis in a thriller.
Leaving MacHale Park that evening, all the talk was of The Neale being back there to play senior championship football for the first time in 2020.
Little did anybody know that five months later the world would be brought to a stop by a global pandemic. Peter O’Malley, a Senior Orthotics Manager with the HSE for the Galway/Mayo/Roscommon area, certainly didn’t envisage being on the frontline.
But the world moves in mysterious ways, and for the last four months he’s been redeployed and found himself working at MacHale Park — as the home of Mayo GAA has been transformed into a drive-through Covid-19 test centre.
Peter O’Malley’s official title is Applied Services Manager within the HSE for Community Healthcare Organisation 2 (CHO2). “I oversee the logistics and make sure we get the PPE etc we need, and link in with staff,” is how he explains his new day job.
He smiles when you mention how different the place seems now compared to that unforgettable Saturday evening last October when The Neale won the Sweeney Cup in a welter of excitement.
“On a personal level, MacHale Park holds very special memories for me over the last ten years, for the club to go from Junior to senior in such a short period of time,” he admits.
“We were very fortunate, a lot of clubs don’t get to experience that over generations never mind over such a short period of time.
“But then to contrast leaving here after winning a County Final to coming in here with the wind blowing, and workmen on site setting up a test centre for a virus that was new to the world, it was really really strange. And it took a lot of adjustment.
“Right now we’re in the heart of the Mayo dressing-room, there’s Mayo GAA crests everywhere you look. . . In normal circumstances it would be a joy to be in, but when things were at their worst it wasn’t a particularly nice place to be.”
Last Saturday evening, O’Malley was on the sideline with The Neale, alongside team manager Eoin Hughes and Paul Higgins. They beat Castlebar Mitchels in their first game of the new season and are counting down the days to the start of their senior championship adventure at home to Garrymore on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
The former Mayo minor defender is a good man to ask if he thinks we’ll get to see the championship completed, especially with the constant threat of Covid-19 spikes and surges.
He has a very practical answer to the question.
“Yes, it can go ahead provided everyone follows the guidelines. They’re there for a reason. “Where possible, have your social distancing. If you feel unwell, stay away, get tested.
“It’s going to be very difficult, not just for clubs here in Mayo but throughout the country.
“I know, on a personal level, the club are taking it very seriously. It’s great to see alcohol gels up, signs up, the Covid officer taking the lead, everything being recorded. .
“But there are interesting times ahead, the championship is in two weeks. . One of the biggest days in our club’s history, and we’re going to be limited in terms of the crowd that’s going to be there. We’d have been planning months ago for having a big crowd there. .
“And we’re not alone, every other club are the same, and the County Board rely on the funds from those games too to promote the game.
“Provided everyone is sensible, we have every chance,” he added. “But it will mean everyone pulling together.”

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