When asked for his thoughts on national television after his man-of-the-match performance in the All-Ireland minor football final win of 2013, David Kenny brought the word ‘Un*******believable’ to the attention of the lexicography department of the Oxford English Dictionary. Sadly the Tooreen man’s slip of the tongue didn’t make the OED cut that year, but an air of confidence and a will to win was generated in that year’s minor football campaign.
Roll onto 2016 and David Kenny entered his final year as an underage player with Mayo GAA. This year is usually the hardest to navigate for elite players with an abundance of managers of different codes all looking for a large slice of a player’s talents.
Start the year on a high
We start the story of 2016 on the 30th December 2015 when Aghamore came face to face with Moy Davitts in the U21A football final in Bekan. Aghamore hadn’t won this title since 1981 but bridged a 34-year gap with a telling 5-17 to 2-9 win to take the Billy Kenny Memorial Cup. David Kenny starred at midfield for Aghamore on the night, while Fergal Boland came of age as he kicked five majestic points from play to take the man-of-the-match award on the night.
North-West U21 Cup ends all square
The Mayo U21 football team had a bad run of form coming into 2016. Early Connacht Championship dismissals in previous years had put pressure on the side to do well, coupled with the fact that many of the side had All-Ireland minor medals garnered in 2013. A new manager called Michael Solan from Ballaghaderreen was put at the helm and, in one of his first get-togethers of pre-season training, he asked his assembled crew if there was any other players in Mayo who would make a difference to this team.
Without hesitation, the name Fergal Boland was bandied about by the group and Solan showed his humility to the cause by inviting Boland into the set-up the following weekend. Fergal Boland had never played much inter-county football before, instead concentrating moreso on the small ball game in the green and red colours. On his arrival into the panel, Fergal Boland not only featured prominently in the North-West pre-season tournament, but he also captained the side on a few occasions.
The surroundings didn’t faze Fergal (nor David) as wins over Sligo and Fermanagh set up the decider against Donegal. On the day against Donegal, neither side could be separated after extra-time and the title was shared, with Fergal and David both contributing strongly on the day. David’s performances in these matches earned him a call-up to Stephen Rochford’s training panel for the National Football League.
U21 Connacht football title
The U21 football Connacht championship commenced on March 19th as Mayo overcame Leitrim in the semi final in Carrick-on-Shannon on a 4-12 to 0-15 scoreline. Fergal Boland kicked two points from wing-forward while David Kenny played at wing-back. This set up a final against Roscommon in Markievicz Park where the true mettle of this Mayo side came to the fore as the side came from behind late on to snatch a Connacht U21 title (Mayo 1-11 Roscommon 1-10).
Many people present on the day couldn’t understand how Mayo had won this final, given the Roscommon dominance throughout the tie, but late drives forward from Kenny, Boland and Diarmuid O’Connor resulted in the scores to bring Mayo across the line. Sticking to the game-plan was the mantra of the side – and this was evident even in adversity.
U21 football All-Ireland series
On Saturday 16th April Mayo faced Dublin in the All-Ireland U21 semi-final in Tullamore. Even though Dublin didn’t have any household names in their ranks, they still came to town with a swagger of confidence. However, this rampant Mayo side repeated their Connacht final smash and grab show, as Diarmuid OConnor burst forward late on for a Mayo winning goal to leave the Dubs lifeless. The final score was Mayo 1-15 Dublin 1-14.
Again David Kenny manned the corner-back position while Fergal Boland once again kicked two points from wing-forward. However, Boland’s engine and work-rate ability was extremely prominent in this tie as he handled a power of ball throughout the 60-minute showdown. Mayo were now back in an All-Ireland final where they would meet Munster kingpins Cork.
The Green and Red bandwagon rolled into Ennis on Saturday 30th April with Boland and Kenny leading the Mayo charge. Mayo racked up the goals on that day with a 5-7 to 1-14 win over the Rebels in a repeat of the 2006 between the same sides. A brace of goals each from Mayo’s Liam Irwin and Conor Loftus showed a clinical instinct in the Mayo attack, while an air of confidence descended upon the county for the Senior Championship which lay ahead in the summer.
Kenny and Boland took the All-Ireland win in their stride with workmanlike performances from both in their respective positions in the final. It was a famous day for the Aghamore GAA club who also had Ciaran Harrison and James Lyons on the panel to bring the number of All-Ireland medals coming back to the parish to four.
Back to the small ball for Rackard final
The dust hadn’t settled on their All-Ireland U21 football final win when the two lads rejoined the Mayo senior hurling panel, who were carving a path through the Tier 3 Nicky Rackard Cup. Early round victories over Tyrone (4-19 to 0-17), Armagh (0-22 to 1-11) and Donegal (1-18 to 2-11) set up an All-Ireland final date with Armagh at headquarters in early June.
In the final David Kenny started at midfield while Fergal Boland came on as a substitute at half-time. Boland’s introduction in Croke Park had an instant impact on the game as he scored a brace of points with his first two touches to lead the Mayo attack to a 2-16 to 1-15 win and bring the Nicky Rackard Cup back to Mayo for the first time.
Another appearance on live national airwaves and another All-Ireland title had given the pair a dual mandate which few Mayo supporters knew about in the past. The following week the duo helped the hurlers win the Christy Ring promotion match against Derry in Ballinamore as Mayo regained their Tier 2 status at national hurling level.
U21 hurling inter-county success
The Mayo U21 hurlers grouped in early July in preparation for their championship campaign. Not much was expected of the side initially, but the presence of the double All-Ireland winners Kenny and Boland gave the side hope. The final of the Connacht U21 Hogan Couriers Cup against Roscommon in MacHale Park set the tone for the campaign as Mayo convincingly defeated the Primrose and Blue by 3-20 to 1-8 to signal an uprising. Kenny and Boland were driving forces in this win with David Kenny captaining the side to capture the title.
Onto the All-Ireland U21B championship (a separate competition from the Connacht U21 campaign) where underdogs Mayo took on the might of Kildare in Newbridge. On a very wet August Saturday, Mayo totally outmanoeuvred the Lilywhites to come away with a 0-8 to 0-6 win. Kildare underestimated Mayo on the day but the sheer accuracy of Boland from placed balls (he scored 0-6) and the defensive capabilities of Kenny and company recorded a memorable victory for the Green and Red hurlers.
Next up was an improved Roscommon side again in MacHale Park. Once more the elements were tough but Mayo prevailed on a 0-14 to 2-7 scoreline to advance to the final. Word came through that Mayo would face Meath in the U21B final with the game televised live on TG4 from Semple Stadium in Thurles. The Mayo U21 hurlers had entered unchartered waters with Kenny and Boland leading the charge.
Semple Stadium and Meath’s U21s proved a step too far for the Mayo side as the Royals ran out 1-21 to 0-18 winners. Nevertheless, the exploits of the Mayo U21s gave all involved in the small ball game in Mayo a boost, and gives hope to players of the future. The Tooreen club had nine players involved in the All-Ireland U21B campaign in 2016.
Back to U21 club football
When all the other GAA enthusiasts in Mayo were hanging up their headbands after a prolonged summer on the road, Kenny and Boland were just starting to embark on another campaign. The Mayo U21A club football title was there to be retained for Aghamore and they set about it with group wins over Davitts, Ballina and Westport.
A quarter-final win over Castlebar Mitchels and a semi-final win over Ballintubber saw Aghamore U21s return to the U21A county final. This time they faced Claremorris in the usual surroundings of Bekan.
With Aghamore’s eleven game unbeaten run in U21 football on the line, Claremorris went in at half-time with a 1-7 to 0-5 advantage. It would take a mammoth final thirty minutes for Aghamore to retain their title, but that’s what they did as a brace of late Fergal Boland points gave Aghamore a 0-14 to 1-8 winning margin and back-to-back county U21A titles.
Fergal Boland was born on the 1st November 1995 in Tooreen village. David Kenny was born a fortnight later on 16th November 1995 less than a mile away in Carton North.
Both players have been side-by-side throughout their young careers, both sporting and academic. Both attend University of Limerick where both are training to be secondary teachers.
Both celebrated their 21st birthday parties together in November 2016, while both appear on the same team sheet on a regular basis – be it club or county or football or hurling. They have given the people of the parish such a sporting joy in the past and will continue to do so long into the future.
Both players have been called into Stephen Rochford’s senior football panel and JP Coen’s senior hurling panel for 2017. The journey for David and Fergal starts all over again.
David Kenny and Fergal Boland: teams and titles in the past year
- Club Football U21 x 2 (2015 & 2016) winners
- Club U21 Hurling winners.
- Connacht U21 Hurling winners
- Connacht U21 Football winners
- All-Ireland U21 Football winners
- Nicky Rackard Cup winners
Also played finals of the following:
- Mayo SHC. (Runners-up after replay)
- All-Ireland U21B Hurling (Runners-up)
- North-West U21 Cup Football (Cup shared after drawn final)
Other teams involved with:
- Aghamore Senior Football (Quarter-final exit to Knockmore)
- Sigerson Cup semi-finalist UL (Fergal Boland only)
A version of this article is published in this week’s Western People and it will also appear in the 2016 edition of the Aghamore community annual Glór Achadh Mór. Now running to 28 annual editions under Joe Byrne’s indefatigable stewardship, the Glór 2016 annual goes on sale early in the New Year.