The Ballina Stephenites icon recounts his Mayo career, days of winning and losing, the lure of the NBA, memories of getting behind the scenes with Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors, and why basketball success eases his All-Ireland pain.
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Liam McHale could have made it to the NBA — those in the know will tell you as much.
The Ballina man himself doesn’t shy away from it. During the glory years of basketball in Ireland — as detailed brilliantly in Kieran Shannon’s book, Hanging From The Rafters — top players were coming from the States to earn a living on these shores.
Other men who would go on to have creditable careers on the courts on the far side of the Atlantic had previously struggled to make their mark in Ireland. Truly, it was a golden era of shooting hoops here.
McHale received offers from the USA’s prestigious NCAA, but Gaelic football had already sunk its teeth into him.
He would go on to win two national basketball cups with his club Ballina (in 1991 and 1996), as well as a Super League title, while chasing Croke Park glory with his county.
Unfortunately being born in 1993 I never got to witness some of the incredible individual performances in the game.
My ‘Hot take #1’ … Liam McHale was an absolute monster!
Here’s some clips from his heroic performance.. (allbeit a losing one) against Cork in 89’. #GAA pic.twitter.com/IzXQAfi99i— Eoin Byrne (@EoinB93) May 28, 2020
The 6’5″ midfielder started four All Ireland finals for Mayo: in 1989, 1996 (including a replay in which he was sent off against Meath) and 1997. During the first clash against the Royals in 1996, he was even named man of the match.
All-Ireland glory would elude him as a player, as it did with Stephenites in the club final of 1999, but it doesn’t take from Connacht glory or memories of some huge days.
As McHale details in his imitable way throughout this interview, he doesn’t dwell solely on the disappointments.
“Losing All-Ireland will never go away from you,” he says. “You’ll never be happy with that, and you could be sitting with your mates and reading a book and say ‘woah, that point or that goal we missed to win an All-Ireland’ because some of them were that close.
“I feel that I trained as hard as I possibly could, I sacrificed myself as much as possible, and I presented myself for all the big games.
“When it came to the big games, I felt I was always ready and I think my record would suggest that.
“I think I got man of the match in five of the seven Connacht finals, and the only Mayo man to get man of the match in an All-Ireland final since 1951, so my conscience is clear.”
Click play on the video above to watch McHale’s career memories.
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