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No easy answer to Mayo’s Dublin question

Sport

TUNED IN Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor, who works as a teacher in Drimnagh Castle in Dublin, is pictured at the launch of eir Sport’s coverage of the Allianz National Leagues last week. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Feature
Mike Finnerty

LAST Wednesday evening Stephen Rochford was in Dublin.
With 20 of the 60-odd players in Mayo’s enlarged development squad currently based in the capital, and the National League approaching fast, the manager needed to take another look at his options.
So a challenge game between a Mayo selection and DCU was organised, with a handful of players also travelling up from the west to make up the numbers.
It was hardly ideal for anyone concerned, especially with the bad weather, which made for a testing working environment for the ‘hopefuls’ trying to impress.
No to mention the difficult driving conditions that Rochford and others had to contend with as they crossed the country.
But, in truth, Mayo’s manager had no choice.
The 2017 championship squad only returned from their team holiday abroad two weeks ago, and with Lee Keegan, Chris Barrett, Donal Vaughan and Seamie O’Shea all out injured, allied to Tom Parsons being away on honeymoon, Keith Higgins not yet back in training, and Alan Dillon having retired, the search is on for new recruits.
So with so many of these players with potential currently stationed in Dublin, organising a trial match for them there was the only viable option for Rochford and company.
Michael Plunkett, Shairoze Akram, Michael Hall, Matthew Ruane and Brian Reape are all studying in DCU, Oisin McLaughlin has started in Trinity College, James Stretton works in Dublin, while Ciaran Treacy, another of the newcomers, is training to be a teacher in St Pat’s of Drumcondra.
Throw in Alan Freeman, Paddy Durcan, Robbie Hennelly, Stephen Coen, Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor O’Shea, Jason Doherty, Conor Loftus and Cillian O’Connor, all of whom call Dublin their home away from home now, and you begin to get an idea of the logistics involved in pulling together a squad for the NFL.
As Rochford observed pragmatically in a recent interview with The Mayo News about the issue: “That’s just a reality of life.”
Once Mayo’s panel is pruned down for the National League before the end of this month, approximately 20 players are likely to be released.
That will mean the number of Dublin-based players is likely to come down a little, but the fact that the entire group will only come together once a week still remains a significant handicap to Mayo’s ambitions of launching an assault on the National League again this season.
Stephen Rochford explained why earlier this month.
“It doesn’t allow us that sort of ‘touch-time’ during the week that you’d like to have to work on your game-plan during February and March,” he told this paper.
“It’s going to continue to be an issue for whoever is managing Mayo for as long as a big number of players are studying and working in Dublin,” he offered.
Chris Barrett, one of those players now domiciled in the capital (Seamie O’Shea and Tom Parsons are two others in the same boat), couldn’t agree more.
However, the Belmullet defender, who will miss a large chunk of the league as he recovers from knee surgery, believes that a combination of factors will impact on Mayo’s league aspirations.
“I think it’s next to impossible for Mayo to target the league and really focus on winning it, especially after getting to an All-Ireland final the previous year,” Barrett says elsewhere on these pages this week.
“You go on a holiday in January, we don’t get back until the second week of January, and it’s really only then you can start training in earnest.
“Add in the logistics issues, with a third of the squad in Dublin during the week, and you can see why targeting the league is something that is tough for us.
“Obviously, we target certain games and have certain aspects of our game that we look to improve on and work on, but it’s more about getting the right structures in place for championship.”
It’s no coincidence that this April marks the 17th anniversary of Mayo’s last National League title success, and it was informative to hear Rochford use the words ‘tough’ and challenging’ when looking ahead to Mayo’s 2018 campaign.
Back in October, Aidan O’Shea said something similar.
“There’s a reason why Kerry won, why Dublin have won them and when Cork were consistent they were winning a lot of league titles.
"Is it possible for us to win a league title? I’m not quite sure with our situation,” said the All Star midfielder, adding: “It’s a matter of tapering it and, to be honest, staying up.”
The first three games will tell a tale, and Mayo will have a much better handle on the situation after trips to Monaghan and Galway, with a home match against Kerry sandwiched in between.
But regardless of what happens this spring, the challenges posed by having so many players based in Dublin isn’t going away.

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