Mayo must show mood for change
ANY chance John O’Mahony might inject into Mayo football next Saturday some semblance of the fighting qualities with which his fellow parliamentarian and county man, Enda Kenny, successfully defended his leadership of Fine Gael last Thursday?
You don’t have to be a party follower to appreciate that the mental steel of the Islandeady man is what Mayo footballers need right now as they embark on the Qualifiers. The manner in which Kenny shook off the challenge of the arrogant Green Isle Nine might act also as a tonic in shoring up the drooping confidence of his county’s footballers.
Next Saturday Mayo make the journey to Longford, their first step on the road to redemption following their dismissal from the Connacht championship. And if the attributes of the Midlanders have been less loudly trumpeted than those of Sligo, their challenge is no less serious.
Longford’s loudest claim to fame is the scare they gave Kerry last season. Beaten in the championship by Wicklow, they survived the opening qualifier against Leitrim, and then faced the might of the kingdom with a stoicism that ended in a battling four-point defeat.
In that narrative lurks whatever danger Longford poses next Saturday. The David versus Goliath phenomenon!
Nothing they produced in the fourth division of the league last spring was in any way a replication of Longford¹s tussle with Kerry. They lost to Carlow, Limerick, Wicklow, Clare and Leitrim. They drew with Waterford and beat Kilkenny and London.
It ought to be a canter on Saturday for the league finalists. But Mayo’s sagging morale is now a national topic, and a fillip to teams of all shades. Nor, like Sligo, will Longford be uninformed of the tendency of their opponents to fold when more pressure than they care for is exerted on them. Isn’t it time they shed that inglorious characteristic?
Of more immediate concern to followers is what team John O’Mahony decides to field. The midfield diamond will surely occupy much of his attention as he wrestles with the problems of a quartet that mystifyingly lost its lustre in the white heat of battle.
Nothing the selectors have done in the last two games suggests the manager has ready-made answers. Opportunities to experiment at centre halfback during the course of the league were not availed of, and Mayo are still vulnerable in that vital sector.
A series of challenges — never the most dependable of tests at the best of times — convinced the selectors that Tom Cunniffe was the most suitable choice. Although a good footballer, persistent questions about his fitness after a 14-month lay-off finally laid bare his lack of match practise for the cut and thrust of championship football.
Nor was midfield able to rough it with a Sligo pair tutored in spoiling tactics. Tom Parsons and Ronan McGarrity were eventually replaced by men no better equipped for the rigour of midfield mullacking, and rather than move Seamus O’Shea to midfield the selectors decided to replace him, too, at centre half-forward.
Because more options are open to them now, management is unlikely to stick with the side that started in Sligo. Time does not permit proper experimentation, but even allowing for their conservative nature certain changes are on the cards.
No team management would want to start without a fit Alan Dillon. And in lining out for his club last week the Ballintubber man suffered no recurrence of the hamstring that kept him out of the Sligo match, where his experience was sorely missed.
Trevor Howley has also recovered from injury, and Barry Moran turned out for Castlebar last week. Even with his knee heavily strapped Aidan Kilcoyne was able to influence a win for his Knockmore. The availability of these stars ensures changes. But who will be at centre-half back is the big question?
Longford’s most consistent forward has been Francis McGee. They have also notable performers in midfielders O’Connor and Gilleran, and up front in O’Dowd, Mulligan and the experienced Paul Barden, a member of the last team to play Mayo . . . in the league six years ago.
But how they’ll do against inconsistent Mayo we can’t be sure. The most accurate account of their worth may be gauged not from the league but from running Louth to four points in the championship. Significantly, Louth accounted for Kildare in the second match by six points.
On that basis it will not be a walk-over. Other than their last meeting, they know little about each other. Ronan McGarrity featured on that occasion, in Ballina, and Andy Moran made an entrance after the break.
In the end, Saturday’s outcome boils down to self-belief.
Whatever happened to the abandon with which Mayo took on all comers up to the league final?
Final spot goes to mercurial McStay
IT’S the final piece of the jigsaw. And it’s as difficult to fit as any of the other fourteen places on my best Mayo team of the past fifty years.
In keeping with the evolution of Gaelic football the role of corner forward has become more expansive over the decades. Stars like Peter Canavan, Owen Mulligan, Colm Cooper, Stephen O’Neill and many others were shaped there.
Not since the days of Peter Solan and Joe Gilvarry has Mayo produced a player that made the left corner spot his own. But then none has been lucky enough to be on an All-Ireland winning senior side.
More than 100 filled the position over the half-century, many only on a temporary basis before finding suitable niches elsewhere.
Those who made an impact included Johnny Farragher, John Nealon, Billy Fitzpatrick, Joe McGrath, Jimmy Burke, Ray Dempsey, Kevin McStay, Kevin O¹Neill, Noel Durkan, Anthony Finnerty, Trevor Mortimer and Alan Dillon.
Jimmy Burke will ever be remembered for the goal he scored in extra time in the Connacht final of 1989, not so much for the quality of it as for the sheer willpower with which he guided the ball over the line.
Anthony Finnerty from Moygownagh scored a brilliant goal in the All-Ireland final of 1989, and was regarded as a footballer of considerable ability, rattling in 13-41 in his 74 games.
Joe McGrath operated in the corner on many occasions with distinction when Mayo football was at a low ebb. In 1979 he scored a total of 9-8. Johnny Farragher is still edged out, a man so tough and versatile that he has been a contender for many positions. But corner forward would not be for him.
Ray Dempsey was as effective at corner forward as in any other forward position and his sixteen goals, many comparable to the best scored in the country, is an indication of how lethal he was around the edge of the rectangle.
Kevin McStay rivals the best of the contenders. Speedy and talented, his self-belief was a characteristic too few Mayo footballers shared . . . even if at times he wove excessive patterns into his game. Yet in his 56 appearances for Mayo the Ballina man scored 7-122 and had serious injury not cut short his career might have challenged Joe Corcoran for top spot.
And then, there¹s Alan Dillon who gives lie to the assertion that small men are at a disadvantage. I¹m tempted to go for Dillon, for his consistently impressive performances . . . even though mostly on the wing. I¹m also conscious, however, of the sensitivity involved in choosing a player still in full blossom.
I have it pared down to three: Dempsey, McStay and Dillon. It¹s a hesitant decision. But because almost all of his scores came from that corner the vote goes to McStay.
1. Eugene Lavin; 2. Willie Casey, 3. Ray Prendergast, 4. Dermot Flanagan;
5. Ger Feeney, 6. John Morley,
7. James Nallen; 8. WJ Padden, 9. TJ Kilgallon;
10. Martin Carney, 11. Liam McHale, 12. Joe Corcoran; 13. Ciaran McDonald, 14. Mick Ruane, 15. Kevin McStay.
Just a thought …
What makes Paul Galvin tick? Kerry claim their star forward is being hounded by the media, but Galvin’s latest indiscretion springs from an explosive nature that he must rein in if he is not to be distinguished . . . for the wrong reason.