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Where have the big men gone?

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Where have the big men gone?



Sean Rice

WHERE are all our big men gone, they ask. Why is Mayo not producing giants like those of Cork and Meath and Kerry to fill our senior team?
The simple answer would seem to be that in general big players in this county do not have the essential qualities of smaller men. In club championships, trials and whatever other examinations are held, the class of the smaller man seems to stand out. They win their places on merit, and selectors can’t ignore the evidence before their eyes.
Whether all the evidence is put before them is another matter.
On Sunday Aghamore fielded a host of big men for their championship match with Castlebar. The spine of the team from full-back to full-forward was manned by players six feet tall and more.
Colm Caulfield, Risteard Byrne, Seán Óg Robinson, Colm Forde, Simon McGuinness and Cathal Carty are the build of players many would love to see in a Mayo senior team. But apart from Caulfield and Carty, they did not stamp the game with any real authority.
A fair assessment of their talent is not possible from one game, however. And now that Aghamore’s interest in the championship has come to an end, what hope is there of seeing them in action again?
One big Aghamore man, Alan Freeman, was rescued last season, and almost over night became one of the county’s star discoveries. There might be further Alan Freemans out there, if a better system of assessment were established.
Meanwhile, Castlebar extinguished any championship aspirations Aghamore held with a decisive 11-point win on Saturday evening.
When they did eventually get on top, the Mitchels looked impressive, but they struggled for long periods, and unless they find a way to spring from the traps much earlier, their championship hopes could end without finding their true form.
The experienced heads of Kevin Filan, Pat Kelly and Shane Fitzmaurice set the example, and wrung standout performances from the younger set ... Eoin O’Reilly, Donal Newcombe Aidan Walsh, Danny Kirby and Neil Douglas.
But in comparison against the Charlestown we saw in action on Sunday, the Mitchels might find their performance a shade tardy and sluggish.
Against Westport, the county champions catapulted into the game full of vigour and passion. It was as if they were still suffering the pain of dismissal from the Connacht campaign last season, and were anxious to prove that they are not a spent force.
There was scarcely a weak link on the team, and their veterans were among the most enthusiastic.  Brothers Dermot and Aidan Higgins,  Enda Casey, David Caffrey and Kevin Deignan played with an energy and drive that belied their football mileage.
Full-forward Tony Mulligan was sprightly and incisive, and when he replaced the injured Seán Morris, their old passionate veteran of other great days, David Tiernan, injected even greater authority into their overall performance.
They’ll be a challenge for the best.

Manager’s job a poisoned chalice
IF everything emanating from the recent County Board meeting is to be believed, all of Mayo’s GAA clubs are by now engaged in a mammoth skull session to put forward a credible nomination to manage the Mayo senior team for the next year or more.
No outsider is welcome, it would appear, even though the last ‘foreigner’ in the one and only year of his reign steered Mayo to an All-Ireland final, and was subsequently summarily dismissed.
Nevertheless, the likes of Mickey Moran or Mick O’Dwyer (pictured) hold little or no fascination for Mayo fans in general anymore, and the new man must emerge from within the borders of the county.
But who will grasp the poisoned chalice? And what kind of vision must he possess to correspond with the vision the board wishes nominees to outline during the interviews? What must he have that recent managers have lacked? What are the right qualifications?
And if no nominee meets the ‘vision’ demanded by the final arbiters, what then? Will they look elsewhere for a suitable candidate? If they believe a better candidate has not been nominated, and is out there, will they knock at his door?
How do we get the man with the right stuff?

Galway searching for a saviour
JOE Kernan’s term in charge of Galway came to an abrupt end when his resignation to a meeting of the Football Board executive was accepted.
His year-long stint ended when Joe refused a request from the board to have two of his back-room team replaced by two local coaches in order to defray costs.
Shades of John O’Mahony’s departure from Mayo back in the early nineties.
The Mayo County Board sought then to have the manager’s back-room expertise replaced – a move that had more to do with O’Mahony’s failure to regain the limelight of 1989 rather than the cost incurred.
Kernan was head-hunted by John Joe Holleran and persuaded to take on what was seen as a glamour job. But while he was anxious to continue for another term, without his two lieutenants the former Armagh boss, whose year in charge was fraught with disappointment, felt at a disadvantage.
Like Mayo, speculation about who should take charge is rife. And believe it or not, among those mentioned is the man who has just quit Mayo, and who led Galway to their two most recent All-Ireland senior titles ... the same John O’Mahony.
Other names being tossed about include Ray Silke, Mick O’Dwyer. Stephen Joyce, Val Daly and Brian Talty.
But the man on whom most eyes are fixed is Kevin Walsh who has enlivened Sligo football over the past two years. Sligo County Board chairman John Murphy is convinced that Walsh will see out his three years with the county, but the Killanin man has made no firm decision so far.
As he prepares another team, this time for the All-Ireland junior final, against either Kerry or Lancashire, all of his energies are devoted to gaining some compensation for the loss of the Connacht senior title to Roscommon. Nothing else concerns him at the moment. But he’s the even-money favourite to take the Galway job.

An alternative best Mayo team
THE romance with our best team of half a century still stirs emotions, and the latest challenge comes all the way from Michael McAndrew in Bradford, England.
A native of Bellacorick, Michael is not related to the McAndrews of All-Ireland fame who hailed from a village closer to Bangor. But his nephew, Pat McAndrew, was a member of the All-Ireland winning Crosmolina team of 2001.
Like ourselves, Michael found it difficult to omit certain players, and his near misses include Kenneth Mortimer, Liam McHale, David Brady, etc. Clearly a lot of thought has been given to his best 15, and by any standard it is a formidable side. “I picked that team because all of them could fight for the ball,” he said.
His team is: Eugene Lavin; Ray Prendergast, John Morley, Dermot Flanagan; Johnny Carey, James Nallen, John Finn; W.J. Padden, PJ Loftus; Michael Connaughton, John Gibbons, Joe Corcoran; Ciaran McDonald, Jimmy Burke, Willie McGee.

Just a thought …
Hurling can’t prosper while one team dominates, it is being said, as Kilkenny charge for their 5th consecutive title … an excuse for dodging the hard work demanded to reach Kilkenny’s standard.