When will the ‘real’ Mayo stand up?
IN their many guises, Mayo continue to bewilder us. From one game to the next in the league, you were left wondering which Mayo would turn up. The mercury rose in victories over Kerry and Derry, and plunged against Tyrone and Dublin.
The mercury itself must have been baffled at the mystifying results from their tussles with Cork and Donegal.
Having journeyed with them through all those phases of highs and lows, your are left with no compelling assurance of their capacity to retain the Connacht title, let alone go all the way.
Surges of optimism return when you consider the occasional flashes of excellence thrown up by the league, but are doused by shadows of recurring faults which if not corrected will undo their ambitions.
It is in that state of uncertainty the league results have left us suspended somewhere between hope and reality.
In their re-invention as joint managers, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly stumbled on a couple of occasions, but recovered to finish on a higher note of expectation. Derry and Dublin stunned them, but to their credit, players on the perimeter were given a chance to renew their challenge to those in established positions.
The effect was clearly demonstrated in the belated blossoming of Barry Moran, the renewal of Kevin Keane as a defender of some quality, and the potential of Danny Kirby in completing at full-forward a solid spine in the team.
Keane re-launched his career in the Killarney cauldron against the All-Ireland champions. It was a daunting assignment, but the conviction he brought to the full-back position in his tussles with Paul Geaney revealed an iron commitment to succeed.
Having taken over from the injured Ger Cafferkey, Keane grew in confidence with a display of safe ball-handling and speedy pursuit of his opponent. In no subsequent game has he been less than efficient in adapting to the various styles of opposing full-forwards.
His attacking instincts were also on view against Donegal when he cut through a swathe of swinging fists to set up Patrick Durcan for what ought to have been a winning score. Inexperience denied the young man. But the rediscovery of his promise by Keane is a plus for Mayo.
Against Cork, Cafferkey renewed some of his old form in the right corner and was a significant addition to a powerfully capable defence. His loss in the warm-up for the match against Donegal was sorely felt.
In that Cork game too, Barry Moran emerged from his ashes, a renaissance as delightful as it was unexpected. Tom Parsons had set the example with a surging midfield performance that was denied him by despairing injury for so long.
The Charlestown man was man of the match for his performance on that occasion, for a display of traditional fielding and for his accuracy from distance.
Parsons’ ability given a free run from injury was never in doubt, but Moran on that occasion more than held his own against Cork’s strong midfield pairing of Fintan Goold and Jamie O’Sullivan. He won vital ball in the last tense minutes.
The Castlebar man grew further in stature against Donegal with a man-of-the-match performance. Nobody could compete with him in the air and, like Parsons in Cork, he scored three excellent points from play, a feat few Mayo midfielders have managed in recent times.
Moran, partnered by the workhorse that is Seamie O’Shea, epitomised the grace of a skill that is being squeezed out of the game, and which we had lost hope of seeing him reproduce despite his promise as a young footballer. The wish is now that he will be spared the injury which has sidelined him in the past.
As he showed in the game against Cork, Danny Kirby has the potential to fill a position that has troubled Mayo for a long time. Aidan O’Shea has been filling that role temporarily and more that adequately, but the big man is needed further out field. With a bit of coaching and experience, Kirby could solve that troubled spot.
On all of that potential is Mayo’s future dependent in the coming championship. But no progress, even in Connacht, is possible if Mayo fail to correct their wayward shooting, if they do not regain confidence in winning points from long distance.
I don’t know how much practice is put into this aspect of the game. But the axiom that practice makes perfect has been the guiding light of top forwards down the years.
Donegal’s Martin McHugh was player of the year in 1992 and his practice included 100 frees a day. Before an important game he would go to a field in the morning with a bag of balls practising. Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin was equally assiduous in perfecting his marksmanship skills.
Ballina’s Evan Regan is being talked of to bring some direction to Mayo’s profligacy. He had begun to demonstrate his proficiency in Kerry with Mayo’s opening score just before he was sidelined with an injury that kept him out for the remainder of the league. Time will tell.
Gibbons delayed on his road to recovery
INJURY has plagued Jason Gibbons for years. But the Ballintubber man must surely have felt good about his recovery when he togged out for his club in a challenge game last Saturday week.
Scarcely had he stretched his legs, however, when a hamstring injury struck again and with it a return of all the despondency and anxiety and fear of another long period of recovery.
The setback has also cost him a place on the Mayo squad it seems. Gibbons has also lost out on the opportunity to travel with the squad when the team left for a training camp in Portugal yesterday (Monday).
The Ballintubber man, who had begun to realise his potential at midfield for the county before injury, must now find a way back to the panel through his club activities. Hopefully a quick recovery from his latest injury will enable him to win back his place.
A question to answer
FROM across the water comes the following query from our loyal reader Tom McNally.
“I have just read on the Hoganstand website that a young hurler called Jason Cleere from Kilkenny has won four All-Irelands in a year and they ask is this a record?
“Am I right in thinking that Pádraic McCormack from Newport won four in 1971, with the Mayo Vocational Schools, the Mayo Minors and two All-Ireland handball titles?
“I was classmate of McCormack at the time in the ‘Tech’ in Westport.
The ‘Tech’ had a fine team at time and had four players on the county team: McCormack, Vincent Ryan, Michael Ring and Liam Gibbons (Carrowholly).
Two of Kevin Keane’s uncles were also on the team.”
Some reader out there might be able to confirm that record.
“By the way, Kevin’s uncle Frank is considered by many the finest footballer to ever play over here in the Hertfordshire Championship.”