Club postponements the wrong call
IS the success of the Mayo juniors in reaching the Connacht football final adequate justification for the postponement of the first round of the county senior football championship?
Disquiet among clubs at the arbitrary decision of the County Board to push back the date of the most important club competition in the county – less than two weeks before it was due to start – has raised questions about obligations to club players, the lifeblood of the association.
Coaches and teams had prepared assiduously for the opening round of this competition. Plans were drawn up and sacrifices made to ensure that nothing within reason would get in the way of players fired up for the launch.
Based on the calendar of fixtures prepared by the county authority, many players had arrangements made other than football for the weekend on which the games are now due to start.
Three from one club were to holiday outside the country that weekend. A member of another club had a stag party arranged for which those attending had to make special adjustments.
Others have had to re-arrange their work schedules, some on night shifts, some in college, some having to travel long distances. All those plans have been thrown into disarray by the postponement.
The senior championship is the most prestigious event in the club’s calendar year. Only something of the utmost urgency ought to be allowed disrupt its fixtures. Success in the first round of the Connacht Junior Championship is not, in the opinion of this writer, on that scale of emergency.
The universal claim that the club is the fundamental and primary element of the GAA is not always reflected in the handling of club fixtures. Players who may not be members of county teams but still the backbone of their clubs are sometimes treated less well.
The issue brings into question the handling in general of young players in the county. You wonder at times how they manage to survive the cross-currents of so many different coaches through which they pass on their way to maturity, all with different nurturing methods by different personalities.
In their juvenile years, club coaches of contrasting standards are the initial influence. Other coaches groom them through the grades, and still others in secondary schools.
By way of club and college, they come in contact with county minor coaches, then senior, then club again, all imposing their own training philosophies.
All are well-meaning and indispensable to the development of young footballers. But you wonder on occasions is natural skill being catered for; are they allowed the freedom to develop naturally or, despite the contrasting techniques adopted by coaches, are players being cloned in a football sense to perform one way?
An endemic desire of so many to walk the ball into the net, their over-indulgence in the hand-pass, their obvious fear of missing a scoring opportunity, preferring to transfer the responsibility onto a colleague less well placed, seems to follow a certain pattern. Has it anything to do with coaching?
Mayo’s ascent towards the pinnacle of success those past four years has, curiously, not spawned an abundance of young wannabe forwards. And as they go in search of their fifth consecutive Connacht senior title, that dearth of budding, aspiring talent is apparent in the present forward division.
From the All-Ireland winning minor team of two years ago, Michael Hall and Stephen Coen have emerged as senior county potential defenders. Diarmuid O’Connor is on the periphery of the forward line and Conor Loftus has also progressed to the senior squad.
Tellingly, however, a few weeks ago our under 21s were dumped from the Connacht championship for the sixth consecutive season.
In an interview in this paper recently, Billy McNicholas of the Mayo Senior Football Development Academy told Mike Finnerty that one of their biggest challenges was getting their hands on young players. “It’s difficult to get access to players due to their various college, county and club commitments. And the lads’ clubs will always come first,” he said.
But for all the good intentions of those who run the academy, you wonder is it all a bit too late at that stage in a footballer’s development, too late in the sense of breaking bad habits that have already taken hold?
There are examples of players never having reached the academy stage, but flowered late and with great effect. They mature through their clubs. Hours of practise on their own honed their kicking skills.
Only at club level are they observed by county scouts and they depend on a long championship run to keep their ambitions alive. It does not help their mental preparation when fixtures are put back for the flimsiest of reasons.
Galway are making steady progress
BEFORE Mayo take to the championship trail on June 14, Galway will be out in front, having worked up a head of steam in New York ... and again next week against Leitrim.
It’s a bit presumptuous, and unsporting perhaps, to suggest that Leitrim will not survive Galway’s revival, but while a shock is not unachievable, the harsh reality is that few expect the Leitrim men to get in the way of a semi-final confrontation between the Tribesmen and the Connacht champions.
Galway have been making steady progress on the road to redemption, and their 16-points defeat of New York in Gaelic Park suggests a determined effort is underway to reclaim lost ground.
They have been careful not to overstate the importance of that victory. After a slow start they did take the exiles apart with some clever play and long-range scores. Afterwards they modestly discounted any trace of self-congratulations. The general reaction seemed to be ‘one day at a time’.
Midfielder Paul Conroy said it was difficult to know where they stood. “You just don’t really know how good are New York. They fell apart a bit in the second half, but Leitrim will be a massive challenge in terms of the level we played at today, so we really have to up our game.”
Another best Mayo team
OUR updated best Mayo team over 50 years has drawn the following response from John Cuffe.
“Enjoyed your selection of Mayo greats. So many to pick from, so hard to decide.
“My 15 are: Peter Burke; Ken Mortimer, Ray Prendergast, Keith Higgins; Pat Holmes, John Morley, Dermot Flanagan; Pat Fallon, David Brady; Kevin O’Neill, Ciaran McDonald, James Horan; Kevin McStay, Willie McGee, JJ Cribben.
“So hard to select and a lot of it comes down to one’s own prejudices, hence O’Neill, Fallon and JJ Cribben.”
The big day
“I WOULDN’T swap the last few months over the last seven or eight years. I’ve won Munster titles and a National League, awards here and there, but the last three months have topped it for me. To get to an All-Ireland final. I mean, I’ll never forget running out on that field ’til the day I die.”
So said John Mullane, the Waterford hurler, after losing to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland senior final of 2008.