PRECEDENCE moves to the clubs this week as county interest takes a back seat. Their own progress is the only focus of club managers right now as teams hit the quarter-finals and the frustration of delay is vented.
For months they have been straining at the leash and for months their plans have been thrown into disarray as Mayo inched their way to the All-Ireland final.
It’s been that way for the past few years, everyone hailing Mayo’s success and almost in the same breath wondering if they would ever get to play their own championships.
Now that they are let loose, expect a torrent of zest and energy next weekend as club players try to create their own bit of limelight, and sculpt their own performances from patterns and standards set by the county’s senior stars.
Clubs fortunate to have a county player in their squad will be looking to him to sway victory, to reproduce some of the excellence with which he lit up Croke Park. Occasionally such players disappoint for no greater reason than he is playing to a different drumbeat. Playing a role that is at odds with his county position.
Budding county talent is what the neutrals will be looking out for as the quarter-finals take shape, players who have made an impression big enough to be called up for trials. Experience urges caution though. No championship is ever left uncombed for talent. No potential is ever left untapped.
Stars of the future do not emerge over night. Their inherent qualities must be developed and coached, and must be nursed through initial shaky years.
No doubt as is the case every season a new name will crop up in some of the play-offs, and people will be excited. And next year management will be asked to explain why that same talent is not ‘being given a chance’ unaware that football at the level Mayo are now playing is a different class.
There was no shortage of potential in the West Mayo minor final on Friday. Minors rarely fail to produce stirring football and in this smashing duel in which Westport beat Park, the honesty of the teams, the spirit of their play and their skill in adverse conditions was impressive.
There were McHales on both sides, Alan for Westport and Aaron for Parke whose wholehearted performances offer promise for the future. Michael Brady, Pat Lambert, Mark Moran and David Groden are players to watch and clubmen Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane men to emulate.
Parke can’t boast of similar exemplars in their squad. But there is no shortage of class there. Mark Cusack played with fierce determination. Ronan Reilly, Cormac McDonnell and Aaron Moran are players with fledgling qualities.
The way was cleared for the quarter-finals with the completion of group games at the weekend. And two formidable sides, Castlebar Mitchels and Knockmore, face each other in what may well be the game of the season.
The Mitchels, still smarting from their defeat to Ballina Stephenites in their group game last weekend, must readjust their plans if their aspirations of retaining the title are to be realised.
Knockmore, perpetual contenders, have been knocking at the door those past few years, and are seen as a team with high expectations. They are in an elite group together with the Mitchels, Breaffy and Ballintubber none of which can be ruled out of final glory.
In their group match last weekend Knockmore started impressively against Westport, their centre forward Thomas Clarke ramming the ball home in the opening seconds.
Their lazy start was to haunt Westport throughout the game. And while lively corner forward Colm Moran scored beautifully to revive hopes, they were caught out of position again and punished by the slick Knockmore men.
What may worry the North Mayo men is the spell of listlessness that befell them in the second half. Westport came alive and reduced the lead to a point twenty minutes into the second half. But Knockmore were on the rack for well over twenty minutes until Peter Naughton got them moving again with one of his trademark frees.
Among the features of the game was the duel between Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin, two Mayo stars, close allies a couple of weeks ago in search of All-Ireland honours for Mayo; here passionate adversaries pursuing club glory, so intense that the Westport man drew a yellow card from referee John Glavey for a tackle on McLoughlin.
Keegan edged that duel but McLoughlin is difficult to subdue and will be key to Knockmore’s hopes at the weekend.
Title contenders will need to be at their best
All year Castlebar have been seen as the team to beat again this season. But two league defeats in a row will do little for their confidence, experienced though they are. Against Breaffy they were without several regulars, some hampered by injury.
Nothing was at stake against Ballina last Saturday except pride. But because there is so much history between the clubs it hurt. After a period in never-never land the Stephenites have begun to stir, and that can only be good for Mayo football.
Question is are they rising at the start of the Mitchels decline? Two seasons at the top has brought its own pressures and the Mitchels will know that nothing but their best will be good enough to reach the semi-finals.
So Paddy Durcan, Barry Moran, Danny Kirby, Aidan Walsh, Neil Douglas, Eoghan O’Reilly and Ger McDonagh will have to dig deep into their reserves of experience to deny Knockmore the progress their league position would seem to promise.
Complemented by the return of the O’Shea brothers, Breaffy have enjoyed comfortable wins over Castlebar (in the league) and Ballaghaderreen in their final championship group game at the weekend.
The serious stuff starts this weekend when Claremorris stand in their way of a semi-final spot. The south Mayo men are not in the reckoning for championship honours, but they are capable of springing a surprise and there is no more suitable venue than MacHale Park for a young team to exercise speed and skill.
Breaffy will be aware that in the championship they have promised more than they have achieved. Somehow they have been unable to get it together in MacHale Park in recent years.
Apart from the O’Shea brothers they have lashings of talent. Michael Hall, Tommy O’Reilly, James Minogue, the Morrins, and the ageless Gerry Jennings still competing with players half his age, are a talented bunch. And joint managers Peter Ford and Shane Conway will ensure they are sufficiently grounded to progress.
A close encounter between Ballintubber and Hollymount/Carramore is on the cards at MacHale Park.
The Abbey men will be alert to the danger their neighbours pose, and even at full strength with the O’Connors and Alan Dillon of county fame in their midst only the best they can produce will see them through.