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Trials and tribulations

Sean Rice
ciaran mc donald
HIGH POINT Ciaran McDonald’s last great deed for Mayo was kicking the winner against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final in August 2006. Pic: Sportsfile

More trials and tribulations


Sean RiceSean Rice
IN baring his soul to a Dublin newspaper Ciaran McDonald has re-awakened memories that would have been best left undisturbed among the football canons of the subconscious.
McDonald’s tussle with authority is not a new phenomenon. Hitches between our brightest stars and Big Brother have blemished Mayo football periodically down the decades.
Obscured by their success of 1936 were the ripples of discontent among some Mayo players over the surprise selection of Seamus O’Malley, who captained that team and was also county secretary.
A celebrated letter written in 1948 by a group of malcontents — which included Sean Flanagan and Eamonn Mongey — to an apathetic County Board, prologued the story of the illustrious Fifties.
In the Sixties jinking Joe Corcoran fell foul of the selectors and was dropped from a trip to America. In the early Nineties players objected to tactics adopted in training by Brian McDonald.
The previous decade belonged to Padraig Brogan. In his left foot, the Knockmore man carried the hopes of a new generation of footballers and supporters, but they died when his tangled web of emotional confusion brought a premature end to such a promising career.
Brogan’s was not an intermittent talent. He won an All-Ireland Colleges senior championship with St Jarlath’s in 1982. His performance at midfield prompted Galway’s great full-forward of the Fifties, Frank Stockwell, to rank the Knockmore man’s display among the greatest he had ever seen for St Jarlath’s.
Laden with club honours, an U-21 medal is the sum of his All-Ireland honours at county level however. He scored some wonder goals for Mayo, but the lights went out on his potential much too early.
John Maughan had trouble with David Brady late in the Ballina man’s career and, lest it be forgotten, Ciaran McDonald’s communications with management were less than cordial four years ago.
On the occasion of the FBD final of 2004 the Crossmolina man failed to turn up. Conscious of a public apology Mid-West Radio was obliged to make a few weeks earlier for announcing McDonald’s premature retirement from county football, greater effort was made to find the reason for his absence on this occasion.
The retraction was forced on the radio station after Mayo GAA Board dismissed the report as being untrue, McDonald having denied reaching any such decision.
You can imagine how the radio reporters felt when Kevin O’Toole, the county public relations officer, apprised them of the facts. Ciaran McDonald, he said, had made it plain that he would not tog out with Mayo again because of the abuse he received for squandering a number of chances in their Allianz League match with Fermanagh the previous week.
It was an unconvincing excuse. In that game McDonald scored two points, kicked eight wides and had a shot come back off the crossbar in the final seconds. Judgement of his performance was in no way harsh.
He had not reached his own high standards, but the outcome did not alter Mayo’s position in the league table. Criticism of the Crossmolina ace, therefore, could not have been serious.
McDonald has always been an enigma. Until his surprising revelations in the Irish Independent he had kept his own counsel. Selection was never in doubt, but his availability for selection never straightforward. The arbitrary nature of his absences left you guessing how much richer a harvest he could have reaped for himself and his county.
John Maughan did entice the Crossmolina man back to his panel. He also allowed him leave from training until well into the spring, a decision with which this column had not entirely agreed. Maughan may have concluded that because McDonald was engaged in manual work he did not require the physical exercise laid down for those whose daily routine was less strenuous — and few can disagree with that argument.
But we have said here on more than once occasion that there is more to team preparation that muscular exercise. Team spirit is essential. No training is complete without the bonding that comes from togetherness, sharing in one purpose, building pride and confidence and comradeship — esprit de corps.
McDonald’s absence from springtime training denied him the opportunity to share in those values. Think of the asset his presence would mean to his young team mates. If he never partook in physical exercises McDonald’s god-given talents, his advice, his experiences, his wisdom, his encouragement could do for a young team what no manager or coach could summon. Surely, he could have made the effort to be present.
McDonald questioned why, after playing for Mayo for so long, management would want to see him in a trial.
Why not? To determine its strengths and weaknesses is a prerequisite in team building. Coaches would surely want to know how McDonald would interact with new players, and indeed whether his own form had in any way receded.
“I would have loved to play for Mayo again this year, but obviously he (O’Mahony) doesn’t want me,” he said.
Could he not have taken a minute of his precious time to pull out his phone, ring John O’Mahony and declare that he was ready to return, that he was unable to make the trial, but that he could be there for the next training stint.
I watched him score seven points for Crossmolina recently. All had the trademark quality of his marksmanship. Nothing went astray. He would be the first to admit, though, that the freedom he enjoyed against Ballaghaderreen might not be so readily available against other opposition. The photograph that accompanied his complaints shows him enveloped by Kerry opposition, a tactic that stultified his effectiveness in the All-Ireland finals.
In any inter-county competition McDonald is a marked man. His distinctiveness emanates from his left foot. Nowhere else, neither in pace, fielding nor handpassing is he quite so accomplished. There was a time when he had the agility to flaunt that left foot from any corner of the field, to score like no other. Whether that still exists remains to be seen.
His last great deed for Mayo was that winning point against Dublin two years ago. Little enough of his expertise has been on display since. Was it any wonder he was not included in the panel? And could his anguish be rooted in the realisation that at 33 he will have soon run out of time?
Given an opening he still has the accuracy to score from any angle, and in the opinion of this writer his value — if he is considered to be fit enough — could now be best suited on the bench to be sprung in the final ten or fifteen minutes of a match against an unsuspecting defence.
O’Mahony claims he has never ruled out McDonald. “Our job is to get the best possible panel we can all pulling in the same direction in the interests of Mayo football,” he said.
“That’s what we have done in this case, but if a situation arises at any stage where a player is performing so well at club level that he deserves to get into the county set-up, it will happen. That applies to all players whether they have played for the county before or not.
“The reality is that for the past eighteen months he (McDonald) was not in a position to play. Maybe that will change in the future.”
The manager has got it right, I think.