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Number six position a priority for Mayo

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Central issue must be tackled



Number six is a priority

Sean Rice

MAYO football allows for no comfortable assumptions. Nothing can be taken for granted when teams wheel into action. Mayo is the most analysed football county in the country; all of us seem to know what’s wrong, but no one in close on sixty years has come up with a remedy . . . that works.
So we drift on in the spirit of that liberating old adage of hope being triumphant over adversity, focusing if we can on what is now a less clear canvas of their Connacht championship prospects.
While the gloss of a good league run by Mayo was wiped away in one final game, Sligo wear the laurels of a side rising in stature and confidence, following promotion to Division 2.
What faces Mayo management before the two lock horns on June 5 is whether to persist with the same team, or risk making the imperative changes with which they really should have experimented in the league.
Injury curtailed those tryouts, but not in every case. And it is clear now that Trevor Howley — a fine footballer in his own right — is not the ideal central defender. He has many attributes, which might be of greater use on the wing than at centre-back.
Doubts about the stature of the Knockmore man in such a key role are not new, but after the league final the selectors may now be forced to rethink their strategy. And maybe they had that change in mind when Tom Cunniffe made himself available for selection.
The Castlebar man has been out of football for more than a year, and at one stage it was thought he might not make a return to the game in which he had shown so much promise. His career has now been revived and his selection on the bench in the last couple of games may be a sign of his impending return to the first team.
There are others eminently suited in my opinion to the central position. Donal Vaughan has all the prerequisites. He has proved his ability in many other positions in defence. He is tall, strong, courageous, speedy, confident and adaptable . . . everything a centre-half back should be.
Experience in that vital position is what he lacks, and should have gained during the league, but being so impressive in other positions, a fear of diluting those qualities may have prevented the selectors from experimenting. Maybe it’s not too late to have him settled in by June 5.
Keith Higgins is also well endowed to handle that position with the excellence he has brought to the corner back and wing positions. His inclusion in the league final team would not have stopped the Cork machine, but would surely have reduced the gap.
Kieran Conroy does not have all the qualities of Vaughan or Higgins, but he is hard to pass and opponents get no soft ride from him. The Shrule/Glencorrib man did a good spoiling job when called upon in Mayo’s league match with Tyrone, although at midfield.
After a competent game at full-back against Kerry he failed to maintain that form against Monaghan, however, allowing Ger Cafferkey to regain the full-back spot. And although the Ballina man does not inspire confidence, he’s the best Mayo have just now. So barring an accident there will be no change there.
Whether Mayo’s league final performance forces a change in the central half-back position remains to be seen.

Picking a midfield partner wasn’t easy

AND so to number nine in my ‘Best Mayo team since 1960’.
Padraic Brogan. Remember him? He crashed onto the scene from his school days, a big, strapping lad hungry for success.
In football terms he was untypical of Mayo, his self-assurance bordering on arrogance . . . a kind of free spirit that plopped straight into your football dreams.
Fans saw guys like Brogan as the panacea for Mayo’s underachievement. He had brought to his native Knockmore the prowess he had earned at St Jarlath’s College where he had become something of an icon.
Knockmore benefited most from the young man’s star qualities, however. They won four county senior titles in the eighties, and Brogan was their linchpin, his left foot nailing down some outrageous scores.
He won an All-Ireland U-21 medal with the county and his goal against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final replay of 1985 is among the best dozen goals or so ever scored.
That aside, Brogan’s potential at senior level was never fulfilled. Midfield was a natural hunting ground, but in 64 appearances he failed to fully bloom. He returned to Mayo after a spell in Donegal, and eventually faded from the scene . . . less flamboyantly than he arrived.
Joe Langan lined out 81 times . . . one of 92 who held midfield positions over the past fifty years. He was fast and clever with great power in his kicks, but a bit wayward when shooting from a running position.
He played minor for Mayo in 1958 and 1959, and won two Railway Cup medals with Connacht. He won his first Connacht medal in 1967 and said at the time that Mayo had the ability to win an All-Ireland medal . . . if they had the will. The high point of his career was winning a National League medal in 1970. A hot contender for a midfield place.
Not everyone even in his own county fully appreciated the midfield contributions of TJ Kilgallon.  You were nothing to many if not a towering midfielder. How a player used the ball was of less importance than how he gained it. Style more than substance was what mattered.
Flamboyance had never been a side of Kilgallon’s performance.  On a catwalk of stylish midfielders he would not stand out. Yet, throughout his 118 appearances the Balla man proved over and over again the value of practical midfield football.
He was the ideal partner to Willie Joe, with a sensible football philosophy. He covered the whole field. His work rate was enormous, dependable in defence, creative at midfield and with a deceptively fast, loping gait. Kilgallon largely influenced what success Mayo enjoyed throughout the eighties.
He shot to prominence in 1978 winning an All-Ireland minor medal. He had already earned a similar award with St Colman’s College, Claremorris, and as a minor reached the All-Ireland semi-final the following year.
The Balla man was still a teenager when he made his senior debut for Mayo . . . against Sligo in the championship in 1980.  It was a short-lived run. Mayo were routed for the second year in a row by high-flying Roscommon, but the joy of winning the first of his two Sigerson Cup medals with UCG brought some solace.
Struggling through the debris of a barren decade, Mayo in 1981 nosed to their first Connacht title in twelve years. Kilgallon was not part of that fragile success, but as a sub he received the first of his five Connacht medals, and became a familiar figure on Mayo’s travels for a decade or more afterwards.
The high point came in 1989 when, back from injury, he found himself at centre-half back on the Mayo team beaten by Cork in the All-Ireland final. It was not his finest hour. Nor was the All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal. But these were mere blips on a career that glistened for twelve years and was crowned in 1992 with an All-Star award.
TJ Kilgallon completes my midfield pairing.

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Just a thought...
GAA President Christy Cooney will be in Castlebar on June 6 to officially dedicate the local Mitchels’ two playing pitches, one to the memory of the club’s greatest footballer, Josie Munnelly, the other to its greatest administrator, Gerry McDonald.