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Liam McHale on Best Mayo team since 1960

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Midfield conundrum for Mayo

Sean Rice

IS the bounce gone from midfield?  Over the years it has been a less troublesome spot than some other areas of Mayo football. But whatever verve was there throughout the league had gone missing by final day. That must be a further worry for management as they prepare for the championship.
Since he first arrived on the scene back in 2004, Ronan McGarrity brought certain stability to midfield. Following in the footsteps of many high-fielding Mayo men he has been the constant among a variety of partners . . . apart from a period when illness ruled him out.
The advent of Tom Parsons was seen as a boost for midfield, a young man who would share responsibilities with McGarrity, and create further opportunities for the forward line.
The Charlestown man has lovely skills. When he rises to a high ball images of Willie Joe are evoked. You want to see more of this, more involvement, but because he fades out of games only a glimpse of Parsons’ potential is on view.
You would love to tell him to get stuck in, to augment his ball handling skills with a bit of steel, a bit of heart without which his other qualities are wasted.
In the absence of McGarrity from some games leading up to the final, Seamus O’Shea shouldered midfield responsibilities, and without the elegance of Parsons, grabbed more of the limelight because of his unrelenting work rate.
Maybe the essential physical crust to protect those skills will yet appear. Without it Tom Parsons’ county career will not survive. And that would be a pity.

Westport make a positive start
YOU could not have asked for a more lively beginning to the championship than Westport and Kiltane provided in Bangor on Sunday. And in emerging victorious from the cemetery of so many visiting teams’ hopes over the years, Westport have crossed a major hurdle.
How much Kiltane’s preparations were affected by a last minute change to the starting time of the game we’ll never know. But a lot of re-arranging had to be undertaken after officials became aware only on Saturday that the match had been brought forward by four hours.
For some unknown reason e-mail notification never reached the club and on learning of the time change, only when it was announced on radio, officials were forced to have players, especially some on shift work and others preparing for exams, re-arrange their schedules.
No ill affects were obvious in the first quarter as dogged determination by the players had Westport somewhat ruffled. The exchanges were bone shaking, but good football survived despite the nature of the tackling.
Mikie Sweeney may have been dropped from the Mayo panel, but he was still Kiltane’s most dangerous forward, and demanded all the vigilance Westport could afford.
Keith Halley, Jason Healy, PJ Lally, John Reilly and Ultan Corrigan also served up gritty performances, although none is likely to be challenging for the county panel this season.
In fact the most influential player of the thirty or so was perhaps the most experienced . . . Westport’s Stephen Broderick. He has been a commanding figure in many a Westport team, and many a hurling side, and on Sunday in the first half he opened up a score of avenues with shrewd judgment and adroit passes.
Lee Keegan and Liam Joyce were strong in defence, and Damien Keane’s accuracy was decisive.

Centre-forward berth goes to Liam McHale
WE’RE changing tack this week in our quest to select our ‘Best Mayo team since 1960’. To select six forwards from around 600 who played on Mayo front lines over the past fifty years is like walking open-eyed . . . into a quagmire.
Because they are the vanguard, forwards are better remembered than defenders. A great score is recalled quicker than a great save or a great intervention. Cool scores become things of legend.
Willie McGee’s four goals in Mayo’s All-Ireland U-21 victory over Kerry, Padraig Brogan’s stunner against Dublin in ’85, Ciaran McDonald’s winning point against another Dublin, are milestones in the memory.
There were also fine defensive performances in those games, but who remembers them. A brilliant goal will sustain a player through many lean days. One poor performance can seriously jeopardise a defender’s re-selection.
Many, perhaps most, of the 600 players lined out in various positions up front and more than a dozen will find no place among my six, not because they do not deserve to be chosen, but because the coin has fallen unfavourably for them. It is as close as that. Any six can be matched with an equally capable six.
So let’s get on with it. I need an anchorman around which to build the forward line, a kind of fulcrum.  My first selection is, thus, a centre half-forward. Over the past fifty years, 89 players — according to Mick Byrne’s invaluable compendium of statistics — held that position.
Padraig Brogan was there. Colm McManamon, Johnny Farragher, John P. Kean, Martin Carney, Joe Langan, Liam McHale, Pat Fallon, Henry Gavin, Kevin O’Neill, Ciaran McDonald, and many others had moments of distinction as a centre half-forward.
McManamon was among the longest serving of Mayo forwards, occasionally on the wing, sometimes at midfield, but most of the time centrally placed. He was there through thick and thin, altogether for more than a decade, and no one was more durable.
Johnny Farragher was one of Mayo’s great forwards of the sixties. His self-belief never faltered throughout his 49 games, and Mayo’s re-emergence from the gloom could partially be attributed to the coolness and determination he brought to Mayo football. He had also the confidence to serve at centre halfback, and was a serious challenger to John Morley for that position.
For all that, my choice has to be Liam McHale. The big man’s height and basketball flair was more suited to midfield, but for those very reasons he is my preference for the ‘forty’. Although he scored 8-58 in his 90 appearances, he was not a natural forward, and some of his misses bordered on the reckless.
His ability, born from his basketball experience, to create moves and scores for others was his real strength. He was a font of creativity and you had to be alert to his perceptive passing.
The Ballina man was outstanding at midfield in Mayo’s campaign of 1996, the nearest they have come to capturing that illusive All-Ireland title. Like the rest of that fine side, he was denied by a capricious hop of the ball . . . and an imbalanced decision by the referee in dismissing the big man in the replay.
Long before Kerry experimented with big Kieran Donaghy at full-forward, John Maughan and his selectors had McHale — all 6ft 5in of him — at fourteen in the 1997 final. It was a bold move that failed only because the supply line to him had been cut off from midfield.
At centre half-forward he could also buttress midfield, or switch with Willie Joe as the occasion demanded. Both were adaptable, each complementing the talent of the other. In my forward line, Liam McHale is paramount.

The Team so far
1. Eugene Lavin; 2. Willie Casey, 3. Ray Prendergast, 4. Dermot Flanagan;
5. Ger Feeney, 6. John Morley,
7. James Nallen; 8. WJ Padden, 9. TJ Kilgallon;
11. Liam McHale

Just a thought...
Nice to see the entrepreneurial acumen of Westport-based Gametec Sports Ireland in action in offering Mayo¹s team management the bonding session denied them when their trip to Portugal was cancelled.

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