Little learned in Belmullet
MORE interest was centred on Belmullet’s panoramic new park on Saturday evening than on the football produced by Mayo and Cavan to mark its official opening.
Only when the curtain of rain had cleared was the magnificent setting fully revealed. On a bleak hilltop this is an oasis. For miles around there is a striking view of the countryside, and on a lush playing surface the size of Croke Park a footballer could not fail to be inspired.
Maybe that’s why John O’Mahony provided an opportunity for almost every player in his squad to state his case for selection in the team to meet Sligo in a few weeks.
Thing is though, nothing was really learned. Tommy Carr’s Cavan were so awful that Mayo ran through them, and with every substitute fired into action, no one was given sufficient time to make an impressive mark.
A notable feature of the first half was the return of Tom Cunniffe to centre-half back. Having been out of football for close on twelve months, the Castlebar man looked fresh and hungry. But the opposition was so anaemic that judgement must await a stiffer test.
The Castlebar man was replaced after the break by Donal Vaughan and later still by Kieran Conroy, but the unsatisfactory nature of the opposition left you wondering did Mayo benefit in any way from the joust.
It does appear, however, that the selectors have begun to realise the need for a change in that central position. Trevor Howley, who has occupied the berth for some time, was given a role in the corner of defence on Saturday where he acquitted himself well.
Who, if any, is to take his place rests on experiments carried out in a number of challenges already arranged . . . most notably a meeting with Dublin at Hollymount on Friday evening.
The significance of Ronan McGarrity failing to start on Saturday evening is not clear. In the first half Tom Parsons was paired with Seamus O’Shea at midfield and, allowing for the less than average challenge from Cavan’s Ciaran Galligan and Ray Cullivan, they did all that was needed to be done.
There was more of an edge to Parsons’ game than he had shown in recent performances and his fielding in defence, when Cavan were pressing, was quite superb. More steel is needed, however, to underpin his natural fielding ability.
McGarrity joined him in the second half with Seamus O’Shea moving to the ‘forty’ without any overall improvement — and that still leaves some doubt about the pairing to line out against Sligo.
Barry Moran, back from a long spell of injury, got a run at full-forward in the second half, and was more promising than Aidan O’Shea had been over the opening thirty minutes. He suffered at times from a dearth of direct ball from midfield, but what he won was efficiently handled. Just wonder could the two work together usefully in the front line!
On his performance Enda Varley is most likely to be in the front line. Dillon has lost none of his appetite, but Pat Harte may not have done his cause any favour.
Ger Cafferkey was competent at full-back. Nor could anyone grumble with the performances of Chris Barrett and Billy Joe Padden. There was also a welcome back from injury for Peadar Gardiner.
But, let’s be clear, the opposition provided by Cavan was feeble. Dublin on Friday night will be different.
Mayo’s flexible friend is my perfect ten
ONLY four places remain to be filled on my best team of half a century. Except for full forward, the spine is in place, and we’ll complete that at a later stage.
So far it’s a backbone that fills in some of the blanks in Mayo football. It has height and physicality, the lack of which Mayo followers have lamented down the years. Prendergast, Morley, Padden, Kilgallon, McHale are a big, mobile quintet, peerless by any measure and with buckets of common sense.
The flanks are much more difficult to settle on. Over a hundred held the right half-forward position over the past fifty years, and there are so many similar in style and quality that no choice of this writer, will find universal agreement.
Take the likes of Joe Langan, regrettably excluded from midfield to the dismay of many, a key player of the sixties, who also lined out on occasions at right half-forward. Yet here again the Balla native is overshadowed by a profusion of other high-octane performers.
Ideally, the position ought to attract left-footed kickers in the main. But of the 100 occupants, less than a handful have been proficient with the left, fewer still with both feet.
Tommy O’Malley is one of the high-profile lefters to have starred there for Mayo. Of more recent vintage Ciaran McDonald has held followers spellbound with the accuracy of his left foot. Pat Glavey of Aghamore, Brian Kilkelly, Kevin O’Neill, Padraic Brogan, and James Gill were stronger on the left while James Horan and Austin O’Malley were equally adept with either foot.
Tommy O’Malley is another of those greats of the past to have bloomed in Mayo’s desert of the seventies. People hung their hopes on him when he first lined out in a National League game against Cavan in 1970. With an uncle like Seamus O’Malley, the DNA was auspicious.
But there weren’t enough O’Malleys around. If Mayo failed to budge in that barren decade it was not for want of example from the Ballinrobe teacher. Over a period of twelve years he racked up 13 goals and 152 points in 78 appearances.
He captained Mayo in 1975, played for Connacht in 1978, for the Rest of Ireland, and earlier for the Combined Universities; toured as a replacement with the All-Stars, and was first Mayo man to win a B+I monthly award, in 1978.
Others filled the role with considerable credit. Jim Fleming, Seamus O’Dowd, Des Griffith, John Gibbons, Sean Kilbride, JP Keane, Johnny Farragher, Jimmy Lyons, Anthony Finnerty, Kevin O’Neill, Colm McManamon and many others had distinguished stints on that right flank.
Martin Carney’s credentials are unique. While Mayo were struggling to regain some glory in the early seventies, Carney was captivating audiences in Ulster. He was pre-eminent in Donegal’s first Ulster title in 1972, and equally inspiring in a similarly successful campaign two years later.
Brian McEniff who was player/manager on the ’72 side said Carney was an exceptional forward. “If we had him in 1983 when Donegal lost by a point to Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final I have no doubt we would have reached the final.”
A native of Ballyshannon, Carney was by then endeavouring to lead Mayo out of a morass. He came to settle as a teacher in the county of his forbears. In 1979 he togged out for the first time with Mayo, and captained the break-through team of 1981. Over a span of ten years and 101 games he had amassed 10 goals and 150 points, and his transformation to a corner back before retiring, burnished his stature.
He added four Connacht championship medals to his Ulster awards and a Railway Cup medal with the Universities. And he has the distinction of being chosen in 2000 on the Donegal Democrat Millennium team.
Other strings to his bow included managing Mayo minor and U-21 teams; winning two county senior medals with Castlebar Mitchels; becoming Irish selector for the International Rules games; a stint as secretary of the Castlebar club, and a member of committee that drew up the championship back door rules.
With McHale as fulcrum, Tommy O’Malley and Carney are ideal flankers. Of the two, however, I am choosing Carney for the right wing position… by a hair’s breadth.
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;
10. Martin Carney, 11. Liam McHale.
Just a thought...
While penalty kicks are now being taken only eleven metres from goal, following new rule changes, they are still being missed. Burrishoole’s Jason Doherty made one look simple on Sunday, but missed a second minutes later.