Kerry haven’t gone away, you know
LIKE a snooker player, Eamonn Fitzmaurice is thinking two moves ahead. His attendance at the Connacht final is reason enough to infer that the Kerry boss is anticipating a clash between Mayo and the Kingdom in the All-Ireland semi-final.
In short, his presence would seem to imply that Kerry will surmount the opposition of Galway, Sligo or Tipperary in the quarter-final, their next match, and that Sligo or Cork, or even Tipperary, will yield to Mayo at the same stage.
It’s not an outlandish assumption, but it coldly dismisses the qualities of whatever opposition the two provincial champions are likely to meet … dismisses their worth, the experience and the degree of resistance they will have accumulated in reaching the third last stage of the championship.
On a high since trouncing Cork in the Munster final, Kerry have wormed their way back into the consciousness of other All-Ireland hopefuls. Themselves earlier dismissed, even in Munster, on their league results as championship outsiders, they are now counted among the few serious challengers for Dublin’s title.
Kerry don’t go away.
Fitzmaurice will keep his views on the Connacht final to himself ... at least until, and if, Kerry and Mayo clear their next fences. But, like the rest of us, he will have reached no firm conclusion on Mayo’s ability to go the full distance until he meets James Horan’s men face to face.
Mayo did enough surely to convince the Kerryman that more than a residue of last year’s hunger remains, that they were focused and resolute. He will bear in mind the anaemic quality of Galway, Kerry’s possible quarter-final opponents.
He will note that only a few of the Mayo front line were assertive and commanding, and that one of their best forwards was a half-back. And he may conclude that Mayo might be relying too heavily on three or four forwards, that until they are firing on all cylinders, with a fully competitive front line, they are not the finished article.
He will have noted the new role given to Aidan O’Shea and how easily, and brilliantly, the Breaffy man adjusted to the ‘40’. And he can’t fail to be impressed by a back line that has begun to recapture the controlled aggressiveness that has been their footprint those past two years.
He will have wondered what the extent of Mayo’s victory might be if Lee Keegan had not played such a significant role. The foresight of the Westport man takes him to unexpected achievements and, when blended with the cool creativity of Cillian O’Connor, forms a partnership of rare quality.
But Keegan’s raiding success has not gone without notice, and in vital games he is certain to be a marked man, to be policed so tightly that he cannot make the runs. Can any of our midfielders substitute for such inventiveness?
The Westport man is in fact a third midfielder. That goal he scored against Galway is the essence of midfield play but crafted by a wingback. It is a template for midfielders, yet accomplished by so few.
Not for the first time, we harked back to the goal scored by Jason Gibbons in Mayo’s league match against Cork during the spring. The Ballintubber man won possession at midfield, sprinted through the centre and blasted the ball into the Cork net.
There was something special about that score, simple but inspirational, not so much the score itself either as the fact that it came from a midfielder, a rare Mayo occurrence. It’s more of that Mayo needs, more of it from midfield, the natural springboard for score-making of such elegance.
Club managers in a real dilemma
IT isn’t easy to be a team manager in the present climate of Mayo achievement. A motion passed at Convention in December 2012 allowed clubs to avail of their county footballers for the week leading up to their championship games.
It was the least the County Board could do for clubs that are the pulse of the association, the rock on which the association is built. Without their club stars, managers can’t plan with any degree of satisfaction or certainty.
The championship week gone by left many managers stranded, however, when James Horan laid out a training schedule for the county squad in preparation for their quarter-final at Croke Park on Sunday week.
According to reports the manager also asked first-team players not to risk togging out with their clubs. That request it seems did not apply to some of the county squad on the periphery of the first team. Thus, Kevin McLoughlin did not tog out for Knockmore, while Enda Varley played for their opponents, Garrymore.
And Knockmore lost an important decider.
To deepen frustrations, all of Ballintubber’s county stars turned out for their club against Crossmolina, and so did Breaffy’s for their contest with Ballina, ignoring the request from Horan.
It’s a dilemma for club managers, but on this occasion, with Mayo striving to bridge a 63-years-long gap in All-Ireland success, my sympathy lies with the county manager.
Having lost two finals in a row, this could be the last throw of the dice, the end of the present cycle of this great Mayo team. Who then can blame James Horan for endeavouring to eliminate every risk to his players as the championship enters the crucial stages?
Apart at all from the risk of injuries – and for some minutes on Sunday Jason Gibbons was forced out of the game with a facial injury – club training in some cases is likely to be out of kilter with that of county methods, and totally unsuitable to the county regime.
Exasperating though the experience may have been, it did not warrant the invective heaped on this reporter when he asked Knockmore manager Nigel Reape for his comments on James Horan’s request. “What are you doing about it,” was his reply, repeated angrily on several occasions.
In well over 50 years of covering Gaelic games, I have never encountered such an uncouth and irrational outburst.
Ballintubber run riot
GARRYMORE availed of Knockmore’s difficulties by topping the group in their five-points win at Knockmore. They played with a lot of heart and capped a fine defensive performance in the final minutes with a quick break that ended in a goal by Jimmy Killeen from the penalty spot.
But by far the more impressive performance of the weekend was that of Ballintubber’s 19-points dismissal of Crossmolina.
Names like O’Connor, Gibbons, Loftus and Plunkett kept cropping up as they systematically tore away Crossmolina’s defensive curtain through which scores poured in the final minutes.
Mind you, it took some time for Ballintubber to figure out their opponents, who looked determined to unhinge them with aggressive attacking by Paul Duffy, Mike Gallagher and Brian Benson.
But they had a steadying hand in new acquisition Stephen Broderick, whose imaginative play at midfield sparked Ballintubber into life. Great performances by Jason Gibbons, the O’Connor brothers, Gary Loftus, Alan Plunkett and Alan Dillon ensued.
Just a thought …
ROSCOMMON did not realise their hopes of further progress when they lost out to Armagh at Hyde Park. Nevertheless, they have made big strides and will be a handful for any side next season.