Arriving at Central Station
Mayo’s new full-back has worked hard to reach his present position.
WHEN JP Kean, the former Mayo minor manager, first saw Liam O’Malley, the then teenager was plying his trade in the forward line. Kean quickly realised that O’Malley was out of position. How did he know? “Well he knew how to tackle, and forwards can’t tackle,“ explains the former Mayo minor manager. “We decided to try him in the backs and it was soon obvious that he was a natural defender.”
Despite missing out on his formative years in the art of defending, the Burrishoole youngster was soon making serious strides and more than willing to learn. He graduated to the starting fifteen as a wing-back in his second year in the minor squad and, all of a sudden, a real talent was emerging.
The current Burrishoole senior team manager, John Nixon, concurs. He has watched the young, quiet, footballer blossom into an integral member of his club and county teams.
“Liam was always a good footballer, but would not have been anything above the ordinary,” Nixon said last week. “When he got into the Mayo minor squad you could see a change in him. After his second year with the county it was easy to see how much he improved. He just shone from then on. It was a huge step up for him, but he was prepared to give that bit extra to make the team and it really paid off.”
Ask anyone who knows him what makes the current owner of the coveted Mayo number three jersey so special and the verdict is unanimous. Dedication. Simple as that.
Being a name on the teamsheet is not enough for him. He wants to be the best. Former Mayo senior and under 21 selector Liam McHale is a huge fan of O’Malley’s. He tells a story of the player’s commitment which underlines for McHale the sort of man the full-back is.
“We were staying in Dublin prior to the National League semi-final against Armagh (in 2004). Liam had been sent off in the last league game against Westmeath, and was suspended for the game, but still travelled up with the squad. I went down in the gym in the hotel myself to lift a few weights and there was Liam, training away on his own in the gym.
“He did that both days we were there. Some lads who are suspended would head into town and go on the beer. Not Liam though. He used the time off to train himself. That sums him up for me.”
That sort of work-rate is not unusual for the man. Nixon points out that despite his heavy workload as an electrician (working for none other than Colm McManamon), O’Malley will always find time for club training.
“He will always be doing that extra bit of training, no matter how much work he has on.” McHale adds, “If you asked him to train twice a day at any time, he would. Some players look for excuses not to train. Liam looks for excuses to train more.”
UCH debate surrounded the identity of the man who would fill the full-back role this summer for Mayo, and when Mickey Moran entrusted the position to Liam O’Malley (22), it caused mild surprise in some quarters. However, everyone is convinced he will not be found wanting in the pivotal area. His club manager, for one, believes he can thrive there. “Liam is such a great reader of the game that he can play anywhere,” offers Nixon. “He might not be your archetypal full-back, but he is more than capable of playing in that position.”
Meanwhile, JP Kean thinks the defender’s speed may bring a different dimension to the full-back spot. “I always saw Liam as either a corner-back or half-back because of his speed, but as full-back he may be able to use that to his advantage. I wouldn’t be overly concerned anyway as he will always carry his own weight, and his physical commitment can never be questioned. He will go through a wall if it is necessary to win possession.”
Liam McHale contends that the previous management saw his best position as centre-half back, and it was there he occupied himself for the under 21 team narrowly beaten by Armagh in the 2004 All-Ireland final. “Myself, John (Maughan, manager) and George (Golden, selector), all felt that he would be an ideal centre back, the man to eventually take over from James Nallen. I think he might be sacrificing his natural game by playing full-back, but he is so brave and solid that he can do a great job there. He knows the game, so it shouldn’t be a problem for him.”
O’Malley is a naturally quiet, but popular figure in the dressing room. He is warmly remembered by Kean as a good listener. “He would listen to his instructions, and go out and do what he was told. He was such a good listener.” McHale has the same memories. “Liam is a listener rather than a talker. There’s no shouting or roaring, he just gets the head down and does what is asked of him.”
At club level, John Nixon says that a more confident and vocal player is beginning to emerge as the man from Comploon, Newport gains more confidence in himself and his ability. “He is stepping up to the mark, becoming a leader. He is always willing to listen, but he is talking a bit more. And when he talks the lads listen.”
If you want a measure of how those who have worked with the West Mayo man regard him, you just have to ask Liam McHale. “Without a doubt I think he is the most ambitious and hardworking inter-county player in the country right now. Even more so than Kieran McGeeney or Sean Cavanagh. No-one deserves success more than him. If Mayo had 25-30 players just like him, they would be winning All-Ireland’s every year.”
FACTFILE: Liam O’Malley
SFC Debut 2005 v Galway
“Without a doubt I think he is the most ambitious and hardworking inter-county player in the country right now.”