WE go out in search of the physical attributes we claim are in such short supply on the county senior panel . . . and we come home with the brilliance of the small men echoing around our mind.
That performance in Pearse Stadium has convinced us that Mayo will make no further progress, that no All-Ireland title is possible, while the panel is flooded with stylists; that until the vital positions in the team are filled with players of the calibre of Kerry’s O’Se’s, Donegal’s Paddy Campbell and Barry Monaghan, and Armagh’s 36-years-old Kieran McGeeney, we are whistling in the dark.
Big men are the flavour of the month. They man the vital positions on the teams in contention for All-Ireland honours. One big, Kerry full-forward destroyed Mayo in Croke Park last year. New, tall, strong talent has rejuvenated Meath, and the Royals are now hotly pursuing a Leinster title once more.
In Mayo, such talent appears to be in short supply. There is no shortage of tall, lithe players on teams throughout the county, but for the most part their performances are overshadowed by the style and speed and craft of less physically built.
You hear it said that the likes of Peadar Gardiner is not strong enough to hold down the wing back position, that when he comes up against the brawn and muscle of a Kerryman he is lost.
Yet, in their opening championship game a couple of weeks back, Crossmolina’s Gardiner was one of the star performers. Playing at right-half back, Gardiner was adventurous, supportive and breathtakingly fast. The Crossmolina captain was just one of many lightly built players you could not fail to overlook.
Declan Keating was equally impressive on the other wing, and up front Brian Benson, himself no giant, plundered two goals, while Joe Keane at full-forward was inventive and sprightly, and at the centre of most of the attacks.
Ciaran McDonald played his front men to their strengths, delivering ball to suit their talents, chest high and to the wings where their speed was more useful than their power. Crossmolina have been well served by their small men, and will once more be the team to beat in the final shake-up. But, in the county jersey, they do not have the height or weight to stand shoulder to shoulder with their more successful rivals.
Ballina paraded most of the team, with which they won the All-Ireland Club championship a few years back, in their championship meeting with Louisburgh on Sunday. Overall, they are a more physical side than Crossmolina, among them the Brady brothers, Pat Harte, Brian Ruane and Enda Devenney.
Devenney, who played a leading role in their All-Ireland success, has yet to recover the form he displayed before injury sidelined him for a season.
Chosen on the county flank opposite Gardiner, and with a similar style and build, the Ballina man has not quite fulfilled his club promise for the county. On Sunday he was replaced at the break and while he did reappear as a forward near the end of the game, his selection for the county for their next outing is in jeopardy.
But neither did heavyweight David Brady stand out on Saturday. And Pat Harte, who played quite well in the first half also faded in the face of some tough – but no tougher than might be expected from Kerry or Meath – Louisburgh tackling. Harte limped off near the end with what appeared a muscle injury. And if the stature of David Brady is what we desire throughout the Mayo team . . . Saturday’s is scarcely a convincing demonstration.
County players are marked men in club championships. In their preparations, coaches plan to ensure than county stars on opposing teams are foiled. So you don’t try to field with the likes of David Brady, you break the ball, and you stick with him everywhere, don’t allow him an inch.
Nevertheless, Ballina would have expected more from their midfield star, and were it not for the determined and unstinting effort of his brother Ger, the North side might not have won their tussle with Louisburgh.
For a while it looked as if Eanna Casey might solve a Mayo full-forward problem, but while his strength was an asset in creating the opportunity for Ballina’s first goal, Casey was not left long enough in the position to accurately assess his potential as a leader of the attack.
Louisburgh showed no sign of inferiority, once they survived the opening salvo against their more celebrated rivals. After that, they matched them in most sectors and lacked only the experience and tradition of the Stephenites.
We had principally in mind, though, the form of Austin O’Malley in the light of the difficulty Mayo selectors have in filling the full-forward position. O’Malley has never commanded a permanent place on the team ever since his thrilling debut in the league a few years ago.
He is proficient with both feet, and a few of his seven points on Saturday will have matched some of Ciaran McDonald’s best. But somehow he does not satisfy the demands of the selectors and for some unfathomable reason the conviction he displayed that day in Ballinrobe has never been recaptured.
In their championship tie with Westport on Sunday, Charlestown had Aidan Higgins at centre-half back, and it was on the strength of his elegance and coolness, that his side survived Westport’s strong challenge. But when the likes of Darragh O Se or Eoin Brosnan come stampeding there is little room for elegance.
Thus, in the three current club championship matches which this writer has covered in the past few weeks, no talent has excited hopes of a restructured Mayo team for whatever remains of the championship this season.
The news from other games would appear to be brighter with Marty McNicholas and Colum Lyons – and the exciting young talent of Aidan O Shea – leading Breaffy to significant success over Tourmakeady.
And in Ballaghaderreen the Kilcullen brothers are surely inching their way into the consciousness of the Mayo selectors as talent that just cannot be ignored.
MEANWHILE, Donie Duignan swaggered into our local the other day with the smile of a man content that his native Roscommon are still in contention for a Connacht title, while the hot favourites, having already made their exit, seek some sort of recompense through the back door.
Donie will be in Hyde Park on Sunday for Roscommon’s semi-final test with Sligo, and expects John Maughan to negotiate a winning course to a final clash with, most likely, Mayo’s conquerors next month.
Maughan has been putting together a new young team that has sprouted high hopes of a new successful era for the county. Whether those hopes will be boosted by a win over Sligo on Sunday remains to be seen. It is a big test for this young side and even on their home ground Roscommon will need all the support and encouragement they can get to overcome a useful Sligo side.