BACK WITH A BANG David Brady’s positioning on the edge of the square has reinvented his career. Pic: Sportsfile
Brady the perfect wrecking ball
THE role of wrecking ball played by David Brady in Ballina’s late dash to the county senior title probes the what-might-have-been section of our reflections like a lance. What if Brady had been at full-forward for Mayo?
We had been so concerned about his adequacy in filling the midfield role that we forgot to measure his suitability for some other position, a place where speed or agility might be of less importance than height or muscle.
Out of sheer desperation, Mickey Moran pulled the big man from the bench a year ago in a bid to plug the holes which Kieran Donaghy had punched in the Mayo defence. The Kerry full-forward – discovered that year in much the same way as Brady was chosen by Ballina as a instrument of last resort to redeem their frail championship hopes – had already destroyed Mayo’s dream.
It was a desperate remedy for a desperate situation, but Brady managed to stop the haemorrhaging temporarily and Donaghy did not perform with the same conviction once he felt the physical power of the Ballina man.
Understandably, Brady’s metamorphosis was confined to that one performance, and it looked as if he would be remembered forever as a midfielder until Ballina belatedly discovered the latent attacking ability of their fading star.
He was their trump card in the semi-final, the hidden weapon they hoped would steer them past the unbackable favourites, Ballaghaderreen. Since he had not impressed in the opening quarter at midfield, moving Brady to full-forward was not considered a big gamble by manager Liam Higgins, rather an experiment worth a try.
Those of us watching wondered was it the closing chapter in the colourful career of the Ballina man, the last hurrah for a player who symbolised their conviction in winning the All-Ireland title for the first time three years ago.
Brady revelled in his new role. The shock of his two goals paralysed the favourites. A team sprinkled with stars was reduced to mediocrity, and Ballina – who had entered the semi-final as rank outsiders – had, with one purposeful performance, become the unlikely favourites for the title.
Seán Lenehan appeared to have learned from the mistakes of Joe McCann when Brady moved to mark him in the final, confining the new full-forward to a single point in the first half.
But Lenehan dropped the reins after the interval, tried to field with Brady when to break the ball might have been less risky. In any case, he lost the plot and Brady was at the heart of the three goals with a performance of full-forward orthodoxy reminiscent of the pre-Kevin Heffernan years.
A simple plot exploited the physical difference between full-back and full-forward. Brady just stood there, on the edge of the box, and waited for suitable delivery: the high ball in from his midfielders. His success depended on the ability of his colleagues to hoof the ball towards him and his strength would do the rest.
It is what full-forwards did before Kevin Heffernan brought a new dimension to the game by adopting a roving role in the mid 1950s which created problems for full-backs unaccustomed to straying from their centres of control in the square. For the first time, speed was seen as essential to a full-forward as strength and fielding ability.
By following the Dublin full-forward in the 1955 All-Ireland semi-final, which Mayo lost in a replay, Paddy Prendergast was one of the few full-backs to cancel out the effects of Heffernan’s wandering. He had the speed to keep with him everywhere.
In employing Donaghy at full-forward Kerry have reverted, unintentionally, to the method that served the county so well in the first half of the last century. Mayo employed a similar gambit in the 1997 All-Ireland final when John Maughan and his selectors installed Liam McHale – every inch as tall as Donaghy – at full-forward against Kerry.
It was a big risk for a man who had produced his best football in the middle of the field, and it failed for the want of suitable delivery from midfield. Although they had practised the procedure over and over again in training, when it came to the final McHale was left out on a limb, waiting for the high ball that never came. The first ball to him was delivered so low that it came back off one of his legs, while the diminutive David Nestor was bombarded with what should have been directed towards McHale.
For his success David Brady has to thank Pat Harte, his brother Ger, and above all, the tireless Paul McGarry for the eight-minute spell that changed the whole complexion of the game.
Despite his experience with Liam MacHale – or perhaps because of it – John Maughan must be wondering why Brady as a full-forward did not cross his mind. So, too, with Mickey Moran and John O’Mahony who needed such muscle for his tussle with Galway last May.
In building his team of the future O’Mahony is likely to omit some of the old guard, those who have given long and loyal service, and for whom the tank has now run dry. But if Brady continues to impress for however long Ballina’s interest in the championship remains, could the Mayo manager seek the newly discovered powers of the 32-year-old company representative?
In those final two games of the championship Brady has elbowed some contenders out of the limelight. Austin O’Malley, Tony Mulligan, Edmund Barrett, Damien Munnelly, James Gill, Joe Keane and Barry Regan have all occupied the position throughout the championship, but none with greater distinction than the Ballina in those two final games.
THEIR championship success does not guarantee Ballina first division football next season. Their defeat by Knockmore last Sunday has placed them perilously close to relegation and the parlous position in which they find themselves is due to their indifferent form at the start of the season.
A win on Sunday would have eased their difficulties, but without five of their regulors they had only the spirit generated by their county final success to draw on for victory over arch rivals Knockmore. It was not enough to negate the tigerish qualities of Trevor Howley, John Brogan, Declan Sweeney and Kieran Langan.
They were also further weakened by the loss of Kenny Golden and Pat Harte midway through the first half through injury, two stalwarts who might have made the difference over the full hour.
Of the new faces in the team, Ciaran Sweeney, who replaced Harte, worked extremely hard in the forward line. Thomas Duffy may not have the experience or the guile of that most dependable of corner backs, Kenny Golden, but has the ability to become as impressive, while Adrian Kelly took his goal with composure.
Kieran Langan, son of Dessie, is following in the footsteps of one of Knockmore¹s greatest players, and his performance on Sunday was one of his best for the club.
THE minor footballers of Castlebar Mitchels added the county minor title on Sunday to the under-21 crown they captured a few weeks back. It has been a good year for underage football in the county town, but the big question remains: can they translate those victories into senior success?
Two years ago they won the Intermediate Championship, the members of which form the basis of the present senior side. But they are still struggling for senior honours, and those who remember the all-conquering Mitchels of old must be hoping that these latest wins will direct the Moclair Cup back soon to the donor’s native town.