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Fresh approach

Sean Rice
ALL ON THE LINE Tyrone’s Brian Dooher comes under pressure from Mayo’s Conor Mortimer and James Gill during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park in 2004. They meet again next weekend. Pic: Sportsfile

Fresh approach might suit Mayo

Sean Rice
TYRONE are no strangers to Mayo. They have met in the Allianz League on each of the past five seasons with mixed results. Two wins each, and a draw is a measure of their titanic struggles — and also how difficult it will be for each next weekend when they clash in the vital play-off.
Last April in Omagh Tyrone won by two points with at least twelve of the side that beat Westmeath on Saturday. Last year Mayo had a four-point win at the same venue, and the previous year they drew at MacHale Park. In 2005 Mayo also won in Omagh, but lost the previous year in Castlebar.
Their last championship encounter was in the quarter-final at Croke Park four years ago when Mayo turned a league defeat of nine points that spring into a four-point win. Only six of that side (David Heaney, James Nallen, Ronan McGarrity, Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer and Trevor Mortimer) are still in action. That number will be reduced to four if McGarrity and Trevor Mortimer have not recovered from hamstring injuries sustained in recent weeks.
Tyrone are similarly altered. Five of that 2004 side will line out on Saturday — Ryan McMenamin, Conor Gormley, Philip Jordan, Brian Dooher and Sean Cavanagh were on last week’s winning side. Dooher, who captained the all-Ireland winning side of 2003, is still their most influential player, covering acres of ground in every game.
The Ulster men came through a tough third outing with their defeat of Westmeath last Saturday on their home ground. It was made easy for them when the visitors were reduced to thirteen men in the second half. The dismissal of Damien Healy and Doran Harte appeared harsh, but it provided the home team with an advantage of which they made full use.
Mayo have been striving to overcome the disappointment of their defeat by Galway in the Connacht final and how well they have succeeded will be evident only when they come to grips with their Ulster rivals this weekend.
Why they failed to perform in the first half will have been John O’Mahony’s main concern over the past three weeks. When they did finally come to life in the second half they looked a useful side, but it came too late to alter the outcome.
A lethargic beginning of that nature against Tyrone will bring the curtain down on their championship season and stir questioning tongues once more about team selections and management decisions.
But in Mick Burke’s immortal phrase ‘you can only dance with the girls in the hall’, and because there is no better talent around, management has to do with what is available. Legitimate questions may arise about some players selected in positions to which they are not best suited. Only through trial and error can these matters be sorted and Mayo did not have enough stern tests to reveal the weaknesses that appeared in the Connacht final.
How to deal with the problematic full-back post will have occupied much of their preparation work in the last few weeks. It is still the contention of this writer that they ought to have persisted with Kieran Conroy. The option is clearly dead now, but Keith Higgins as the alternative is not the answer.
The Ballyhaunis star is capable of filling the vital berth, but his attributes are more appropriate to the flanks, to marking the likes of Brian Dooher who plays the whole field. The agility of Higgins, and especially his speed off the mark, can negate Dooher’s danger.
In that case who will man the full-back position?  Will Billy Joe be recalled or will the selectors risk installing another player new to the position in such a vital game? David Heaney has been there before, and James Nallen has had a few turns in the role, but neither looked happy. Maybe Higgins is their only option in the short term.
Another poser is who will partner Tom Parsons at midfield if Ronan McGarrity has not recovered from injury. Seamus O’Shea has been understudy and may be handed the shirt. Or management may choose to move Pat Harte from the half-forward line.
Peadar Gardiner impressed when sprung from the bench in the Connacht final and may be recalled to the first team, and one wonders can the selectors afford to leave Billy Joe on the sideline in the light of his strong showing against Galway? Trevor Howley must also be in the forefront of the selectors’ minds. Match fitness following a long lay-off will be their only doubt about drafting him into the team.
Whatever team is chosen, a better performance will be expected from them throughout the seventy minutes than was on show during the first half of the Connacht final. They recovered admirably against Galway, but could not fully make up for the listlessness of the opening half.
While Dooher is still Tyrone’s great motivator, Mayo will also have to worry about the penetrative qualities of brothers Brian and Tommy McGuigan who opened up the Westmeath defence rather easily.
Tommy McGuigan was their real danger man in their league match with Mayo earlier in the year and will demand close attention from the Mayo defence.
Past meetings with Tyrone hint at a gruelling contest.
The Ulster side have had the sharpening advantage of three hard games compared to Mayo’s single real test which they failed to survive. But Mayo will be fresher and the loss to Galway should have them hurting deeply enough to want redress.

Hurlers heartbroken

IT was the most upsetting of defeats for Mayo’s hurlers because it came a minute and a half into injury time. In that heartbreaking moment Carlow scored the only goal of the game that gave them the lead for the first time, and a place in the final of the Christy Ring Cup.
Mayo had been in front throughout most of the seventy minutes up to that fatal mishap. They had ground it out with such courage that their first ever place in the final looked a distinct possibility especially when they went five points ahead against the wind in the second half.
But Carlow refused to give up. Point by point they pulled back the lead and were only two behind when a Carlow man managed to edge the ball into the net amid a forest of flailing sticks.
You can imagine how Mayo felt, how upsetting it must have been to lose in such a manner. The skills of Michael Walsh, Aidan Connolly, Seamie Barrett, the Higgins brothers, Stephen Broderick, Adrian Freeman and Derek McConn deserved to succeed.
Mayo hurling is on the move though. They could do with more support and encouragement.Hopefully, they will build on the success they have enjoyed this season and that the game will continue to grow in popularity.

Tourmak’ go direct

IT was a David and Goliath clash, but in this case Goliath failed to fall. Tourmakeady were too strong and too experienced for young Kiltimagh on Saturday evening. They simply brushed aside the feathery challenge of the East Mayo side with sheer physical power.
On their own ground they are formidable opponents. But a fair bit of class also emanated from the home side.
Even allowing for the body greater strength they enjoyed, there was something about the way they stormed through the opposing lines, and kicked flurries of magnificent points that left you wishing for a return to more direct methods, the simpler and often more rewarding aspects of Gaelic football. Some chance.

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