THE general reaction to The Mayo News/O’Neills Club Stars selection has been favourable. Announced at a gala banquet in Breaffy House on Friday night, the team of 2006 will, nevertheless, provoke debate and comment over the coming weeks as those who follow Gaelic games in the county weigh up how worthy were some of the choices.
A few of the selections brook no argument. No one will disagree with the inclusion of Ciaran McDonald, Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer or Peadar Gardiner in the team of the year... not even those who saw none in action in the club championships.
But their assent is based on the performances of those four for their county, not for their clubs. And that’s what makes the difference in the selection of The Mayo News Club Stars, a concept devised by the sports staff of The Mayo News last year and so meticulously organised by sports editor, Mike Finnerty. The Mayo News selection is based on senior club championship performances only, together with five Intermediate Championship wild cards.
Many will wonder how, for instance, how the full-back line of John Scanlon, Tom Nallen and John Brogan could replace the entire Mayo full-back line of the season just ended, or how Eanna Casey could have been the choice for centre-half back, a position he has rarely held for Ballina Stephenites? None of those four was in the Mayo senior panel last season.
The fact is that all of their performances have been at a consistently high level throughout the competition. They have been key figures in their teams’ progress. Without their contributions defeat would have been inevitable in the early rounds.
Casey, who has been a versatile player for his club over the years, filling a number of roles in attack and defence, was Ballina’s best defender this season. He could not have been overlooked, and there was unanimity among the selectors that his potential could best be fulfilled in the central defensive spot.
So, too, with the choice of John Brogan, a defender of rare quality, receiving his second Club Stars award, and John Scanlon of Kiltane who played much of his football in the half-back line, but with such character that he, too, could not have been excluded. Peadar Gardiner and Stephen Drake on the wings were automatic selections.
Midfield posed particular problems. The selectors had poured over all the contenders, eventually shaving them down to four nominations. No place could be found among that four for the likes of David Brady or Mayo’s u21 star Barry Moran or Shane Fitzmaurice or James Kilcullen or David Heaney who plays midfield for his club. In our findings only one of Mayo’s regular midfielders merited a nomination . . . and for the final selection we were forced to eliminate Pat Harte, a difficult decision because of his performances in that position for his county during the season.
Yet, neither Harte nor his club-mate, Ronan McGarrity, achieved for Ballina the same standard as they had done for Mayo. None gave himself to his club like Barry Kelly had done for Ballaghaderreen. If you were to judge Kelly on his performance in the replay of the county final he would not have won favour with the selectors. But throughout the season, and especially in the drawn final, he was their powerhouse, their inspiration.
If Mayo were playing tomorrow and I were asked to choose between Kelly and Harte for a midfield position the answer would have to fall in favour of the Ballina man . . . mainly because of his experience. But neither Harte nor McGarrity was in county form for their clubs. Kelly is nipping at their heels for county recognition in the coming season and has laid down a marker for the regulars – if under John O’Mahony they will be regulars – that there is a suitable replacement in the event of the loss of form by either Ballina man.
There will have been general agreement about the forwards. None was better than Ciaran McDonald, Alan Dillon or Conor Mortimer. Together with Andy Moran and Barry Regan they all have county team experience, but all of them including Joe Keane, who had a storming year for his club, were significant links in their team success.
The Club Stars have become a valuable instrument for county management. The event will have tossed up names for scrutiny by the selectors who might otherwise have been forgotten. Not all of those honoured on Friday night will make the county team, but there will be a genuine interest in their progress by the county selectors.
The player of the year, chosen by the public through The Mayo News website, was Peadar Gardiner, and who could argue with that. In picking a Crossmolina man, let alone player of the year, many might be reluctant to stray beyond the architect of so many of their victories over the years. Ciaran McDonald can never be left out of any such debate, and little divided him from Peadar Gardiner for this year’s choice. But Gardiner’s influence was vital in many of Crossmolina’s victories. While McDonald provided some great scores and pinpointed deliveries, the lightening raids of Gardiner opened up defences for many of them.
It was his goal in the dying minutes of their semi-final with Ballina Stephenites that won Crossmolina a place in the county final, and it was his spectacular, if somewhat fortuitous, goal in the dying seconds of the final with Ballaghaderreen that earned them a replay. These momentous strikes apart, Gardiner’s authority was always evident, and his selection reflected the maturity of the people’s decision.
Managers, All-Stars and Knockmore win
AMONG the guests at The Mayo News/O’Neills Club Stars banquet on Friday night were Galway manager, Peter Ford, Roscommon manager, John Maughan, and Mayo manager John O’Mahony... three Mayo men coaching three different Connacht counties. Throw in the analyses expertise of Martin Carney and Kevin McStay at national level and you can only be astonished at the collective wisdom emanating from a county that itself is in need of some shrewd handling.
Martin Carney has now joined the management team of John O’Mahony together with Tommy Lyons and Kieran Gallagher, and management will be the better for their inclusion. It is a pretty impressive combination. Gallagher is the link with last year’s Northern duo of Mickey Moran and John Morrison, and has had the honour of coaching Sligo IT to their first Sigerson Cup success. Tommy Lyons, a shrewd reader of the game, led Ballina Stephenites to an All-Ireland club title.
While it took John O’Mahony some time to come to a decision about taking the reins, he did radiate on Friday night the contentment of a man glad to be back at the helm in his own county after an absence of fifteen years. For his return all of Mayo had been hoping ever since he led Galway out of their slumber. It was with the Tribesmen his coaching ability fully blossomed, otherwise his real qualities might never have been discovered. His competence proven, his native county is now looking to him for an end to their long years of disappointment. But he must be given time.
WHILE the stars of the club scene were being honoured at Breaffy House, the All-Stars of Ireland were also receiving their awards in Dublin. And among the recipients were two Mayo men who had also been chosen on the club scene . . . Alan Dillon and Conor Mortimer.
That representation may have reflected Mayo’s performance in the All-Ireland final, but not the quality they displayed on their way to the final especially their defeat of Galway and Dublin, victories which deservedly won them a place in the final.
Ciaran McDonald was unfortunate to be left off the All-Stars, although Alan Brogan was by far Dublin’s best player. The Gaelic Players Association, however, made room for McDonald at left half forward in their All-Stars selection with Dillon on the other wing and Brogan in the centre.
THE future of Knockmore football is bright if their comprehensive victory over Ballina in the U21 county final at MacHale Park on Saturday is anything to go by. Strength and conviction were the principal elements of their win, but the performances of their captain, Trevor Howley, and main scorer, Aidan Kilcoyne, were the real highlights of the match. Both figured in Mayo’s All-Ireland U21 win earlier in the year, and have lost none of their quality in the meantime.