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Central figures to the fore

Sean Rice
Mayo full-back James Kilcullen makes a face to distract Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan
THE STRIFE OF BRYAN Mayo full-back James Kilcullen makes a face to distract Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan during last Sunday’s NFL game in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile

Central figures to the fore

Sean RiceSean Rice

UNDER new manager Pat O’Shea Kerry came to Castlebar on Sunday determined to end their sequence of first round league failures, but they failed to match the competence of the team they thrashed in the All-Ireland final.
Yet, nobody will be writing off Kerry after another of their infamous league starts, nor is anyone predicting All-Ireland victory for Mayo despite this bright opening to their league campaign.
It was a win carved out of solid team work, and well deserved. The tackling was tough, and no one flinched. Their three-point margin could have been substantially greater. On the other hand Kerry came close to earning a share of the spoils. Donnacha Walshe might have claimed a penalty in the dying minutes for a heavy tackle in the square when the visitors were desperately searching for the goal they needed.
Others might see that as a balancing of the scales of justice with Austin O’Malley having equal claim to a penalty in the opening minutes after being felled in the square. As a consequence goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy stopped his weak shot.
Mayo had easier chances to be ahead of Kerry at the break by more than the one point that divided them, and we thought for a while they might rue those misses. Despite their greater physical strength no opportunities on a similar scale fell to the visitors, however. Credit for that must go to the defence.
In a last-minute change to the selected team, James Kilcullen was drafted into the full-back position, the vacancy made possible by the withdrawal of Ronan McGarrity from midfield. Pat Harte was brought from attack to midfield and Andy Moran from the half-back line to the attack.
Kilcullen, having his first league match at full-back, made a big impression. Confronted with another of Kerry’s giant full-forwards towering above him, the Ballaghaderreen man conceded nothing and, unable to outwit the young, cool full-back, the frustration of the Kerry forwards became evident. Hopefully, Kilcullen has sown the seeds of a successful career in that position.
In front of him Billy Joe Padden would also appear to have made the centre half-back position his own. His physical power and his keen positioning sense were his real strengths and Eoin Brosnan made little impression on him.
Because they are new to them, Kilcullen and Padden must be singled out for their mastery of the vital central defensive positions. But they might not have been so successful were it not for the fine performances of the rest of the defence on which even the Gooch made little impression. David Heaney, Keith Higgins, Liam O’Malley, whose reputation grows with every game, and Peadar Gardiner, once again smart, and eminently efficient, was each inspirational.
Darragh O Sé was the dominant figure in the middle of the field. But neither he nor his rangy partner, Kieran Donaghy, contributed as much to Kerry as David Brady and Pat Harte did to Mayo. Despite the occasional poor pass, Brady’s resolute support for his defence was crucial in containing the Kerry forwards.
Harte’s talent flashed occasionally, but never more brightly than when he stole inside the defence, in an exemplary midfielders’s role, to take that final pass from the industrious Andy Moran and grab the only goal, and decisive score of the game, eleven minutes before the end.
The forward line was led courageously by Trevor Mortimer who together with Alan Dillon and Austin O’Malley were the key players up front especially in the first half. It is good to see O’Malley back to his battling self. He may have overused the ball on occasions, but he won a considerable amount of possession and his renewed fighting spirit left the Kerry defence floundering at times.
Trevor Mortimer and Kieran Donaghy were sent to the line on double yellow cards for innocuous offences by a referee whose overuse of the whistle ruined the game. Less conspicuous performances came from Conor Mortimer and Kevin O’Neill, and John O’Mahony gave a run to Michael Conroy, Ger Brady, Aidan Kilcoyne and James Nallen.
With places only for four of the present Division 1A team in next year’s revamped Division 1, Mayo have got off to a good start. But it is a long, hard road to league’s end. Next Sunday they travel to Donegal, who recorded a surprise win over Cork at the weekend. Like every other fixture it is fraught with danger.

O’NEILL GETS ARMBAND AS COACHES COME TO TOWN
FEW will claim not to have been surprised by the selection of Kevin O’Neill as the new captain of the Mayo team. Rescued from oblivion by Mickey Moran last season, O’Neill’s return to Mayo in the autumn of his career has been extraordinary.
Long after he had been dismissed by all of us as a player well over the hill, Mickey Moran saw enough hunger in the Foxford man last year to warrant his recall after years in the wilderness.
O’Neill repaid that faith with a fervour nobody had expected. In gratitude for his resuscitation the former Knockmore man was clearly determined not to let this miracle opportunity pass. His performances against Dublin and Kerry redeemed a reputation banished, perhaps, too early from our memories.
To have selected him as captain is a bold move by John O’Mahony and his selectors. And O’Neill’s response that he would be fighting for a place just as everyone else was an acknowledgement that he may not always make the first fifteen.
His promotion is also an acknowledgement by the manager that every member of his squad is on an equal footing, that his bench is an extension of the fifteen taking part in the action rather than second choice players. If at times the captain happens to be among them it is eloquent acclamation of the importance the manager attaches to his bench.
Elsewhere, the death took place in London last week of Des Keane who captained the Mayo team that won the all-Ireland minor championship of 1953. A native of Geesala, Des was an outstanding midfielder. Like so many of the young men of that era he emigrated to England, and a potential senior star was lost to Mayo football.

The inaugural Connacht GAA Provincial Coaching Conference takes place in the Mc William Park Hotel, Claremorris GAA grounds and the grounds of St. Colman’s College on Saturday next, February 10 at 9.30am.
This promises to be an informative and challenging day for all coaches. The Forum brings together presenters who are leaders in their field at national and international level.
Professor Tom Reilly, who will speak on “Physiology Applied to Gaelic Games” is one of the world’s most eminent authors of Science and Sport.  His findings, in research, have been employed in football academies throughout the world.  A native of Hollymount and passionate GAA and athletics supporter, he was responsible for conducting most of the early research in the GAA.
Professor Niall Moyna, a native of Monaghan, lectures in Health and Human Performance in D.C.U.  As a young PE teacher he was the physical trainer of the Monaghan senior team during a golden era, when they were National League Champions.  He is constantly at the coalface in coaching and games development and is now responsible for most of the productive research of our games.  A great orator, with vast worldwide experience his presentation is a must for all coaches.
The balance of the day will be maintained with practical workshops in the afternoon.  The presenters have accumulated thousands of coaching hours on the field.
Pat Flanagan (Kerry), Michael McGeehan, Director of the National Coaching and Training Centre, Paudie Butler, National Hurling Director are all household names.  Fiona O’Driscoll and Damien Young gave a most stimulating Presentation of Wonder Ball at the National Conference.
Whether you are a novice or a seasoned coach/trainer this is a must for all interested parties. The fee for the day is €25 (includes lunch).
Places can be booked by contacting the Connacht Council Office on 094-9630335 or Billy McNicholas on 087-2497407.

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