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Sun, May
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Ger Caff’ was an unsung Mayo hero

Sport

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

ANOTHER week, another Mayo player calls time on his career with the county.
Ger Cafferkey was a great servant to Mayo and a brilliant footballer at his best.
To me, he was just as important to the team’s successes as the likes of Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor or Andy Moran in recent years.
Knowing the type of person that Ger is, he would have demanded players take responsibility and accountability when things didn’t go well; himself included.
Because of the way he prepared to train and play games, he was very well-respected within the group. He never left anything to chance.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t played as much football over the last few years as he and the rest of us would have liked.
That serious hamstring injury he suffered back in 2016 was a big blow to his football career and the ‘eye test’ would tell me that he struggled since then to meet the demands and the standards that he had set before the injury.
But you can be sure that because of the way he always wanted to help other players to improve and get better, even when he was sidelined in the last few years he would have been a big influence in the dressing-room.
Reflecting back on his career with Mayo, I think it can’t be over-stated just how good of a full-back he was at his peak, especially given that he often operated in very difficult circumstances. There wasn’t a whole lot of cover for him in a lot of those games, there was a lot of man-on-man defending, but he thrived in so many of those situations.
So much so that he was rightly awarded an All Star back in 2012.
There have been plenty of big characters and star players in Mayo teams over the last ten years, but I always feel that the factor that has enabled Mayo to stay competitive with the best teams in the country has been the quality of some of the unsung heroes.
Lads like Ger Cafferkey, Jason Doherty and Chris Barrett, who may not be the first players that people outside of Mayo talk about; but nobody should underestimate how important Ger’s contribution was in the full-back line.
He had the size and strength to play in the position but also, given the way that Mayo liked to push so many players up the field in games, he also had the skills-set to operate as a one-on-one defender. And at his best, he was brilliant at it.
Sure, at one stage or another all of the Mayo backs have had difficult days trying to hold their own one-on-one, but it’s a tribute to their mental resilience that they were able to survive.
Ger was a prime example of that.
On a personal level, I was part of a Mayo panel with Ger for a few years and it was no surprise to me that he went on to be a key player in a Mayo squad that enjoyed far more good days than bad ones.
As a young player, he was always keen to learn and improve, and that’s something that he had in common with so many of the other Mayo players. That’s one of the biggest reasons that they’ve been so successful over the last ten years.
One memory of Ger that stands out for me was actually a day when I played for Armagh against Mayo in the National League in Castlebar, and I marked him for a while.
I was picked at full-forward but went back to operate as a sweeper, and there were times when Ger followed me and times when he didn’t.
I remember we had a good laugh about it on the field, and joked that if we were still playing together with Mayo, we’d have had a good chat about what the best tactical approach would have been to take!
Should you follow a sweeper, not follow him, or even play one in the first place!
That just reminded me that Ger was always thinking about the game and always trying to improve. I actually think a lot of guys in the full-back line think like that because they see so much of the game unfold in front of them, and they can see things happening before they actually do.
Ger missed a lot of big games in the last few years, including the National League Final win over Kerry, due to injury. But I can guarantee you there would have been no selfishness or sulking, he would have been encouraging his team-mates and making sure everyone was motivated and knew their roles.
I’ve no doubt that it’s been difficult for him since he tore his hamstring so badly more than three years ago. But I will remember Ger as the high-quality full-back who won an All Star and never gave any less than his all for Mayo.
His personality, and those of so many of his team-mates, helped to shape this Mayo team from 2011 onwards.
And that will be Ger Cafferkey’s greatest legacy.

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