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Thu, May
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Mayo’s experience remains invaluable

Sport

SNAPSHOT Some Mayo players pose for a photo before a National League match in 2013. The likes of David Clarke, Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan and Cillian O'Connor are all in James Horan's plans for 2020. Pic: Sportsfile

Mayo’s veterans still have plenty to offer this season

Feature

Edwin McGreal

THERE was a feeling that more Mayo players might call it a day over the winter.
All Stars Andy Moran and Ger Cafferkey called time, as did versatile squad players Caolan Crowe and David Drake.
Some seemingly remain undecided, but we wondered if more would go.
It was not a judgment of them being ‘finished’, more a reality of how hard it is to stay going at the level they are at for the amount of time they have been going. Especially when you factor in those getting married, starting a family, and being based in Dublin.
David Clarke will be 37 by the year’s end. He has lived more of his life since he first became a Mayo senior in 2001 than he had before then.
Keith Higgins will be 35 this year, Colm Boyle turns 34, while Seamie O’Shea and Chris Barrett will both be 33 sooner rather than later.
Behind them, Tom Parsons, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty and Lee Keegan are all in their early 30s now. Aidan O’Shea will turn 30 in June.
And given Mayo’s long summers across the last decade, football mileage among that group is high.
But it is interesting to see many observers within the county argue that more should have retired than did so. Suggesting that the continued presence of these elder statesmen is hindering the progress of Mayo’s young players.
One scribe went as far to say that he expected at least six more to go or to be pushed.
We couldn’t disagree more. While it is prudent to always look to replenish and evolve, you have to look at the parameters for doing it.
Are those coming in better than those already there? Often not, as it takes time to get to the level.
So the second question is this: are those coming in capable (given time) of getting to the level of the players you are proposing to discard are currently at?
That’s harder to answer, but you have to make a difficult judgment call on it.
It has become easy inside (and outside) the county to ultimately label the current crop of Mayo players as ‘failures’ because of the ultimate failure to win an All-Ireland.
We all want what we all want, but the reality is no group of players in this writer’s lifetime have performed to the consistent high levels that we have seen since 2011.
We have short memories sometimes.
Consider these words from Seán Rice after Mayo’s defeat to Sligo in 2010: ‘So the back door yawns – and whatever chasm lies behind it – as Mayo trawl once again the depths of their darkness for any wisp of light’.
Or Mike Finnerty’s headline of Mayo’s ‘truly miserable exit’ after defeat to Derry in 2007.
‘Dismal Mayo’ was the headline for Stephen O’Grady’s report of Mayo’s championship defeat to Fermanagh in 2003.
Or back to Seán Rice, with the most cutting of opening lines after a typically poor Mayo league performance in losing to Clare in February 2000: ‘Submissive Mayo once more paid the penalty for lack of heart and leadership’.
While we all want to look to and imagine where we want to go, we cannot forget where we have come from either.
Therefore is it wise to dispense so readily with a group who have been so close and still have something to offer? That’s not a misplaced sense of loyalty but logical, rational thought.
Is it not much more prudent to try to find the right blend between the priceless experience of the strongest Mayo football team in this or many generations and the young colts coming through?
Let the best man win. Lean towards youth in the league as James Horan did last year. But pick your best team for championship.
Colm Boyle was left on the bench for all of the Roscommon game but started Mayo’s first Qualifier match in Newry and came damn close to winning a fifth All Star.
How short would Mayo’s summer have been if Horan did not have the likes of Boyle, David Clarke and Andy Moran to turn to in Newry?

Transition
BECAUSE when we look at it coldly, what is coming up from behind this group is simply not of the same calibre. If you look at the origins of this squad and compare to newer players, you can see the contrast.
The core of the current group were mined from the four-in-a-row Connacht Under-21 winning teams from 2006 to 2009 under Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly.
Since then we have had a significant shortage of underage success in the county.
In the six seasons from 2010 to 2015, Mayo failed to win a single Connacht Under-21 title.
From those groups, of those who had not already featured by 2009, only three players have established themselves – Cillian O’Connor, Paddy Durcan and Brendan Harrison. Three very good players but hardly a great return from six years. While more would follow from the All-Ireland winning class of 2016, that group has not returned a huge dividend either.
Compare that to the following players who came through from the four-in-a-row teams: Keith Higgins, Ger Cafferkey, Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle, Seamie O’Shea, Lee Keegan, Jason Doherty, Aidan O’Shea, Tom Parsons, Donal Vaughan and Kevin McLoughlin. All practically nailed on starters when fully fit at various stages in the last decade.
You can add in others such as Alan Freeman, Michael Conroy, Kevin Keane, Enda Varley, Kenneth O’Malley, Trevor Howley, Tom Cunniffe, Barry Moran, Mark Ronaldson, Cathal Carolan, Mikie Sweeney and Jason Gibbons who all featured to varying levels in the decade just gone.
Whether we like it or not, we just do not have the same flow of talent coming through from underage teams this decade, compared to those four Under-21 teams.
So it was a big boon to see young players like Matthew Ruane, James Carr, Fionn McDonagh, Ciarán Treacy and Michael Plunkett feature as much as they did last year. The return of Darren Coen also greatly aided Mayo’s attack in the Qualifiers.
Mayo have impressed in the last couple of years at underage level. There’s no doubt that talent is on the way. But it is also hard to see the county avoid a couple of years of transition where a poor return on underage teams from the last decade will accentuate itself.
Accelerating and extending the span of that transition by showing the door to some exceptional footballers is the type of thing only Mayo could do.
Better instead to use the wealth of experience to impact on and off the field in 2020.

Did you know?
THE oldest player in the Mayo squad this season is David Clarke.
He turned 36 last November.

 

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