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Leaving the Mayo jersey behind

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HANGING UP THE JERSEY A general view of the Mayo dressing-room before a National League match against Cork in 2016.  Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

LAST week I reflected on Donie Vaughan’s Mayo senior career following his retirement announcement. Little did I know at the time that three more of his team-mates would follow suit in the days that followed. So this week I wanted to pay tribute to their fine careers.

David Clarke
I PLAYED a lot of football with ‘Clarkie’. I was in the panel as a young player when he was even younger when Mayo won the National League in 2001.
You could see he had huge potential in those days and he was everything you’d want in a team-mate; he didn’t always say a lot, but when he did speak you knew it was important and relevant.
His bravery was something that stood out from the start too. He put his body on the line constantly and never worried about getting hurt. Or about hurting some of us in training either!
As somebody who played in front of him as a full-back and a full-forward in matches and training games, Clarkie clattered you either way if the ball was there to be won.
He was brilliant in the air and exceptional in ‘one-on-ones’. In shooting drills, the speed with which he would close you down was absolutely phenomenal. He’s not as quick now as he was in his younger days, but his speed over the first seven or eight yards was serious.
Even in sprints, with that high knee-lift of his, he really could cover ground quickly.
For me though, the thing that marked him out as a great goalkeeper was his decision-making. It was something else. Sure, he sometimes made the wrong decision but he was always trying to be proactive. Remember him coming for so many balls during his career?
Your heart would be in your mouth sometimes, but Clarkie always made the decision.
In terms of kick-outs, he was never going to be a Cluxton or a Beggan because he doesn’t kick the ball the way they do. But he’s a better keeper than them, in my opinion, because of all his other attributes.
But his decision-making also became a huge aspect of how he kicked the ball out. Think back to the All-Ireland Final in December; we were all wondering how Clarkie would be feeling about the prospect of trying to get kick-outs away against Dublin’s pressure and press.
Before that game, I felt that Clarkie would relish that challenge because that’s the sort of competitor he is. And he always backs himself in a quietly, confident way, with good reason.
I was delighted that Mayo went into that final with a clear kick-out strategy that suited him. Then you saw the excellence of his decision-making. He was brave and didn’t hesitate with the short ones and stuck to the plan with the long ones.
That strategy suited him and he delivered a performance to match.
He was a great goalkeeper, a great team-mate, and we’ll all miss him in the Mayo jersey.

Seamie O’Shea
I WAS sorry to hear that Seamie had decided to bow out but, similar to Donie Vaughan, he didn’t get any game-time in 2020, became a dad a few months back, and football is maybe not just as important for him now as it used to be.
I played a bit with Seamie for Mayo back in 2010 and always found him a good person to be around. That was his first season and he was probably a lot quieter than he would have been in more recent years. I’d see him as being one of the lads in that panel that would have driven the standards at training, behind the scenes, and in big games too. I think he was probably under-appreciated as a midfielder. He was very defensively astute and that’s definitely an under-rated quality in Mayo midfielders. His positioning was always good defensively, he was a good tackler, and he always put the team first in terms of how he went about his business.
I really believe that Seamie’s physicality was absolutely critical in terms of Mayo getting up to the level they needed to be at to beat the top teams every summer. He worked hard, put himself about, played it quickly and as he saw it, and made sure the more expressive players in the team got the ball in their hands. He was a top-class linkman.
That sort of selflessness and appetite for hard work around the middle will be hard to replace. The best of luck to him in his retirement.

Tom Parsons
IT’S hard to reflect on Tom’s Mayo career without starting at the end.
I think he’ll always have a special place in Mayo supporters’ hearts because of his personality and the way he was so open with them. He was very generous with his time and that resonated with supporters. But, of course, there was so much more to him than that.
The day Tom hurt his knee in May 2018 against Galway, Mayo people everywhere felt concern and sympathy for him. And there’s a huge amount of relief and happiness among all of us that he managed to get back in a Charlestown and Mayo jersey again.He - and the people close to him - deserve nothing but credit that Tom was able to get back to play competitive football again. It was a remarkable achievement to get back and play in two All-Ireland semi-finals.
I can only imagine how difficult and taxing it must have been for Tom to get back to the level given the injuries he had suffered. Mentally and physically, it must have been quite an ordeal.
I played with Tom from 2008 to 2010 and, I’ve often said, he was a different player back then that he was in more recent years. In the beginning he was a rampaging, dynamic midfielder that wanted to catch kick-outs and drive on all the time.
But I think he played his best football under Stephen Rochford in 2016 and 2017, and was a very different midfielder then. When he played well in those seasons, Mayo played well.
He gave the team mobility, athleticism, physicality, and was a big part of the running game. His kicking improved an awful lot too but, for me, his tactical awareness was what really developed and saw him become the complete midfielder when he was at his peak.
He knew when and where he was needed in defence, he was an excellent tackler, and he knew what his role was when there was a turnover.
Even back to the days I played with him, Tom always put the team first. He was a very positive presence around the place too, always smiling and encouraging people.
He obviously feels now is the right time to go but, make no mistake, like the other lads who announced their retirements last week he leaves very big boots to fill.

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