THE BELMULLET LION Chris Barrett is pictured at a promotional event ahead of the 2019 National Football League Final between Mayo and Kerry. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
THEY always say you should leave them wanting more.
When it comes to Chris Barrett and his Mayo football career, he certainly has done that.
Being a fellow Belmullet man, I know I’m probably biased.
Some people might be asking this week, ‘Why walk away now?’
He’s just been nominated for an All Star, was a regular in the Mayo defence during the championship just ended, and has been a nailed-on starter for years now when he’s been fit and available.
I’m certainly one of those people who feel that Chris could have contributed for another season at least. He had just put down another solid championship, while managing an injury in the middle of it, and had a good All-Ireland Final.
But his departure last week leaves Mayo short in the one area of the field where they look to be a bit light on resources. It’s hard to play in the full-back line for Mayo, the half-back line attack a lot, and that leaves you exposed.
So you have to be able to show, in the biggest games in Croke Park, that you can survive in one-on-one battles. Chris Barrett showed that, over and over again. In fact, he thrived in those situations as he showed in the likes of the 2016 games against Dublin.
But all the dispossessions and turnovers he came up with in big games were inspirational.
And at the same time, I’m sure he would love to have played more football in the half-back line, he had so much ability on the ball. But he adapted to being a man-marker in the full-back line and that versatility is absolutely remarkable when you consider the demands on the Mayo full-back line, especially in Croke Park.
How was he able to adapt like that? I think a lot of it comes down to Chris’ mentality, his bravery and aggression. He was physically brave, and often put himself in harm’s way going in for 50-50 challenges despite not being the biggest man in the world.
But because he backed himself so much, he never feared getting beaten to a ball. He really believed in his own ability and really relished a challenge, whether he was 17 playing his first game for Belmullet or an All-Ireland Final for Mayo. He always backed himself.
One of the reasons he was such a good footballer was because he brought such aggression and physicality to every match. There was never anything sinister, he played it hard and fair.
I wasn’t a bit surprised that he got better with age too as he mastered the finer points of playing in the full-back line. He’s always been very intelligent that way and has improved his tackling technique over the years too. He’d also be an excellent trainer in that regard.
I think last year will have given the likes of Chris, Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea, all of whom are based in Dublin, a glimpse of what life after Mayo football is going to be like. They would have spent long periods of lockdown without having to travel down from Mayo for training or matches, and being married with young kids, they will want to spend as much time as possible with their families at home.
Maybe in some ways, they realised that football wasn’t the be-all and end-all.
And Chris obviously felt the time was right to say goodbye. It happens to us all.
I was lucky enough to play with him many times, and got to see just how good a footballer he was. As a ball carrier, line-breaker and score-taker, he was a brilliant half-back.
Everyone in Belmullet is so proud of him and his achievements.
To have someone like him who’s been a cornerstone of the Mayo team for 12 years is remarkable.
He’s one of us and we’re all proud of the way he put his heart and his soul into representing Belmullet and Mayo over the years. The best of luck to him and his family in the future.
Sheridan’s Mayo return is no surprise
HE was a hero of mine in 1996 and 1997, and luckily the start of my Mayo career overlapped with Maurice Sheridan’s for a few years. As things panned out we were also both playing with UCG at the time as well.
So we often travelled together for county training and matches, and on the basis of conversations we had around that time, it’s no surprise to me that Maurice went down the road of coaching teams when he finished up playing.
It didn’t come as a shock either that he put his name forward to manage the Mayo Under-20 team. He and his family have a long association with Mayo GAA, are passionate supporters of county teams, and I know Mayo football means an awful lot to Maurice.
He’s a very intelligent man and has his own clear ideas on how he wants the game to be played. I have no doubt that he really wanted to do this job and I hope it goes well for him.
Judging success at underage level is very subjective; some people feel that it’s about winning titles and others feel it’s about player development.
The absolute goal of being an underage coach has to be to produce footballers who have got the best football and coaching education possible.
Plus, winning matches is important too for the mentality of players and the team, that takes good tactical awareness and execution, which all feeds into player development.
Maurice will be strong in those areas and, because he’s a good communicator, I think he’ll be able to build a rapport with players and relate to them.
They will be in no doubt going out onto the field about what he expects from them as a Mayo manager and what they should expect from themselves.