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Four forwards on Mayo fringes

Sport

Feature
Mike Finnerty

SOMETIMES the mind can play tricks.
Especially when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the longest GAA season last year.
One that began for Mayo with an FBD League penalty shoot-out defeat to Galway on the second Sunday in January in front of a crowd of thousands, and ended eleven months later with an All-Ireland Final loss at Croke Park behind closed doors.
We saw more of some players than others in Mayo colours over the course of 2020, so this week we’ve picked out four forwards who were conspicuous by their absence at various stages of the year. But all of them will feel they have something to offer again in 2021.

James Carr
Ardagh
IF you were to look at last season’s championship campaign for clues, you would probably come to the conclusion that the Ardagh attacker is now seen as an ‘impact sub’.
It was all so different 12 months ago; Carr started the first three league games of the season against Donegal, Dublin and Meath, scoring 1-3, including a fortuitous goal up in Ballybofey in the opening round.
But he was replaced at half-time against Meath (by the subsequent hero of the day, Kevin McLoughlin) and that was the last time that he featured in the competition — before and after lockdown.
After putting down a solid Junior club championship campaign with Ardagh, the 24 year-old came on as a substitute against Leitrim in the opening round of the Connacht championship and scored a typically eye-catching point. He was also introduced against Roscommon.
But a week later he wasn’t included in Mayo’s squad for the Connacht Final, was an unused sub against Tipperary, and then arrived into the All-Ireland Final in the 49th minute.
All told, the explosive young forward remains a player whose potential remains untapped.

Fionn McDonagh
Westport
IT’S hard to believe that the rangy Westport half-forward only started one game for Mayo last year. Against Galway in the National League in October where he was replaced after 43 minutes.
The only other times he featured were as a half-time substitute against Tyrone a week later and for the last three minutes of the Connacht Final win in Salthill in November.
The main reason for his lack of game-time — as far as we can gather — was due to a persistent groin injury that dogged McDonagh for large chunks of the year.
It also impacted significantly on his club championship campaign with Westport as he started some games and was forced to come off, while he could only be used as an impact sub in others.
The county semi-final against Breaffy was a case in point; the 23 year-old was withdrawn after 37 minutes after it became obvious that he was unable to continue.
In the months that followed, he was only included in Mayo’s match-day squad for a championship match once — that aforementioned Connacht Final.
If he can get back to full fitness again in 2021, we should see a lot more of him.

James Durcan
Castlebar Mitchels
LAST year must have been a rollercoaster of emotions for the flying Mitchels forward.
It started in ‘Roy of the Rovers’ fashion when Durcan came off the sub’s bench to crack in a brilliant last-gasp equalising goal against Donegal on the opening night of the National League.
He went on to start Mayo’s next four matches, showing typical energy and industry, but he was taken off in all of them, and only scored three points in total (one from open play).
Then came the Covid-19 enforced shutdown.
It was almost eight months before the 26 year-old featured for Mayo again, coming on as a second half substitute to score three points from frees against Tyrone in the last round of the league.
Durcan played well that day when the chips were down and was rewarded by being included in the Mayo squad for their opening Connacht championship match against Leitrim a week later. But he wasn’t one of the three forwards brought on in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Then he disappeared, and wasn’t included in any of Mayo’s match-day panels for their next three games over a five-week period.
But he obviously did a lot right in the fortnight before the All-Ireland Final, as he was included in the ‘26’ who togged out for the defeat to Dublin. He also came on in the 70th minute to complete the most erratic of seasons for the Castlebar man.
This season will be his fourth with the county senior squad.

Bryan Walsh
Ballintubber
BREAKING his knuckle in the lead-in to the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary was really a rotten piece of bad luck for the Ballintubber forward.
He had just put in a very impressive performance in his first Connacht senior final after coming off the bench at half-time, knocking over two points (including what turned out to be the winner) and winning plenty of admirers with his assured display.
The 25 year-old would surely have seen game-time at Croke Park were it not for getting hurt on the training ground, so he ended up missing Mayo’s two biggest games of the year.
But we saw enough from his championship debut against Leitrim and aforementioned second half shift against Galway to suggest that the wing-forward can be a valuable asset as James Horan re-engineers his forwardline.
Getting his first National League campaign under his belt would be a big step in the right direction for the man from Ballyglass.

 

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