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3 things Kevin McStay saw in club games

Sport

ON THE LOOK-OUT Mayo manager Kevin McStay attended a plethora of club championship games in recent months. Pic: Conor McKeown

What might Kevin McStay and his selectors have learned from scouting club games?

Analysis
Edwin McGreal

1 Teenagers kicking on
IT was refreshing to see the high number of teenagers and players in their early 20s stand out in various championship games this summer.
Castlebar’s Seán Morahan, only recently turned 18, was one of the players of the senior championship. Whether he is ready for Mayo in 2023 is uncertain, but he is definitely a player we will hear more about in the years to come.
Senior winners Westport had 18-year-olds who stood out at various stages like Conal Dawson, Joe Grady and Finbar McLaughlin.
For Ballina, there were strong performances during the championship, albeit perhaps not in the final, from Frank Irwin, Dylan Thornton and Sam Callinan.
All three were Under-20 this year.
Others young cubs who caught the eye at various stages included Paddy Heneghan and Donnacha McHugh from Castlebar Mitchels, Jack Walsh from Ballintubber, Davitt Neary from Breaffy, goalkeepers Luke Jennings (Ballinrobe) and Bryan O’Flaherty (Islandeady), Aaron Hughes from Garrymore, Ryan Fadden and Conor Dunleavy from Balla, and Moy Davitts trio Tadhg Ruane, Conor Reid and, particularly, Cian McHale.
Some of the above named – which is not any sort of definitive list – were in the Mayo senior squad in 2022, but it is still noteworthy to see them shining at club level.
Of course there’s no doubt that only some of the above will get the chance to impress and only some of those will make the inter-county breakthrough.
But with Kevin McStay handed a four-year term, there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of players with buckets of potential who could be part of his medium term plans.
Some may even be fast-tracked.
Because what was noticeable with many of them was how physically capable they were of absorbing senior or intermediate club football. You can see where they have been doing the strength and conditioning work and the gap from county to club has certainly narrowed in this respect.

2 No silver bullet for forward line
THE need to be patient with the above named players is the key, given their age profile.
But we’re always looking for the next big thing in Mayo football, especially in the forward line.
Has anyone stood out to such an extent in the club championship this year that you can say they will break into the squad and nail down a starting six forward spot in 2023?
We think you’d be taking a leap of faith if you said singled one player who will.
That’s not to say that nobody could do that, but there’s a lot of work to happen for talented options before that becomes a reality.
Players have to be able to cope with the physical demands of inter-county. They need to cope with the relentless pace of the game and the high standard of opponents.
They need to avoid injury and hit form when given the chance to shine.
There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and lip.
Standing out in the club championship is a step forward, undoubtedly but nothing is guaranteed. And even at that, we saw in the county finals that it was defenders who dominated and players who had showed well in the forward line en route to the finals found it harder to impress.
But the opportunities should come.
With Mayo’s current strongest full-forward line of Tommy Conroy, Cillian O’Connor and Ryan O’Donoghue all in various stages of recovery from serious injuries, one thinks there will be opportunities in the league both in the full-forward line and in the half-forward line, where Mayo have never had bountiful options.
It will be interesting to see who gets to the front of the queue come the start of the league.
Might it be players we’ve seen before like a Fionn McDonagh or a Paul Towey? Maybe a bolter like Ethan Gibbons (at 23, older than the above named teenagers) or maybe one of the young cubs mentioned above may absolutely thrive in the set-up.
At this stage, there is very little certain.

3 Club form is not definitive
Already, Kevin McStay and company have released players such as Darren Coen, Fergal Boland and Conor O’Shea.
Club form likely was a consideration in some cases but not the only one.
They would have had views on how different players had competed at inter-county level in recent years.
For instance, Paddy Durcan did not excel in the club championship but there’s no debate about his huge value to the Mayo team.
Cillian O’Connor was clearly not at full tilt and, while he was effective at times, management will know the importance of getting him as close to full fitness as possible.
As the old saying goes, ‘form is temporary and class is permanent’.
Club form only counts for so much. County players have to dust themselves down after a long season and go again for the club. Non-county players are much better primed for the club championship.
The chance of a county player coming in under the radar for a club game is non-existent.
He will be a central part of the opposition’s game plan. A quality young forward might slip into a game unheralded and could, for instance, shine because the ‘county man’ is the guy being picked up by the opponent’s go-to man marker.
You are also in trouble if you are playing for a team who struggled this year. It’s a lot harder to shine if your team are playing poorly than if you went all the way to a county final.
So Kevin McStay and his management team will be looking at a range of different factors in games, including pace, power, balance, skills, footballing acumen, ability to cope with pressure and overall attitude. Some club games will only reveal some of these.
Mayo training should reveal more.



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