I didn’t have any time at all at all yesterday afternoon to set down any observations about the team that James Horan has selected for Saturday evening’s NFL opener under the McHale Park lights so, for what it’s worth, here’s my tuppence on it now.
The first point, I guess, is that we shouldn’t read a whole amount into who is and who isn’t on the starting team – or, indeed, the wider panel – at this early stage in the year. Under Johnno II we became conditioned to the idea that team selections were set in stone as early as March, only to be ripped asunder later on when things started to go awry. Under the new regime, the approach would seem to be closer to that adopted by most other counties, with team selection being a gradual process of trial and error while, all the while, the focus is on finding our best formation(s) for the championship.
The composition of yesterday’s list of 26 would appear to have been determined by a number of factors – current form and attitude, injuries and what James Horan and Ray Dempsey have planned for the U21s. This latter issue is important, as in previous years there doesn’t appear to have been any co-ordination between senior and U21 and every year, as regular as clockwork, Johnno would start pissing and moaning about fixture pile-ups in March when the U21 championship started to kick in. I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that this won’t happen this year and, by extension, that the U21 lads could be in better fettle for what will hopefully be a productive campaign for them.
Another departure from the ancien régime is that this year’s panel appears to be open-ended which means that the likes of Aidan Kilcoyne, Trevor Howley, Chris Barrett and some of the new lads tried out during the FBD will get the chance to come back in over the course of the league campaign. And, of course, panel places are sure to be up for grabs again in the gap between the league and the championship. As a result, we should be slow about drawing any conclusions about players excluded from yesterday’s initial list.
As regards the team that has been selected, there’s some welcome experimentation in the spine. I’ve long heard it said that Ger Cafferkey is better suited to centre-back than he is to full-back and so it’s good to see him get a chance to prove this. I’d thought Cathal Hallinan was more of a corner-back (a good one too from what I saw of him against GMIT a few weeks back) and that maybe someone like David Killeen or Alan Feeney (neither of whom, in the event, made the panel for the match) might get the nod there. I readily admit, however, that my knowledge on this score is far from perfect and so I’m happy to take Cathal’s selection there at face value and see what happens on Saturday night. Further upfield, the addition of Jason Gibbons at midfield and the placing of Aidan O’Shea and Alan Freeman at 11 and 14 respectively makes perfect sense and should see them deployed where they can do maximum damage.
Keith Higgins at corner-back remains a concern. I’ve great time for Keith but he’s not suited to the corner, quite simply because he won’t stick closely enough to his man when placed there. Then again, isn’t Richie Feeney more of a corner-back and less of a wing-back? I know it’s a bit too early in the year for playing silly buggers with team selections but that’s got to be an obvious switch.
Many supporters will have groaned when seeing Andy Moran in the team again but, in fairness to Andy, he was one of our better performers over the course of last year. He has his good points (works his nuts off, wins loads of ball, is a leader on the pitch) and some not-so-good ones (doesn’t score enough, better in the league than the championship) but, along with Alan Dillon (is he now captain for 2011? I would think he’d have to be), Ronan McGarrity and Keith Higgins, he’s obviously one of the old guard that James wants to retain as he moulds his new team into shape.
From the car crash that was Longford last June, only seven of the starting line-up on that fateful evening will also be on the field when the ball is thrown in on Saturday night: Keith, Ger Cafferkey, Kevin McLoughlin, Andy, AOS, Alan Freeman and Alan Dillon. Of those, just three (Keith, Kevin and Aidan) will start in same positions they were in at Pearse Park. It’s clear that the new management team want change and while it’s up to the lads coming in to grasp the opportunity with both hands, it’s also incumbent on those retained from that disastrous encounter with Longford (in particular those with most miles on the clock) to show that they still have what it takes to play for the county.
Saturday evening promises to be special, what with the lights, the almost glamorous opposition and what will hopefully be a large boisterous home crowd. Attendances for home games last year were pitifully poor so anyone who wishes James Horan and the lads well shouldn’t do so from the comfort of their sofa and should instead make their way to the bright lights of Castlebar (now that I’ve decided to do so myself I feel better postioned to preach to others on this score) for what promises to be an interesting evening’s football. We won’t come away hugely wiser from it, I know, but if we see a team working intelligently together and playing to their potential, we’ll know that the management of the team in now back in good hands. That should be more than enough for us at the moment.