A few thoughts on the team for Sunday

Like the rest of you, I’m still scratching my head a bit about the team we’ve selected for our opening match in this year’s championship. The fact that it’s on so early in May against New York, of course, adds an air of unreality to the selection and it’s tempting to view the event as a kind of glorified challenge match rather than a Connacht championship tie and to look at the team we’re sending out at Gaelic Park in the same light.

There’s no denying that Sunday’s match can’t be seen as equivalent to other possible provincial championship openers.  The whole thing is more about the now well-established annual ritual of New York hosting a county team from the Ould Sod on this weekend every year than it is about how competitive the contest is. Past records show clearly that, Galway’s scare aside a few years back, competition has rarely come into it.

This means that James Horan and his selectors had a fair bit of latitude in picking their team for Sunday. A relevant question in this regard is whether or not the team they did pick is one that takes account of this elbow-room or if instead it’s an indication of the type of line-up we’re likely to see over the course of the championship campaign.

The first thing to consider is how the selection has been affected by injuries. Ger Cafferkey still hasn’t recovered from the quad muscle problem that forced him off before half-time in the Derry game and so Kevin Keane’s inclusion at full-back represents a straight swap. A case could have been made for Shane McHale to have stepped in instead but Sunday represents a good opportunity for Kevin – who has played almost all of his senior football in the corner but operated with distinction at full-back as a minor – to have a proper run-out in the position.

Injuries, this time players recovering from knocks, explain two more of the changes from the team that started against Derry. Tom Cunniffe and Cillian O’Connor are both well established first fifteen men but both missed the League semi-final through injury and so it’s no surprise to see both of them named to start on Sunday. Their inclusion does, though, mean that James has, in effect, passed up on the chance to blood both Brendan Harrison and Mikie Sweeney at championship level.

This suggests that Sunday’s selection maybe shouldn’t be viewed as an experimental one at all. A quick look back at championship selections in previous years under James Horan tends to bear this out. If we compare the teams selected to start in our opening championship match each year with that fielded in our final match in the same campaign, then it may be seen that in the past two years there’s been very little change between the two sets of selections. In both 2012 and again in 2013, twelve of the team sent out in our first championship match of the year were still there in the final one (not always in the same positions but still on the team). Indeed, this pattern of limited, incremental change (some of it enforced) has been one of the  most notable features in our team selections over the past two years.

The same isn’t true when 2011 is included – only seven of the team that started in Ruislip were still there for the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry that August. Given that the first match that year was, like this year, away to one of the Exile counties, an argument may be made that that 2011 resembles this one in terms of first round room for experimentation.

I’m not so sure about this. That 2011 match in Ruislip damn near resulted in a humiliating defeat and it’s little wonder that over half the team had been swopped out by the time we pitched up against the Kerrymen when we eventually made it to the All-Ireland semi-final. Indeed, six of the eight changes were made for the following round against Galway, with only two further changes from that team in the one named to start against Kerry later that summer. The Ruislip selection therefore looks like a statistical outlier and the fact that it had near-disastrous consequences suggests that it’s not an experiment James would be likely to repeat, regardless of the opposition.

So what are we to make of the rest of the selection for Sunday? Returning Keith to the corner has been almost universally welcomed and rightly so. I’m still a bit surprised this has happened now, as I felt that persevering with the tactic of having him in the forwards was one for summer but maybe it’s a safety first approach. The full-back line definitely looks more secure as a result.

The half-back line is the same as it was in the League semi-final, with the switching of Colm Boyle and Donal Vaughan now apparently permanent. You’d have to say that makes sense.  Midfield is the same too – no surprise there either and great to see Jason Gibbons starting a championship match once more.

The half-forward line is where the surprise selections have been unveiled. Diarmuid O’Connor has no greater claims to a championship start than the likes of Adam Gallagher or Mikie Sweeney but he’s an intelligent footballer and his inclusion marks the creation of a welcome link between the senior team and last year’s victorious minor team. If he starts to motor there, the younger O’Connor could well be in the team for the long haul.

Sheamie’s selection at centre-forward is more of a puzzle. He’s played there before but not with any great success and those of an uncharitable disposition might claim that swapping out Keith and putting Sheamie into the half-forward line involves replacing the rapier with the battering ram. Maybe he’ll operate alongside Aidan in midfield with Jason pushing forward, maybe it’s a horses-for-courses approach to counteract the big-men-in-the-middle policy of the Yanks. Sunday should tell us more.

Kevin McLoughlin surely won’t remain as an orthodox corner-forward and will roam further out, leaving Andy and Cillian inside. I don’t know for sure but you’d have to think that Alan Freeman is out due to injury, as it makes no sense not to start with our leading scorer in the League at full-forward. Once again, though, it looks as if we’ll have to wait till Sunday to find out more on this.

Overall, then, there are more than a few questions about the team picked to play on Sunday but, to be honest, I think that may have been true regardless of what team we put out. Those lucky enough to be there at Gaelic Park for this novel fixture will be best placed to pronounce judgment on how this selection fares and no doubt there’ll be plenty of discussion here and elsewhere after the match on this very point.

33 thoughts on “A few thoughts on the team for Sunday

  1. Interesting points made, Willie Joe.
    It’s a strange choice in ways.
    I think the backs are fine, to be fair. I hope Barrett gets back to full fitness soon, otherwise very strong. (Taking into account Caff’s injury). I think Horan was right to try out the Higgins experiment in the League – the League is the time for experimentation – but I do think most are in agreement that it simply didn’t yield enough positive results.
    Midfield – no complaints. Gibbons deserves his spot as does Aidan (though on another note, I wish Aidan would pull away from the media spotlight a bit. He seems to be in it constantly. Just my opinion!)
    But the forwards are where eyebrows are raised. Fair enough Diarmuid O’Connor is being given a chance. But where are Adam and Brian Gallagher, Mikey Sweeney and the likes? Conor Loftus was better in most minor matches last year than Diarmuid – is he injured? And surely Richie Feeney was worth a shout at centre forward? Or Andy, which is what I thought they were doing during the League? It does seem odd to put Seamus there and I think it’s a case of trying to accommodate midfielders in the team as we seem to have five outstanding ones at present. Now Seamus is a fine midfielder but I do wonder if he has the scoring power or finesse required for centre forward. And I don’t really think Horan would plan that much for New York.
    I think Kevin Mac is wasted at corner forward but is it that he’s going to be playing a two man full forward line this year? I wonder – O’Connor and Moran are great footballers but do they have the pace to play that kind of game? I presume Alan Freeman is injured – if he’s not, we could be looking at the kind of fall out that’s going on in Donegal, such is the bizarre nature of his exclusion! I would have liked to see Sweeney start myself but maybe he’s better as an impact sub, I guess. I still believe Doherty lacks consistency to warrant a starting spot. Any word on Dillon and his return from injury?
    As you say, New York is really just a glorified challenge match but they have been shown respect with so many from the All Ireland starting again. One gets the feeling we’ll really only see our real starting fifteen come the Roscommon game. Anyway, let’s see what happens. At least it takes away the memory of the Derry game. Moving on and all that!

  2. Just got word from one of the club 51 crew, weather is hot, hot, hot there today. He’s just after seeing all the Mayo team and management jogging around Central Park! Off now to finish packing.

  3. Freeman has a minor knee injury so no point risking him. Maybe deploying seamie o shea (a defensive minded player) as chf to provide cover for such attacking half backs! Delighted to see kevin keane being selected as fb, thought he played well there against Derry. He’s young and full of potential. Would def have given Sweeney the nod over d.o.c. think o’connor lacks the physical strength for senior grade yet. Thank god our all star corner bk is back in position! Most importantly… can the game be streamed or is it mad west for poor people who can’t make nyc?? 🙁

  4. I’m ok with this team if the point is to experiment further, given the opposition and such, no disrespect to NY and all.
    Having said that, how come all in Mayo are in the dark regarding Freezers omission from the lineup? We are it seems certain why Ger is absent, cause he’s injured, but to be in the dark about why our top scorer in the league and arguably our first choice FF is left off is quite frankly, troubling !
    Surely someone knows? If he’s injured….fine, but if he’s not, then…I dunno.

  5. Reading that WJ gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach. I know, ultimately, Sunday’s game should be a relatively easy one, and it’s not until we face our next opponents (and on that subject, let’s start showing Leitrim a little respect here folks) that we should be getting worried about selection.

    But it’s been niggling away at me since last night. If Freeman isn’t injured, it’s very odd that he’s not starting on Sunday. I have a bad feeling we might see very little of Richie this year too. Yet players who aren’t at their best continue to start, and the substitutions at times would make you scratch your head. I can’t help thinking at this point that we’re missing a link in the back room team – the strategic, tactical link. But I hope I’m wrong – let’s see what transpires on Sunday.

    Anyway, I’m up in five hours to fly to NYC 😀 so I should probably get some kip. Hope to see some of you across the pond over the next few days!

  6. Good luck and safe travelling to all and do stay out of trouble!
    Hope the team and management take care too and not take NY too casually. Playing away in an unfamiliar environment does have its dangers if not approached in the right manner. It can be very difficult to get back into a game approached too casually if the opposition get the smell of blood. Somebody some day is going to come a cropper, let’s make sure it’s not us.

  7. Just had a look at the poll results on the site and I feel there must be infiltration by some of the neighbours. Or else a sudden dose of pessimism has affected the county I know I have sounded a note of caution on our approach to the game but predicting defeat????.
    Has to be Rossies and Galways surely!!!

  8. Robert Hennelly; Tom Cunniffe,Keith Higgins,Donal Vaughan,Aidan O’Shea, Seamus O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin,Andy Moran,Cillian O’Connor all started the semi final against Kerry in 2011 and another three that starting back then Ger Cafferkey,Alan Dillon,Alan Freeman If they weren’t injured would probably also start this sunday also.

    Thats 12 of the same players for the last three year i doubt if any other team has kept faith with so many or is James and his selectors just sticking to what and who they know best?

  9. @MO2014 I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s picking/will pick 12 of the team that started that semi-final 3 years ago because clearly they are the best players. Do you expect Mayo to have a completely new team every year?

    Also, there’s no need for everyone to be worrying so much about Freeman. It’s very likely that he’s injured and no harm to see how Andy does in there. It’s New York they’re playing by the way, Mayo will have tougher training games amongst themselves. Richie Feeney is an impact sub by the way, and he has been for most of Horan’s term. It’s very unlikely he has the legs to start a Championship match of significance and lacks pace big time.

  10. Well said GBXI, i completely agree with everything you said there. Sometimes there is just to much comotion when it comes to team selections about a rift between a player etc. To be honest i wouldnt be risking freeman in this game, imo he is our best forward. Also, i cannot understand everyone calling out for Adam Gallagher to be starting, i beileve he is a player for the future, he is in no way up to championship level at this stage in his career. He has no real pace (which is what we need in a forward) and is a bit light for championship, a good conditioning programme will bring him on nicely. Glad to see doc starting hope he can make the jersey his own. Mayo by 14.

  11. You may be right there Juan. I was a bit surprised by him against Kildare in terms of speed, which of course is why he is so keen on Higgins in the half forwards because he can really unhinge a defence.

  12. There’s no worrying about Freeman. However given the team that’s been named and where we expect they will line out, it’s reasonable for supporters to ask where is Freezer and why our top scorer isn’t in the lineup!.
    Like I said before , this may be another experiment, I’m ok with that (he may be trying to get seamie actual match time), but there’s absolutely no good reason, other than injury, Freezer should not be in at 14 if indeed that is where he is going to be, come the heat of the championship.
    Now if he and Sweeney come in at half time, that’s likely IMO. Mid 70’s here today, very comfortable, looks like the same on Sunday but with a slight breeze.

  13. Exactly catcol so was i, expected him to be faster I personally hope to see higgins returned to the forwards when and if barrett and cafferkey are back, we’ve a seirious lack of pace in the forwards, and higgins was causing havoc in last years AIF until he was bizzarely moved back to the corner.

  14. Sunday will be a perfect day weather wise to play football. Not too hot or too cold, 65 farenheit or ” a mighty day” as they say at home.
    If there was one thing I would like to see from the start is that our defenders stay put and defend and let the forwards do their own job. Or at least make sure that a forward is ready to cover for them but no more than one defender forward at a time.
    Looking forward to a great day out.

  15. @GBXI no i don’t expect a new team every year however i expect a bit more freshness added to the team each year. For example Dublin,Cork etc have given youth their chance none of them have stood still. Tired minds and bodies on that Mayo team now the likes of Alan Dillon,Andy Moran are past the best. I have no doubt this current Mayo team should have another push in them however in the years ahead when James Horan steps aside what does the new manager have to work with? less than current management i would suggest and the recent U-21 results suggests the talent coming through isn’t at the level of what it was.

  16. Juan & catcol are we looking for forwards who can run or forwards who can score??…….at the end of the day he was one of the top scorers in the league, I could’nt care less if he ‘s no Usain Bolt

  17. That’s a great bit of football by Adam, he has it in him for sure. No doubt his turn will come soon if he keeps at it

  18. A cracker of a morning in New York where it’s promised to be 20oC and sunny all day. Had to go through emigration at JFK on arrival 🙁 Sweet Jesus it was like Balla mart!! Two and a half hours standing in a agonizingly slow moving queue before being even getting to the kiosk! We were bearded and crammed together like a load of hoggets.

  19. How come you didn’t do it at this end, Pebblesmeller? I’ve been through JFK twice in the last year having cleared immigration in Dublin and it was a total doddle. Thought they had the same facility at Shannon as well?

  20. Does anyone know of a pub near Gaelic Park that will show the hurling tomorrow morning?

  21. Dan
    Woodlawn would be the best bet , 10 minutes in a taxi
    Plenty of spots on McLean avenue near katonah avenue.

  22. Poor Roscommon

    Good fight back but the numbers game really showed today. Take the following counties, Waterford, cork, limerick, Tipperary, Kerry and add them all together, now pick a team to play a county if 58,000!

    That’s in essence what happened today in tullamore

    It’s going to become a farce, nobody will compete with the population and money like Dublin have.
    On the other hand it’ll be hollow victories for the dubs, much like Celtic in Scotland

    Or am I being harsh?

  23. Dublin are now All-Ireland Senior, U21, Club and League champions. The only national title that they don’t hold at the moment, is the All-Ireland Minor title, which we hold. Add to this the fact that in Leinster they are Senior, U21 and Minor champions, not only in football but in hurling as well. Surely this must be a wake-up call for the top brass in the GAA.

  24. You only need fifteen good men, another six ready to step in and balls in the manager. Dublin are not winning cups because of their size, they are winning because they have planned and worked.

    Proportionately speaking Dublin always had huge picks but not the plan set by an ambitious board. Meath, Louth, Kildare, Wicklow have a huge overspill from greater Dublin but have not harnessed their populations . If it was all about numbers Kerry wouldn’t have won thirty five or whatever of the damn things .

    It drives me insane but Mayo are a county that possess much of the requirements but lack the sharpened blade in the overall scheme of things

  25. Good man David, I’ll take a look around there.

    10 am is a fine time to start drinking

  26. Dan
    Anytime after 9 am is a good time, I think you’ll have plenty of company.

  27. Hi All,
    The very best of luck to Mayo tomorrow and all year, I wont comment on this site after this but I just want to say that Dublin is not full of Dubs, there are people from all over the country working and living here which is great. The comments on here and other sites talk about Dublin population and blah blah and money etc….don’t forget your people live here too as do a lot of country people. When us Dubs were winning nothing for years nobody cared if we played all our games in Croke Park or anywhere else.

    Good Luck,
    Martin the Dub

  28. Too bad Martin, but don’t forget there’s plenty of outsiders in mayo too, English and polish people

  29. I dont understand this thread regarding Dublins dominance in all codes
    Dublin surely have a good seam of talent at present as we have, as Monaghan ,for another instance have. Dublins confidence is very high and is making a difference as was shown to day against Roscommon who reminded me of the story in the bible of the group of disciples huddled in a room “for fear of the Jews” they looked rooted to the ground in the first half and most of them never recovered their nerve showing Dublin way too much respect. Fear cost Roscommon who played well under par allowing Dublin the space to grow in confidence which gift they took in spades.

  30. Martin The Dub and John Cuffe, In my opinion the issue of population and finance will not go away and cannot be ignored when comparing Dublin to the rest of the country. I do not now if you are aware of it, John, but many Dubs living in Meath, Kildare etc, are bringing their kids back to their Dublin clubs for football and hurling. The population of Dublin is also a major factor in bringing them their monster sponsorship deals. On the issue of Dublin playing all their games in Croke Park it was not an issue when Dublin were not winning as Dublin were not playing all their games there. Parnell Park was adequate in those times which says a lot about Dublin supporters, fair weather supporters etc. While Dublin can avoid the cost of providing and maintaining an adequate county grounds they will of course continue to do so. In addition the state is now meeting a very large proportion of the cost of providing a centre of excellence which while supposed to be a national centre will be of very little benefit to the vast bulk of the country. How many from counties outside Leinster will use it? How many from outside Dublin, Kildare and Meath will use it?,
    It is a long time since I left Mayo and I do not know very much about what is being done by the county board to develop football skills in the county. I do read of Webb Cup and other underage competitions but do not know how intensively the development squad system is pursued. However I am of the belief that regular competition for all underage club players is probably more important than development squads when one studies how many players actually come through the squads to play senior. I hear lots of griping about the county board but very little positive suggestions about what should be done to improve things.
    That’s it for now, the boss is calling.

  31. Is this game live on any channel or live on the internet, I know there is highlights on tg4 tomorrow.

  32. Dont think so Achillmanindublin, looks like we’re stuck with the top notch commentary from midwest…….

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