A few thoughts on the team for Sunday

What better way to shake off the torpor from a day spent sitting on one’s hole while being propelled at alarming speed several miles too far away from terra firma than to spend it hauling and stacking logs in anticipation of the next edition of the Ice Age Mk II in a few months time? After my many hours of manly labours earlier on, I’ve just cracked open a bottle of O’Hara’s truly wonderful Irish Red beer and so I’m well into the groove as regards setting down a few thoughts about James Horan’s first championship pick.

The first thing that’s worth noting is how far removed this particular team is from the one that started the All-Ireland for us back in 2006.  Just one player – Sunday’s captain, Alan Dillon – survives from that team and while injuries to up to four others (Ronan McGarrity, Keith Higgins, Conor Mortimer and Pat Harte) have perhaps amplified the speed of turnover since ’06, it does appear to be a clear objective of James Horan to put as much distance as possible between that team and the one he’s aiming to mould.

While Johnno spoke endlessly about managing a team in transition, James is, in stark contrast, managing a transition.  As with most things in life, there’s a world of difference between talking about doing something and actually doing it and James’ willingness to wield the knife is further evidenced by the fact that just seven of Sunday’s team – Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Trevor Howley, Donal Vaughan, Andy Moran, Alan Freeman and Alan Dillon – were also on the starting fifteen for our last championship match and there are just six survivors (all of the above minus Alan Freeman) from the team that lined out in last year’s league final defeat to Cork.

What’s also obvious is that the average age of the team has come right down.  I don’t have the stats at my fingertips (I have beer but not that kind of info) but I’d be surprised if the average age of the starting fifteen in Ruislip is any more than twenty-five.  For someone who is coming uncomfortably close to turning fifty, that’s quite a startling statistic but one that perhaps says more about me than it does the team.

In terms of the individual picks (which I’ve had plenty of time to mull on today while in the company of all that firewood), there not a huge amount of head-scratching to do so here’s where my thinking got to.

The choice of Robert Hennelly over David Clarke must have been a close call.  Clarke’s an excellent shot-stopper and he’s rarely done anything wrong for us between the sticks; indeed, if you look at some of the All-Stars that have been awarded to goalkeepers over the last five or six years, he could arguably consider himself hard done by in that department.  Hennelly’s a real talent, though, and where I think he may have the edge over Clarke is in the kickouts – the Ballinaman’s ones tend to hang forever in the air and while I don’t have the stats in this area either (but, boy, this beer sure is good) I’d say we win less than our fair share of primary possession from his kickouts.  I’d be with James on his choice here.

Tom Cunniffe at corner-back and Alan Feeney at full-back are both uncontroversial picks. Neither of them are the finished package but both of them acquitted themselves fairly well in their respective positions in the league.  I don’t think we have better options in either position at present and, in Tom’s case, at least it means we’re not pursuing the almost suicidal move of playing him at 6.

I don’t know what the story is with Ger Cafferkey at 4.  Is he fit? Will he start there? He never struck me as corner-back material and, seeing as it’s London we’re playing, this is hardly a horses-for-courses selection either. I haven’t a clue what’s going on, in other words.

It’s worth having another slug of my O’Hara’s, however, to toast Richie Feeney’s selection at 5. Someone was trying to persuade me the other week that he wouldn’t make the starting fifteen but, for my money, Richie is one of the first names you’d put on the teamsheet right now.  Damn, that beer is good.

I also think that Donal Vaughan at centre-back is, potentially, a great move.  Sean Rice predicted we’d see such a development over a year ago and Donie has enough football in him to make a very good centre-back.  Like every other back we currently have, though, he’s more than a little inclined to spend too much time in the opposing half but he could also become a serious player for us at 6. It’s a good call to give him a run-out there in Ruislip.

Chris Barrett has plenty of competition for the no.7 jersey – with the likes of Kevin McLoughlin and James Burke heading the posse  – but he has as much claims to it as anyone else has.  Plus it’s good to see him start a championship match in the half-backs: Sunday will be the first time he does so.

James Kilcullen’s selection at midfield is hugely welcome and the amazing thing is that Sunday will be his championship debut for us.  His intermittent appearances during the league showed that he had something we were badly missing in this sector and hopefully he’ll now impose himself in this area over the summer.  Jason Gibbons’ inclusion ahead of Aidan O’Shea as the Ballaghaderreen man’s midfield partner seems a bit strange, both for the fact that it now appears more or less agreed on that midfield is Aidan’s best position and that Jason hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to demonstrate a positive work ethic over the last few months. As is the case with Ger Cafferkey’s selection at 4, I simply don’t know what the crack is here.

The selection in the forwards is only controversial in the sense that we’re included a seventh defender – Trevor Howley – there but otherwise there’s bugger all to quibble with.  Aidan O’Shea could, I guess, have been named at 10 as a third midfielder but I think James is right to pick Aidan Campbell there.  He has plenty to offer offensively and while his long-range freetaking isn’t top drawer, he’s probably the best we have in that department at the minute. As someone who always thought that Aidan was a definite loss at 10 over the last few years, I can only say positive things about his inclusion there now.

Alan and Andy and Alan and Jason inside are all obvious picks and, barring injuries, we shouldn’t expect to see any changes to this quartet over the summer.  Here’s hoping that, between them, they wreak the kind of havoc we’d all love to see from them.

Obviously, we don’t need to play a sweeper against London but James does appear to be wedded to this approach and if we’re going to have a seventh defender, then there are far worse players than Trevor Howley to give this job to.  I still have major doubts about this as a tactic (not least because of the Dublin game) but, for good or ill, this does appear to be a permanent feature of our line-up dish ear.

So that’s it – great beer and not too much to argue about as regards the selection for Sunday.  Assuming we get over this initial hurdle, I guess the team that’s named for Galway will merit far more forensic scrutiny but, as the Kerrymen are wont to put it, we’re not looking any further than Sunday at the minute.

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

  1. Happy enough with the team.
    I’ve wanted to see Vaughan at 6 for a while now, so hope he can be the answer to this troublesome position. And with Nallen there to guide him, he can’t say he won’t be learning from one of the best.

    Leaving AOS out is a bit of a mystery alright. It seems he couldn’t be dropped when he was playing poorly, but then is as soon as he starts to show some form in his best position.

    Interesting point WJ that Barrett has never started a championship match in the half backs before. Some reservations have been made about his inclusion, but this seems based on his performances in the full back line. He’s been another example of our obsession with playing half backs as corner backs. He’s probably another victim of his versatility – much like his fellow Belmullet man.

    People are saying not to read too much into this selection as it’s only London, but I reckon only Higgins and McGarrity (maybe AOS) will be prime contenders to dislodge those already in this starting 15.
    It’s time we started to shape a settled team now, starting with this London game. It’s a championship game after all, so let’s treat it like any other.

  2. Probably the best team, considering injuries. Playing Ger Caff at Corner Back could free kieth higgins to move to the half back line when he returns from injury.
    on a separate note, there is a lot of talk on the interweb about Connacht rugby playing Heinken cup games at McHale Park, Sean Feeney, is reported to have said that talks are at an advanced stage regarding holding the games at McHale park. This leads me to believe that Mayo GAA finances are in a bad way. wha do people think.

  3. Nitram, link to this week’s edition of the Western People which covers this issue http://www.westernpeople.ie/sport/eysneykfid/

    As the person who Chaired the Finance & Funding Subcommittee in Liam Horan’s recent Review I am amazed and disgusted to see such a statement coming from our County Board given that they only published their Strategic Plan last week and it makes no reference to playing Rugby in McHale Park. This is another example of the lack of vision and direction coming from the County Board Officers.

    Yes, you are right, the finances of Mayo are in a dreadful state (so bad that the County Board Officers blocked all attempts on our part to carry out a proper assessment). This dreadful financial situation was brought about by poor leadership and dreadful business planning in relation to the development of McHale Park. In assessing the financial viability of taking on the debt to develop McHale Park no consideration was given to the long term impact of such a level of debt on developing GAA in Mayo.

    Now that we are in this mess it would appear that the guys who created the mess are going to solve it by allowing Rugby to be played in McHale Park. I have no doubt that this decision will once again be driven by individuals with vested interests and without giving any consideration to the impact of developing GAA in Mayo. I understood that the motivation behind developing McHale Park was to promote GAA in our County so if it was, then where is the plan to achieve this?

    Can the Gurus who run Mayo GAA not come up with a better fundraising plan than to provide our Competitors with a low cost Stadium solution to promote their game to the detriment of our game?

    I will finish by saying that I have nothing against Rugby. I think it is a great game and the individuals who run it in Ireland have shown what is possible. The pity is that we don’t have those types of individuals running Mayo GAA.

  4. Rugby wrecks a pitch unless you have experienced grounds men who know how to grow replacement divots and work some magic after every pitch use. If the Pitch was maintained well I think it would be a good idea. Anything to cut that crippling debt and divert more money into team development.

    Sorry WJ I read your article but all I can remember is “Beer” and on this point I would absolutely agree with you that a bottle of O’Hara Irish Red is a beautiful thing.

  5. No worries, Coilltemach – at this time of a Friday evening, beer should be the only thing you’d want to remember! The O’Hara’s red is great, for sure, and their pale ale is worth a go too.

  6. Where can you get that O’Hara’s beer? Have they stopped baking and started brewing in Foxford? Should we propose to the county board that it becomes the official beer of the Mayo football team?

    Hmmm. Maybe not, they might think we were serious!

    Keep the Faith!

  7. He had a cracking game for sure, playing the kind of role he was rarely asked (what with his redeployment at full-forward, centre-back, full-back etc.) to do for us. A case of what might have been?

  8. Good off-licences have it (though, sadly, I’ve yet to see a pub that stocks it) and I think I saw it on the shelves in Tesco too. It’s brewed in Carlow so it must be a different wing of the O’Hara clan that’s involved!

  9. What a silence re PJs comments. Rather telling.

    Armagh decided to abandon the seventh man defender b-s**t v Down and lo and behold it worked. Meanwhile we ape and copy. Tourmakedy would beat London but we waste Howley who would struggle to make it as a proper defender in the first place on the team.

    We use him to sweep behind our mid. Jesus wept. This we are told is practice for other matches to come. Wow. Against Galway, or Ros or Leitrim or someone else in the backdoor. Any chance we might actually be ourselves for a change and do something that comes natural to the county.

    Strange that Armagh could quickly settle BJ into a useful role. Our brains thrust over ten years set the lads career into reverse. Born for Ulster football and Mayos best bet to win an All Ireland medal in the foreseeable future.

    We dwell surrounded by the mediocre and we don’t challenge it. Meekly we follow the fashionable and trite. Today we will give London the honour of using a seven men plus defence to beat them. The men of 1951 would turn at such tactics. Be like Armagh or any team that wants to break through the mould. Smash it and do something different. Or will every Mayo man who wants to progress have to abandon the native garb and wear an other counties colours. Just a thought as the priest says!

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