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.