An experienced head in most positions

Having slept on it, it’s time, I suppose, for some more thoughts on Johnno’s first championship selection of 2008.

The most striking thing is that, for all the talk about change and the team being in transition and all the rest, only three of the starting fifteen – Colm Boyle, Kieran Conroy and Tom Parsons – are making their championship debuts, with the latter already a well-established member of the starting fifteen.  Apart from this trio, and Tom Cunniffe, it’s a case of putting the most experienced players on the pitch.  That doesn’t mean that they’re the most experienced players in the positions in which they’ve been selected but all of them have significant game time.

From the back, then. Clarkie was the easiest man to pick as, ever since Kenneth O’Malley’s horrific injury, he’s had virtually no competition for the goalie’s jersey.  That’s not necessarily a good thing but the Ballinaman played well during the league and, but for him, our goals-against tally would have been far higher.

Colm Boyle and Kieran Conroy both deserve their starting places.  While neither have put in Parsons-esque displays since coming onto the team, they haven’t done much wrong either.  Boyle could have been edged out by the likes of Aidan Higgins or Liam O’Malley or one or two others but he’s held on.  Conroy could have suffered the same fate as James Kilcullen did last year but, to my mind, that would have been an unforgivable  act of cowardice.  Although he is as raw as they come, Conroy offers us more in the position that BJ (with his lack of height) or Heaney (with all that scar tissue) do.  These two positions were ones in which gambling with inexperienced lads was probably the safest option, which is why, I think, their names are on the team sheet.

It’s also why Keith has been pulled back into the corner because otherwise the full-back line would be a total gamble.  You can see why Keith has ended up there but, for my money, BJ could easily have started at no.4. So, I suppose, could James Nallen.  Maybe he will.

Tom Cunniffe’s selection at wing-back is hugely welcome.  His barnstorming second half display in the U21 semi-final against Kerry confirmed that half-back is his natural position, though I’d have him in the centre with Heaney on the wing.  James Nallen at no.7 is a real puzzle.  He’s playing out of his skin with Cross at the minute, I’m told, but does he really still have what it takes to play half-back in the championship?  What about Trevor? Or Peadar? Or Pat Kelly?

Midfield is one of three self-selecting lines (along with goalkeeper and full-forward – interestingly, the lines alternate between self-selection and experimentation).  There are arguments for trying Tom Parsons on the forty but he’ll give us an enormous lift at midfield too.  I’m expecting Parsons to emerge as one of our star players and I think he has what it takes to become a folk hero for us.  It would be great to see him starting decisively along that road on Sunday.  Ronan needs a good game alongside him.  He didn’t have a brilliant league but, after last year’s traumas, he’s made enormous progress and, on his day, he’s one of our main men.  If this pair perform to the best of their ability, we should win with ease so it’s obviously vital they do.

More experimentation in the half-forwards but with experienced heads.  Peadar did okay at no.10 in the league before he got crocked and he knows how to take a score so he deserves a run.  With Dillon out, Pat Harte is the obvious candidate to replace him, though I wouldn’t have said that CHF is his most natural position.  Trevor at 12 is a case, once again, of the old dog for the hard road.  I can’t help but thinking that a half-forward line with Mac on the forty flanked by any two of the three selected (maybe with Trevor redeployed to no.7) would be far, far, stronger but that’s water under the bridge, for now at least.

Once it became clear that Conor was okay, the full-forward line was always going to be the easiest to name.  This combination worked well over the league and they now need to kick on in the more pressurised environment of the championship.  Mort remains our most important forward and we’ll need his usual quota of scores, Austie needs to show that his league form was no fluke and Andy needs to produce more end product along with all that great ball-winning and hard running effort.

Overall, it’s a decent side and one that should be capable of taking us through to yet another Connacht decider against Galway.  The conservatism shown in a few areas, however, would indicate that Johnno’s downbeat pronouncements about our chances have seeped into his own thinking about team selection.  Let’s hope they haven’t also crept into the players’ minds.  The time for poor mouthing our chances is over: we need instead to be ready to put in a championship performance and lay down a marker about our intentions for the summer.  Now is the time for The Second Coming to start delivering.

10 thoughts on “An experienced head in most positions

  1. So much for transition, what might fool a gullible electorate cuts no ice here. This I predict, if Sligo are close to us with ten minutes to go I fear we will lose. I have no great confidence in the midfield. Fine to have Jimmy Nallen back but no MacDonald even in the panel, crazy. The full back line is set up for a plucking, young Gaughan wont believe his luck. Heany will drop back, Jimmy into the middle and we are back at 2006 again. The only man to lose a squad place in the backs from 06 is Geraghty. Hope I am wrong but I think we are set up for a shock.

  2. We could be but I’d be more hopeful about midfield. Parsons was excellent in the league and this is his chance to announce his arrival on the bigger stage. With the likes of Harte, Heaney, T Mort and Gardiner all operating around the middle third, we should win enough ball and, if this happens, I’d expect us to be able to rack up a winning score. I’d agree, though, that if it’s still in the mix with ten minutes to go, we could be in trouble but we just have to make sure that we don’t get into this position.

  3. wouldn’t necessarily be a shock ontheroad. Full back line is as ripe as i ever remember. Boyle and Conroy were getting cleaned against kildare( Yes KILDARE!!!) and keith had to drop back to settle things down. Can we really expect him to be able to plug these holes against the likes of Galway. Im really dreading what might happen. I would have gone for Padden( or even trevor mort), Conroy and Higgins. I do agree that Mahony HAS to back Conroy but putting an unproven novice in beside him….Christ almighty lads!! No problem with Nallen and Heaney either side of Cunniffe. its the only option given the fact that trevor is obviosuly not considered to be a back despite him always playing well there( illogical i know). WJ is getting overly excited about Parsons. He will be a star(if the aussies dont nab him) but i just think he is a little raw. Mcgarrity doesnt have the physical attributes to be able to carry another midfielder and you can bet your bottom dollar that O Hara and his sidekick will be getting stuck in. The HF line has no free taker, no natural scorer, or no distributor. To me this line is a joke and a very bad one. THe FF line picks itself. We might win on Sunday but to say Sligo beating us would be a shock is a big overstatement. the only shock will be if we will this one well.

  4. Don’t like the look of this team. If we’re building for the future why bother bringing J Nallen back into the fold.

    Dillon is a big loss (shows you the value of having C Mc in the squad).

    If P Gardiner can’t nail down a half back spot should he really be in the team.

    Surely Killcoyne would be a better option in the half forward line, he can actually score when it matters. This would also allow T Mort to be re-deployed in the half back line.

    The biggest loser of all in BJP, our only performer in the 06 final (Brady apart). It seems he has lost out as a result of being willing to plug holes where others wouldn’t.

    I’m glad to see Parsons in at midfield, he deserves his chance.

    Also C Boyle has shown more commitment in the league than any of the other backs (well maybe K Higgans apart) and deserves his place.

    Overall, the half forward and half back lines do not excite me at all. Good luck to the team any way. Hopefully Johnno knows best.

  5. Cant believe how negitive people are – people are looking for transition / change, yet are harping on about McDonald not being in there! I know Nallen is there, but this really is because Howley is not and it brings a degree of experience to a largely untested defence. I’m actually looking forward to seeing the Half Forwards – maybe a bit of Physicallity and Agression might be what we need here. Harte can take frees. I really dont know who is being left out that should be in the team??
    Yes I would like to see MCD involved, but we have to look at the bigger picture too. Lats give JOM a chance untilwe are out of Championship 2008……………..

  6. A Cairde, simple facts – Mayo are one of the top 10 counties in Ireland in football. Sligo are somewhere in the early twenties. After winning one of the poorest Connacht Championships in years, Sligo got relegated to Div 4. Last year they beat NYC(I’m sure there was a celebratory parade down 5th Ave); were handed a victory by a Roscommon display which will rank as the poorest the county has provided in the last 13-15 years. Peter Ford’s Frankenstein experimentation in Galway reaped it’s just rewards in the final as they got done by 1 point by a hard working but very limited Sligo side. They have nothing more to prove, they have reached the pinacle of their careers as intercounty footballers and who could blame them if they slacken off as anecdotal evidence suggests.
    I cannot see anything other than a Mayo victory- The only thing I see in Sligo’s favour is Mayo’s lack of self-confidence as expressed through this forum and in the papers. Hopefully, for the sake of Connacht football, the players are shocked and surprised at this, but determined to make a statement of intent. Whatever hope Connacht football has of raising itself, it lies with Galway and Mayo for the next two years. A Sligo victory is an indictment of the standard of football in the province- something that was proven by the fate of Galway, Mayo and Sligo last year.

  7. Backs show 3 changes from team beaten by Galway in first round last year. Cunniffe was the cause of the problems against Kildare. i would worry about Nallen. He was at sea against Meath in the challenge.Cunniffe is a half back only.Our backs let us down in our last 2 all Irelands so the changes are a step forward

  8. can’t help feeling that there is a still an element of looking for the best team going on and plenty of opinion on who / what it should be. Lucky in a way that facing Sligo still allows that to be the case but Sunday will be the last of it. Win or lose the next match will be harder and much more at stake.
    So with that in mind and without sounding too confident I hope Sligo give us a really tough test- the harder the better. The real risk is that this might be a Mayo team with weaknesses but still good enough to see off Sligo. Now, we could all rejoice and celebrate in an easy win but think about it…an easy win would really be bad news. What would be learned about this team were Sligo not to perform and Mayo to run out easy winners. Would it not be better to see us getting a tough one from Sligo , one that shows up the weaknesses, test the character and force some corrective action if required. Surely, that would be a better preparation to head into a Connacht final against Galway. If there are problems with this team Sunday is the day to get them spotted and sorted.

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