The formal launch of this year’s football Championship took place the other day. Ryan O’Donoghue was our representative at the event and he’s featured in some media coverage arising from it.
Much of what Ryan has to say is interesting, illuminating as it does the back-story of a player who only last year broke through to the Senior ranks, a year that ended with him getting an All-Star nomination. I didn’t know, for example, about his boxing background and all the long hours of training he did as a teenager at the sport.
What Ryan has to say about the here and now is also of great interest. I was particularly struck – though not surprised – about his revelation that Cillian O’Connor was in touch with him last Saturday morning. Cillian left the Belmullet player a Whatsapp voice message giving him valuable advice before he took on the important role as the team’s freetaker.
That insight got me thinking about the generational aspect of where the Mayo team is right now and, in particular, about how the young guns currently breaking through to the Senior ranks in numbers are learning from and building on those who went before them.
Every young player who comes through at Senior level at the present time has a role model whom they can aspire to emulate. For Enda Hession, whose understated but steady Championship debut last Saturday augurs well for the future, it’s likely to be Chris Barrett. For Eoghan McLaughlin, it’s got to be Lee Keegan – whom Eoghan still might see bombing upfield ahead of him! – and for Mattie Ruane it’s surely Seamus O’Shea.
The list goes on but the point is the same – the new lads who are impatient to get their hands on the torch know that they’re walking in the footsteps of some of the greatest players ever to wear the Green and Red.
That thought sent my mind spinning back to what Kevin McStay said on the Sligo preview episode of the podcast, when he reflected on the era in which he was breaking through at Senior level. Back then, Kevin said, things were very different for young players like him, as they had no role models to look up to at all within the county.
How different things are now and how fortunate we are, not just in relation to all the talent coming through but how the new lads can justifiably see themselves as a new generation of players whose mission is to excel in the same way as the players they’re replacing did for the past decade.
Ryan is a great example of this new, thrusting cohort. While we can be sure his aim will be to make his own mark in his own individual way, he’ll surely know too that he’s following in the footsteps of players who blazed an impressive trail in their time.
The same is true of all the young guns. While we have, of course, no guarantee that in the years ahead we’ll continue to compete at the highest level, I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll continue to give it our very best shot.
The group that that backboned the team for the last decade did this year after year and the new generation already know this is where the bar is at. That’s the challenge for them and already there are positive signs that it’s one they’re up for, these new carriers of the fire. More power to them.