Ends and beginnings

U21s come home

Photo: @MayoGAA

We’re all, I guess, coming down gently at this stage off the high from Ennis and the giddy experience of seeing a Mayo team barnstorm its way to an All-Ireland victory. What’s rare is beautiful, they say, but at the same time it’s a feeling a man could get used to, given half a chance.

I didn’t get to sample any of the homecoming stuff but, from the photos I saw of the Castlebar and Ballaghaderreen events, the lads were given a rousing reception. Only right and proper that they were.

The strong Ballaghaderreen angle to this win gets some focus in the papers today, notably this piece in the Irish Examiner where Sharoize Akram credits Andy Moran for “forcing” him to take up football at the age of eleven. The flying wing-back, who has attracted much media attention since Saturday as the first Pakistan-born player to win an All-Ireland medal, pays Andy a nice tribute:

I was persuaded to play the game. Andy Moran, I put it all down to him. I was sort of made go by him and it has taken off from there. I picked the game up when I was in sixth class about eight or nine years ago and I’ve been playing ever since. He’d be one of the players I look up to in the club. He is a great mentor. He’s the one who got me involved in football and he has helped me ever since.

UPDATE: It’s since been drawn to my attention by Colm Gannon of the Mayo Advertiser that Adrian Hession, Games Promotion Officer, Mayo GAA, has been in contact with local media outlets to clarify that Sharoize isn’t the first Pakistan-born player to win an All-Ireland medal. In fact, he’s not even the first Pakistan-born Mayo player to do so.

This is because back in 2004 the Ballyhaunis club player Urslan Afzal was a member of the Mayo team that beat Armagh in the final of that year’s All-Ireland U16 C hurling championship. Urslan scored a goal for us in that final. So while Sharoize can, with confidence, claim to be the first Pakistan-born player to win an All-Ireland football medal, that’s as far as it goes. Until, of course, he wins a senior medal with us.  

Like myself, I’m sure you’ve been sampling some of the local coverage about Saturday’s win. Both the Western People and the Mayo News have oodles on it and I’ll spend plenty of time over the coming days digitally thumbing through it all. I’ve only now flicked briefly through what’s in the latter and plan to get the kettle on, put the feet up and hunker down to go through it later on.

So with the U21 campaign over, what’s next on the horizon? Match-wise, it’s the juniors who, according to a brief snippet I espied in the Western yesterday, begin the defence of their Connacht JFC title tomorrow evening (Wednesday). This match is against Sligo and is fixed for a place called Quigibar, which is a new one on me but is apparently the home of the Enniscrone/Kilglass GAA club. Throw-in there tomorrow evening takes place at 7.30pm.

On Saturday evening up here in Dublin a much more high profile contest takes place, in the shape of the LGFA League Division One final between us and Cork. That decider throws in at Parnell Park at 7.15pm on Saturday evening and it’ll also be broadcast live on TG4.

This was a match I’d been planning to go to but clean forgot about another appointment that has me out of town then. Not only will I not be able to get to the game, I won’t even be able to follow the unfolding action either as I’ll be on the road when the match is on. Still, I’d say the ladies will bring a big crowd with them to the Donnycarney venue on Saturday evening where hopefully the county can land another one on the Rebels.

Finally, the hurlers’ weekend exploits fell off the radar a bit but their win over Armagh on Saturday now means that they’re into the semi-finals of the Nicky Rackard Cup. Who they’ll play then hasn’t yet been determined, as it’ll be the winners of one of the quarter-final fixtures that are due to be played this weekend. The semi-finals have been fixed for Saturday, 21st May.

58 thoughts on “Ends and beginnings

  1. Good stuff there Willie Joe. Not sure if you have already posted this, but Kieran Shannon had an excellent piece in de Paper yesterday on our win. It’s here, and apologies if it’s a cross posting: http://ow.ly/4nmmV8

  2. With the lull in action over the coming weeks, I expect that the blog will once again veer towards the more obscure reaches of all things Mayo. I for one look forward to once and for all getting the definitive answer to the “white feather” debate.

  3. I see on social media the team and cup will be in Hollymount this evening after the Ballinrobe Races.

  4. I’m sure you’ll post the excellent Mayo News stuff in due course Willie Joe. Your namesake Billy Joe’s piece is, as usual, stimulating. However, I’m not sure that I agree with the thesis that Cork were a better team and we won through grit, determination etc.

    Having watched it back, it confirmed what I felt, even when Cork drew level (am I’m normally prone to pessimism in these situations). These guys were so full of running, aggression (in the good sense), and audaciousness that I felt something would come. For sure, not the two sublime goals that did come, but with extra time beckoning against Roscommon and Dublin, they went for the jugular when others would have settled for a draw and extra time. I would!!

    There is pure football, and athleticism from 1 to 20 there. The goals were of the highest quality. Cork were good, very good, but I felt that they were a bit overrated after the Monaghan match. When Monaghan ran at them they found a soft centre and by God Mayo found that again on Saturday. Every time they ran at Cork you felt a goal was a possibility.

    There was a real sense that the game was won after the third goal, but they did get sloppy then – they’re kids after all; yet they knew how to finish it off.

    As for the missed chances in the first half, yes they were frustrating, but they got into great positions for a lot of them. Can they score points? Ask Leitrim, Roscommon and Dublin! Can they score goals? Ask Cork!!

  5. Them 5 goals get better every time i look at them. Unstoppable.

    Is it true that there wasn’t a cow milked in New York city on Sunday night?

    Or a sod a turf cut there on Monday?

  6. I copied the below from The Connaught Telegraph:

    MAYO manager Stephen Rochford staged his final trial this evening for players seeking to break into his squad ahead the county’s involvement in the Connaught senior football championship opening round clash against London on May 29. His selection defeated Fermanagh by 1-15 to 0-13 at windy Ballaghaderreen with in-form Cillian O’Connor registered 0-11 of Mayo’s tally, eight of his points coming from frees. Substitute Jason Doherty sealed the victory with a well-executed goal in the closing stages. Mayo’s other scorers, with a point each, were Lee Keegan, Jason Gibbons, Michael Sweeney and Michael Conroy.

    Rochford will name his 32-strong squad for the provincial championship in the coming days. It is understood six members of the county’s All-Ireland Under-21 championship winning side will be involved with the panel during the campaign. Rochford has a number of injury worries ahead of the trip to London. Players nursing injuries include Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Seamus O’Shea, Aidan O’Shea, Kevin McLoughlin and Barry Moran.

    The 15 chosen to start against Fermanagh, in the county on a week-long training camp, were D. Clarke, C. Crowe, K. Keane, D. Newcombe, D. Vaughan, L. Keegan, C. Boyle, D. Kirby, J. Gibbons, N. Douglas, M. Ronaldson, C. Carolan, M. Sweeney, C. O’Connor, M. Conroy. The substitutes introduced were L. Keegan, D. Drake, S. Nally, J. Doherty, C. O’Shea, R. Hennelly and A. Moran.

  7. Lee Keegan is some man. He managed to start the game AND come on as a sub! Quality

  8. Yeah Mark, I noticed that alright, fair play to him is all that I can say!

  9. The six players I would say will be involved would be the 4 already there, DOC, Coen, Loftus, Hall joined by Irwin and possibly Reape as he is training with the seniors in Dublin.

  10. Bit disappointed if Akram isn’t called up even though he’s very young

    Think he has the most potential for the seniors out of this bunch, DOC aside of course

    Tough as nails, great ball carrier, able to kick a score, never shies away from a challenge

    I still think DOC is the only one who’ll start in Champ for seniors though maybe Loftus could force his way in as the campaign goes on

  11. I would imagine since we’re so short on corner backs, David Kenny will be called up. He was around the panel earlier in the league.

  12. I was reading in the Mayo News that DOC was playing with a fractured thumb at the weekend. Proves he is a machine after all !!

  13. Hard to know about that sixth spot. It’s the four mentioned, (Coen, Diarmuid, Loftus, Hall) + Irwin (his freetaking, goalscoring ability and strength seals it).
    For the sixth spot. We have plenty defenders so I couldn’t see a third U21 defender. If there was one defender, Eoin ODonoghue has pushed ahead to that ranking based on his shutdown operation in the semi and final. ODonoghue is chunky old school run through a brick wall to get a block on the ball.
    David Kenny was with the seniors earlier in the year but wasn’t as dominant at U21 as would expect of a senior.
    You have Mathew Ruane then who could bring something in terms of cover for midfield as a Conor OShea type a pacey taller player. Ruane with fresh legs in the homestraight of a game is an interesting tactic.
    Of the rest of the forwards then you have Reape who has the size and speed and trains with the seniors. He was stunted in what he could show bar the Leitrim game. Double marking and then injury for the final.
    Most of the rest of the panel need another year or two of higher level games at club championship/junior county/Sigerson/U21.
    Then just continue on their personalised fitness programs.
    People keep mentioning the senuor fitness program, but it’s all individualised down to U21 level based on the overarching program designed by Barry Solan.
    This is a great step as players can develop holistically for the long term.

  14. Good posts there on likely U21s. My guess for the other two are Akram and Ruane. Pace, athleticism, and strength – the way Akram kept standing while receiving an almighty charge from a Corkman was something to behold. I predict Irwin will not be chosen.

  15. You have to remember Akram is only U19 as he was final year minor last year. I predict he will play senior but I couldn’t see it being this year at 19. He did have a mighty U21 campaign but just think senior would be too physical for the moment.
    Irwin will I’m pretty certain be in the six. If Regan is injured we have no left footed freetaker. His U21 campaign surely put him in the frame. He has that other trait most our forwards don’t posess, he can hold the ball in one hand and horshe you outa the way with the other.

  16. JP, would agree. I could see Irwin making an impression throughout the summer, he has the physicality to step up, maybe not a starter but def can do something from the bench.

    Of the other forwards Reape seems like the one that can take the step up especially as he is training with the seniors in Dublin.

    I too rate O’Donaghue, old school defender who shuts out his man.

  17. Regarding Akram, defiantly a special talent, raw in some areas of his game but will play senior. But agree at 19 too early for him this year, another year at U21 will do him wonders, also he is competing in the half back line, the strongest area of the seniors where I cant see any further additions this year

  18. When you think half backs then I always think of who will they need to mark. Most half forwards nowadays are 6’+ and well built.
    Ciaran Kilkenny for example was able to knock Boyler off a 50:50 ball to setup a score in semi last year. If he can do that to Boyler it shows you the strength at senior level.

  19. Maybe a championship panel something along these lines then?


    Hall (21s)

    S O’Shea
    B Moran
    Coen (21s)

    A O’Shea
    C O’Shea
    C O’Connor
    A Moran
    D O’Connor (21s)
    Loftus (21s)
    Irwin (21s)
    Reape (21s)

    That’s a fair balance between forwards and backs and there are six under 21s included. However, there are a few notable omissions also including players who got game time in last year’s championship. However, with only 26 places left after you take out the under 21s it’s inevitable that we’ll be looking at a few fairly big name casualties here.

  20. Great to see Stephen will have some serious calls to make re the panel ,,,,, I can remember being able to pick the mayo championship team in January ,, special times for mayo football ,, let’s enjoy it while we have it ! !

  21. Reape isn’t the only one that has been training with the seniors. All of the dublin based seniors and u21s train together mid week. That would include akram, ruane and plunkett too.

  22. I agree with most of Billy Joes analysis. I nearly had my head bitten off at the game when I suggested that Cork might have been the better team. On reflection they were better in some aspects of the game (kicking points) but in the two crucial aspect,( goal scoring and goal defending), we were miles ahead.
    Now that begs the question, why did we waste so many point scoring chances? Was it nerves, lack of skill, pressure, kicking from bad positions or just one of those bloody things that happen now and again? I don’t know.
    And what if we had scored even half those chances? I think there wouldn’t have been enough superlatives to describe the win.

  23. If I had a wildcard type pick for a 21 player into the squad , I’d go for Cunnife . I just think we need to develop a solid fb and he might have the potential , when you’re adding young bucks to a seasoned panel , potential and benefit to the overall picture for the future has to be factored in too. Will they bulk up more ,what’s their attitude like , type of character , dedication etc etc

  24. Just hoping that the support that we had in ennis travels to Dublin at the weekend to support the ladies in the division one final vs Cork .

  25. Ruane and Akram are definitely in the top 5 ability wise in that U21 team currently (from what I have seen).
    Those 2 definitely should be in the squad to bring them on development wise.

    Some of the guys that are around the 30 mark could start dropping performance quiet sharply over the next couple of years and will need guys ready to come in. At least getting these fellas into the squad will help them to get up to the level.

  26. Have to agree with Sean Burke regarding FB situation. While Caff had a great league, Kevin K had injury problems. Kevin Keane is a good option for some opposition, however, will struggle against pacey forwards. If one or both of these guys get injured then we would be in big trouble. We need FB cover !

  27. I agree too…Cunniffe is an option. I thought he was a superb FB at minor. He wasn’t as impressive this season or perhaps dominant is the correct word. He’s u21 again next year but he would certainly benefit from senior squad involvement. I’d definitely have Irwin in too.

    I like listening and reading BJP but I thought we were better than Cork. If we had taken even half of the points we missed, we’d have been comfortable. We dominated the breaks at midfield and defended better. We also had a more dynamic midfield.

    There wasn’t much between us but we shaded it whereas in 2006 we were lucky to win.

    Kerry will be the team to watch next season, but it’d be great if we could retain Connacht and compete at the business end…and hey, why not go and win it again!!!

  28. I’d have O’Donoghue in Sean, I thought he was fantastic this year. We have yet to see the best from Cunniffe and I’ve every faith we will too. Sure let’s bring them all in to feck 😉

    On a serious note, it’s great to see the U21s training with the seniors – even for those who aren’t ready yet to make the step up, that kind of experience and insight is surely invaluable and paves the way for progression. Even before they are part of the panel there is a sense of involvement and it probably makes sense logistically and economically. Does it happen down here too or just in Dublin?

    I don’t envy Stephen Rochford the calls he has to make over the next few days. Whatever way you look at it, there will be some major disappointments in store for some fine young players.

  29. I think a poster hit the nail on the head earlier with the comment about Ciaran kilkenny and boyler. That’s the level you must be at. I still feel that when the fats in the fire later this year and out championship fate is on the line, DOC will be the only u21 on the field. Coen is probably the next in line to play a part, could see him being a regular championship sub this season a bit like paddy Durcan last year. Including Akram in the squad would be great for the future, but at the expense of 2016 hopes as really hes about 3 years from being ready to play against the likes of Dublin. The step up is huge, we musnt forget that, and I would suggest that if six or seven of the players from last Saturday become established Mayo seniors at championship level it would be an outstanding haul. It’s a very long time since an u21 player really made a serious impact in an all ireland senior football final for any county, and only DOC looks capable of reaching those heights in 2016. Even Cillian, jack McCaffrey ryan McHugh and Ciaran kilkenny struggled to impose themselves as u21s in senior AI finals recently, while I can’t remember the last kerry player to regularly start in their championship team while still u21 but I suspect it’s tommy walsh back in 2008/09?

    In terms of the future, Hall Ruane and Akram look the most likely to become seasoned Mayo seniors in my view. Have seen very little of Brian Reape to be fair. Plunkett is another guy I think has a big future. Patience is key with these guys though.

  30. With the under 21 championship having only one year left I’d love to see Mayo take a Kerry type approach and use the junior championship as a proper stepping stone to the senior team.

    Instead of just being a thrown together bunch of non senior club players, which adds little to the county setup, the junior panel could include the best 15 or 16 players from the under 21 panel who don’t make the senior squad, add in some of the fringe players who get cut from the senior panel before the championship, and a few of the other best club players from around the county and put them together to make a high standard county junior team. Maybe set an age limit at around the 26 or 27 mark to keep it as a genuine development squad for the senior team.

    This panel of players could then be kept in the overall Mayo training setup so that any that stand out can switch to the senior panel if deemed good enough, they could play challenge matches against the senior panel to help keep game plans and strategies in-house and would be competitive with the likes of Kerry in the All Ireland junior championship. It would also mean that that the jump from club or underage level to the senior county team would be less of a step up for players trying to break through.

    I know the above might involve a change in terms of the current setup of the Connacht under 21 championship (where I believe we have for some reason handicapped ourselves in terms of selection criteria when other counties like Sligo possibly have not), but with the switch to under 20 we need to have another look at how we keep players involved from age 20 upwards so that they can develop through to the senior panel. Just my thought for the day…

  31. Most of our u21s come from senior clubs so they can’t play for mayo juniors, if they played senior championship with their club.

  32. Another thought on the Billie Joe argument: I said I didn’t really panic at any stage against Cork (and I tend to be pessimistic in these situations); in the Dublin match, I definitely thought we were gone when they went four up in the second half.

    Dublin were a better team than Cork, and we had the rub of the green against them.

  33. I see on hoganstand that there was just the 300 grand raised by the Rossies in New York last week.Thats some return and beats the biscuit tin that we used. Wonder what are the plans for making money in London or are the County Board going to keep relying on write offs from Croke Park

  34. Take the longer term view with these guys. Look at the gaps in the senior first 15 and identify candidates from this group who have the potential to plug those gaps. Put an accelerated 2 year coaching plan in place to try and get them to where we want them to be. Prime eg would be creating a specialist skill set a la Cian O’Sullivan for Dublin. Someone who can read the game and marshall the space between midfield, our 45, and our fb line. Coen, Akram, and Ruane would look like prime candidates from what I’ve seen. And that’s just one gap. There are obviously others but use the same template to try and address each one with these guys and see where we are, heading into the 2018 championship. The winning mentality that these guys are bringing to the table is huge and we have to harness that in the correct manner and make sure that all that confidence and self belief is nurtured and enhanced over the coming years.

  35. “You have to remember Akram is only U19 as he was final year minor last year. I predict he will play senior but I couldn’t see it being this year at 19. He did have a mighty U21 campaign but just think senior would be too physical for the moment”

    Yes but he won’t be anywhere near the team yet like, but I’d love to see him called up just for experience, as he’s almost certainly a future regular if he continues his development. Even still plenty have lined out for their county in recent years a year out of minor

    We’re all understandably still giddy after Saturday, but lets be honest, with regard to the call ups I’d be amazed if anyone bar DOC actually started barring an injury crisis. There’s a humongous step up for a “top 3” team like Mayo. I don’t even expect any of the under 21s to be one of the first subs either or perhaps even among the six used in most cases. We’ll possibly have the two Morans, Vaughan, Doherty, Kevin Keane, Ronaldson, Dillon, freeman on the bench like. Are this group of under 21s better than these right now? We’re not in a rebuilding phase so don’t see the logic of leaving out a superior older player in favour of a u21 one. This is a crucial year for Mayo and we’re getting towards last chance saloon for this golden era of players

    By all means bring one or two under 21s into the panel for the summer but it’s very early yet imo to be playing them. Give them their chance in the league next year and see from there

  36. Reading over, I’ve pretty much echoed what Mac’s left Boot says and he has put it far better than I have!

  37. Done Deal – I know those are the current rules, but they don’t apply to all counties (e.g. Sligo). The only change that would be needed would be to have the same criteria for all counties i.e. you can’t play for the juniors if you played for the seniors in the championship the previous year.

    I think there’s going to be a big gap in future after under 20s because – as we can see this year with the likes of Akram, Cunniffe and O’Donoghue – lads at 19 and 20 years old usually aren’t quite ready to step on to the senior panel straight away.

  38. Declan – the development panel is there to being on players such as the ones you mentioned. O’Donghue would be able to play for the juniors. For any player playing lower levels this is their competition to make a name for themselves.
    With Kerry not able to compete this year I think mayo can go on and win all Ireland junior.

  39. We’re still only debating a panel call up, and remember it’s Rochy who appears to be going for two more, so he must see a thing or two.

    If management are going for 6, let’s see how they fare in training sessions; how they feel when they are landed on their arses by Boyler, or they run in to the brick wall that is Aido. Would just love to be at some of those A v B matches over the next few weeks. If some survive that cauldron, they could be very useful in the last 10 minutes of a full on championship match.

  40. Will hollymount players be eligible to play junior once they play a senior championship game this year?

  41. I reckon those A v B matches would attract a nice crowd if they were publicised and be a nice little money spinner as well. I would be there for one!

  42. I copied the below from HoganStand:

    Mayo manager Sean McLoughlin includes a mix of youth and experience in his team to face Sligo in the Connacht JFC semi-final in Enniscrone tonight (throw-in 7.30pm). 2015/16 All-Ireland intermediate club finalists Hollymount-Carramore lead the way with four representatives as Darren McHugh (full-back), Barry Sheridan (centre-back), Padraig Feerick (left half-back) and Darren Coen (full-forward) all start. Killala’s Andrew Farrell (right half-forward) takes over the captaincy role from Feerick for the 2015 provincial winners and beaten All-Ireland finalists.

    Mayo (JFC v Sligo): Shane Nallen; Niall Freeman, Darren McHugh, Barry Leonard; Cormac Reape, Barry Sheridan, Padraig Feerick; Peter Collins, Gary Keane; Andrew Farrell, Adam Gallagher, Sean Kelly; Michael Forde, Darren Coen, Ronan Mallee.

    Subs: Keith Hennelly, Liam Ketterick, Brendan Moran, Robert Holian, Brendan Carr, Thomas Carmody, Darragh Joyce, Conor Naylor, Sean Gaughan.

  43. @mayomick – hope it’s ok – am using one of your excellent photos as wallpaper on my desktop. Fantastic photos, the one of Diarmaid O’Connor is outstanding.

  44. Diehard, yes the AvB matches would be interesting to attend and would def fill the void till Galway match. Not sure Rochford would appreciate a crowd present taking notes on the tactics he would be working on, playing positions etc. Some things are best left unseen until they are required.

  45. No one outside of camp knew of hand injury to diarmaid O’Connor or hamstring for reape.good thinking .if this was senior squuad the dogs in the street would know about it.

  46. Any word on who was released bs k to there clubs ?

    It was been announced tonight

  47. Mayo51/all – usual rules apply here on unconfirmed rumours relating to who isn’t on the championship panel. Let’s wait till the official announcement is made before anyone is named here in that respect. The lads involved deserve that courtesy.

  48. Ketterick is a good defender, and could be one for the future. The players that make the Mayo team in the future will not be decided by the events taking place in Ennis last weekend. Very few of these guys are ready for Senior football at the top table. Which men have the ambition and opportunity in the future are the kind of things that will decide their fate. Ambition above all else will be a vital ingredient. I was really impressed with O’Donoghue right through. I was also impressed with Boland and Plunket. Do not rule out some of those absent the last day. Prendergast, Doran, Harrison and Conroy spring to mind.

  49. Cait, no need for spies, if A v B were open to public all the opposition would need is to log on here to find out what the Mayo team were up too.

  50. Pjmcmanus Boland impressed me hugely throughout the entire campaign (bar the first game which I couldn’t get to). For a lad that looks so slight he is very strong, he’s smart and he is one hell of a worker.

  51. Colm Keys wrote this in The Indo this morning:

    Mickey Conroy is the highest-profile casualty as Mayo football manager Stephen Rochford trims back his squad ahead of the Connacht Championship.

    Conroy is one of a number of players released from an expanded squad that has been operating during the League. Mark Ronaldson and Mickey Sweeney, who have been on the fringes in recent years, have also been let go, in addition to defender Shane McHale.

    Five of Castlebar Mitchels’ All-Ireland finalists will return to their club after being brought in following their defeat to Ballyboden St Enda’s: Neil Douglas, Danny Kirby, Eoghan O’Reilly, Donie Newcombe and Ger McDonagh. The process of finalising the squad will continue with prospects of inclusion for some of their recent All-Ireland U-21 winners.

    Best wishes to all of these players in their future careers and I’m sure that all Mayo people appreciate the efforts that they have put in for the cause that is Mayo football.

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