The report in yesterday’s Irish Examiner quoting Conor Mortimer saying that he’d “never rule out playing with Mayo again” has once more brought to the fore an issue that blew up so spectacularly in the middle of this year’s championship campaign. And, as it concerns Mort, it’s inevitably going to be one that provokes different reactions amongst Mayo supporters, as is already evident from the debate going on in the comments.
I think it’s important to frame this debate in terms of what Conor himself had to say about the matter. The quote that the media have latched onto is this one:
But playing with your county is always something you’d like to do and I’d never rule out playing with Mayo again.
To my mind, however, the quote that comes straight after the one above is of more telling consequence:
However, that’s entirely a matter for the team management.
Indeed it is.
I have to admit I have mixed views on the issue. On the one hand, Conor is a very experienced campaigner and having our highest-ever scorer back in the ranks should, on the face of it, increase our options in the forwards. On the other hand, you have to wonder – with Cillian now a better option as freetaker, especially for the longer range ones, and with Michael Conroy providing the same kind of trickery closer to the posts – what added value the team would get from having him back. Especially with all the baggage he’d bring with him.
To his credit, Conor put in a huge amount of work after his cruciate injury to battle back to fitness at the start of last year and he showed great fortitude and determination in doing so. But then on the other side of the ledger he pranced off the panel just days before the Connacht final, at a time when we really could have done with him, showing a quite staggering degree of petulance in doing so.
Ultimately, as Conor himself acknowledges, it’s up to James Horan and his management team to decide on whether or not they want to invite the Parnells man back onto the squad for next year. Were Conor to be invited back, it’d have to be on the understanding that he’d have no guarantees about a first team place and that in all likelihood the most he’d be able to expect would be that he’d play a bit part in our push for honours next year. Would that be enough for Conor? Hardly. Should James guarantee him anything more? Absolutely not.
If you look at where James is heading with this team, you can see that we’re close to the finished article at the back (I like the look of a backline comprising Clarke; Keane, Cafferkey, McHale; Boyle, Keegan, Higgins for 2013) and getting there at midfield (where we have to find the best combination out of the two O’Sheas, Moran, Gibbons, Geraghty and possibly Vaughan and James Kilcullen). We have plenty of options in the forwards but still no clear notion about how we can alter our offensive approach to turn it into one that is capable of causing maximum damage on days that really count.
In this respect, I think it’s now a case of making the best picks from the lads we already have in the forwards and then seeing who might best force their way into the reckoning from a list that includes the likes of Conor O’Shea, Alan Murphy, Cathal Carolan, Evan Regan, Danny Kirby and Darren Coen. It’s in this respect too that you have to wonder where, realistically, Conor Mortimer fits into such formation planning.
Conor had a real chance last summer to break back into the first fifteen and, had he held his counsel in the days before the Sligo match, he would surely have come on at some point in the Connacht final where most likely he’d have done enough to get a starting slot for the quarter-final against Down. But he didn’t and James and his team moved on without him. Seen in this light – and given all the progress made since the days when Conor was a guaranteed first fifteen man – you’d have to conclude that it’s difficult to see why they’d want him back on board now.