Mayo’s marquee men

It’s always good to welcome a new guest contributor to the site and so I’m delighted to introduce OverTheBlackSpot as the latest addition to this growing list. A GAA blogger in his own right, in this piece OverTheBlackSpot tackles the thorny issue of the Mayo forward line.

You may have heard the term ‘Marquee Forward’ a few times during the course of this year’s championship, if not you will do before the summer is out. After a lot of searches that mostly ended with results such as “Open-sided large tent,” I found its academic definition:

*Marquee Player/Forward – (A top-tier athlete and major selling point of a team or league)

In the somewhat amateur environment of the GAA, a Marquee Forward is less to do with selling points and more a prerequisite for All–Ireland Glory.

Ever since the misleadingly gentle sounding ‘Blanket Defence’ came into our lives ten years ago, the search began for the solution. The ‘Target Man’ was the remedy back in 2006 with Kieran Donaghy making it the must have item for every managers full forward line. Having brought it back into fashion it was a case of you can’t get too much of a good thing, so they threw Tommy Walsh into the mix too.

It took Mayo a while to catch on to this one, our version of the twin towers emerged three years later. The august bank holiday should see them reunited again but this time in a more traditional location on the half way line.

The big man on the inside line can and is still a potent weapon in the game, Tomas O’Connor of Kildare an example of the not so potent. But in the last number years it’s been all about the rarest, most mystical creature of them all, the aforementioned nouveau GAA-ism, the ‘Marquee Forward’.

There has always been an onus on high profile forwards to perform. However, with defences dominating over the last decade, All Ireland contenders are now required to have at least two outstanding forwards who can unlock Donegal style, vice-like defences.

The Brogans, Gooch and O’Sullivan2, O’Connor and Goulding, Murphy and McFadden… and em Bolton and O’Flaherty? When Mayo are mentioned as All–Ireland contenders it’s the supposed lack of these players, (the last inclusion was a joke in case you were wondering – half backs don’t count) which is cited as our major stumbling block in reserving our place at the top table.

Comparisons between this year’s team and Horan’s team of the 90’s would not be too far wide of the mark. An assured and attacking defence, a formidable midfield with impressive strength in depth, and a hard working half forward line with some scoring ability. Unfortunately like the 90’s, doubts remain about the makeup of the inside line.

The performances in the League and Connacht Final only added strength to that argument. There has been a loss of form and a lack of cohesion among the forwards, but those with short memories must remember two things;

  1. Andy Moran – 2011 GAA GPA All – Star Team, Full Forward 
  2. Cillian O’ Connor – 2011 GAA GPA All – Star Young Footballer of the Year (Corner Forward)

Last year Mayo had the best full forward and the best young player in the country, two stars operating in their inside line. It may be a slightly basic way of looking at it but Donegal can’t boast those credentials. It’s likely that O’Connor will move back into the corner for the quarter final. It could be a sweet release for him. He looked burdened by the centre forward role and he’s too good to allow the game to pass him by.

Injuries and lack of options may prevent Moran joining him in the full forward line; eventually Mayo will need their two biggest threats nearest goal. The loss of Pat Harte and the doubts over Seamus O’Shea’s fitness leaves Mayo lacking a physical presence in the half forward line. Rumour has it that this will result in Andy Moran moving to centre forward and Alan Freeman returning to the edge of the square, probably at the expense of Varley.

Moran is suffering slightly for his talent and versatility. He would probably prefer to remain at Full Forward but the need is greater at 11 at this stage. Superheroes are all the rage at the moment and if (please insert preferred Mayo town now) is ever threatened by an evil entity, Andy would be the man you’d look for. His performances and the encouragement he gives younger members of the squad seems to have created a real togetherness among this group of players.

Alan Dillon and Kevin McLoughlin will resume on the wings. Dillon was one of the composed  when indecision was endemic against Sligo, while McLoughlin is one of the most underrated footballers in the country. His skill level and work rate is sometimes overlooked in a game where brawn is the new brain.

The issue was raised on this site the other day about forward replacements looking fairly threadbare at the moment. Padraic, another of the Ballintubber O’Connor’s, was required to make up the numbers in an extremely competitive A v B game recently but  fresh call ups seem unlikely.

This means Conroy and either Varley or Doherty will be the only cover for the full forward line. Michéal Forde is the only recognised half forward replacement fit at the moment, with Horan using him as a wing forward in training. Despite being a big fan, it’s doubtful if Horan will give the 19 year old much game time having never played a competitive game for the seniors.

Aidan O’Shea will return in some capacity, but if Horan decides to stick with the Connaught Final midfield, another option rears its head.  O’Shea is no stranger to playing centre forward in Croke Park. If Mayo progress beyond the quarters, players returning from injury will bring further options back into play.

These are the dilemmas Horan has. He was always a forward who performed on the big day. A slight reshuffle of his pack may and an upturn in form is all that’s needed for his players to carry on this most precious of traits.

OverTheBlackSpot blogs at:

12 thoughts on “Mayo’s marquee men

  1. Thank you for that though it is very much in the same vein as earlier posts.

    What is surprising is that you see little versatility as a means of countering the forward problem. Now I am not so sure that we are fine in other areas of the pitch. How for example do we know that Barry Moran and Geraghty will react positively when faced with stronger opposition. It seems to be overlooked that their triumphs were against Sligo and Leitrim. A.o. Se is clearly a class act when fit which from watching him this week he is not. Nor is McGarrity.
    R.Feeney is however and could slot into the half forward line or at half back with Boyle or Keegan moving. This is being tried in training though it is hard to know as positions mean little nowadays. Jason Gibbons is also an option at midfield with Aidan going in to the corner,centre or full. Indeed there is no limit to the changes that can be made and that unpredictability is actually a good thing.
    Marquee forwards …Dillon,A.Moran and C.O.Connor . Also let’s have some faith in the full forward line. From what I have seen two of them in particular are flying.
    I don’t think we should be limited by traditional positions. That is really the genesis of my argument.

  2. I think Tomas O’Connor is a top notch full forward – just because he doesn’t score himself, he’s a great playmaker – if Kildare had more natural scoring forwards (or any natural players for that matter), then he would be lauded as much as Donaghy was in the day.

  3. Ajden O Shea is indeed a fine footballer, and his best position, when fully fit is at mid field. However, I think he would do wounders from centre forward, or better again in at full forward( worth a try as he re gains full fitness and then move him out )..He would win his own ball and would not be intimidated by any full back.He would bring the other forwards into play , and make scores easier to get.
    My team would be, D.Clarke,K.keane,G.Cafferkry, K. Higgins,L.Keegan,D. Vaughan,B.Moran,A O Shea, K.McLoughlin,J.Gibbons, A. Dillon,A, Moran,S. O Shea, C. O Connor.
    All big men and good footballers. Jason Gibbins is well worth a run and why not try him at centre forward, he would greately strghten up our diamond around mid field.

  4. Great piece overtheblackspot. I have a feeling JH will have the forwards well sorted by next weekend, my concern would be midfield against a more formidable opposition.

  5. What about, bringing in Richie Feeny into the half back line & Donie Vaughan at center half foward, Plenty of phyicality there and you could leave Andy Moran in the full foward line. Dont think your losing anything in the defence there & can you imagine anyone stoping Donie’s runs towards goal from 40 meters out instead of 80. Vaughan v Aiden O Mahony would be an interesting duel if it ever were to pass. Also you could put Cillian O Conner in the corner, he’s definatly not the a No 11 but in the absence of Mort I think he must start. Has anyone taught of Coner O Shea as the other corner foward, He’s certainly big enough, two footed & playing very well. I know he’s very young yet, but no younger than Cillian O Conner last yeay & lacks championship experience, just an interesting option. He was’nt a named subistute in the Connaught Final programme so I wonder how high up the pecking order in James Horan & fellow selector’s he is at the moment.

  6. Our obsession with Donegal only matches the obsession with Kildare. Both managed to the zinth degree by young managers that catch the eye of the media. To be fair to Donegal its no mean achievement to back to back titles in Ulster. But is it the Ulster of yore, the Ulster of Armagh and Tyrone in their prime?

    Kildare ad nauseam are seen as something special. One major victory in Leinster v Meath since McGeeney took over and 3/4 years of Division 2 football. Jason Ryan did a better job in the hurling county of Wexford and whoever is weaving magic in Tipp deserves a medal.

    Now where I do envy Donegal and we can forget last years All Stars,( Evan Kelly once won an All Star…correct…Evan who, on the other hand Dave Brady/Peter Burke/Noel Connelly didnt, so I don’t buy into their currency too much) I envy the strength, kicking ability and leadership of Murphy and McFadden. McBrearty is no slouch and a few others are nifty enough.I actually believe had we Murphy on our team we would be serious contenders. A son of a Mayo man he is Donegal through and through.

    Cillian needs to be put back to 13 and the burden of Mayo passion of a need for heroes lifted from his young shoulders. Let him come along like McBrearty or any other young man setting out on a serious inter county career. He may/may not suffer second season album problems this year but let him back to the end line and do his duty.

    I do believe we should have gone for a Cork template of tall forwards, mobile and interchangeable, hence I would have shuffled one of the O Sheas in side along with Geraghty, Gibbons. For cutting edge I would leave Conroy and O Connor in the corners. The other spots could be filled by one from Moran, McLoughlin or Freeman.

    The game has changed, its more athletic, more about shipping hits and if you look at Cork with Walshe at 14 and Murphy on stand by to step in, Dublin with M D McAuley we see the drift is to big wind mills that are fit and rapid movements. We need to be ahead of the curve but I still see us too traditional in line out. Beating Leitrim and Sligo is one thing, beating some of the other hungry animals left in the field is another.

  7. You wouldnt bother with Dillon no?big men for the sake of it.surprised at you john

  8. Digits, not so sure about the comparisons between O’Connor and Donaghy. If he does what Donaghy did to Francie Bellew in 2006 against Sligo tonight I’ll gladly eat my words. Here’s hoping he doesn’t, would love to see Sligo make Croke Park.

    I agree fairplaytomayo that unpredictability in selection is a good thing but there’s also a strong case for continuity. Keegan and Boyle have been two of our best players this year and they got us out of a hole against Sligo in the last 10 minutes; at this stage they are there on merit. Feeney is a serious option though and if introduced maybe more so at wing forward with our lack of cover there.

    John Cuffe raises a very interesting point about the propensity in the game led by Cork, for mobile interchangeable athletes with the build of middleweight boxers. This is the way the game has gone. In Mayo we have been raised on the belief that we play nice football quick football with small light forwards. Horan has changed this attitude and there have been improvements in Mayo’s physical size this year. But at this stage I don’t think we have the personal to play the Cork way to the level they do.

    If Aidan O’Shea starts at centre forward the next day he is a windmill that can rival McAuley or Walshe. This would free up Moran and Freeman to add their bulk to the inside line alongside a hopefully rejuvenated Cillian. If Geraghty/Gibbons and Moran are struggling in the middle O’Shea can be drafted back in there. Our wing forwards are small but a playing a big man in the forwards who hasn’t much football in him is not the answer. The U 21 team this year was proof of that.

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