The curious case of Billy Joe Padden

bjpaddenBilly Joe was well pissed off, by all accounts, at the premature end to his involvement in last Saturday’s match against Donegal and while it’s difficult to argue against the correctness of that particular decision – given that his direct replacement, Pat Harte, was instrumental in hauling the team back from the nine points in arrears that they’d found themselves in when the substitution occurred – it was, I felt, yet another example of Billy Joe getting the kind of treatment that may broadly be termed as the shitty end of the stick.

Billy Joe made his first few appearances for the county in the spring league campaign eight years ago, when he was twice brought on as a sub.  It wasn’t, however, until the first match of the 2004 NFL campaign that he made his debut in the starting fifteen, with John Maughan throwing him in at centre half-forward against Fermanagh up in Enniskillen.  He scored a point that day as Mayo claimed a narrow victory against a team they were fated to become far better acquainted with as the year wore on.  BJ held his place on the forty for all of that league campaign (bar the match against Kerry, where he played at wing forward) but, with Mac’s return for the championship, he had to be content with a place on the bench all summer, all the way up to and including that crushing All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry.

The following year, he turned out at midfield for the league before John Maughan handed him his first reinvention and it was here, at full-forward, that he made his championship debut for the county in the Connacht semi-final against Roscommon in June of 2005.  He retained his place on the edge of the square for the rest of that campaign but when the John Maughan II era gave way to the M&M Show the following year, he was mainly deployed at wing forward.  He held the no.10 jersey from the Connacht semi-final against Leitrim right up to and including the All-Ireland final, where he had the distinction of being the only Mayo player to score a point from play on that Ultimate Day to Forget for the county.

It was with the start of Johnno’s Second Coming, however, that BJ’s wanderings really took off in earnest.  First, for the 2007 league campaign, he had a reasonably okay time in the pivotal centre-back role but was then named at full-back for the championship clash with Galway in May that year.  In the event, he didn’t play there (in truth, it was very difficult to figure out who the hell was playing where that day) and instead spent most of the time at wing back.  Come the qualifiers and he was back at wing forward again but by the spring of last year he had moved to full-back, an experiment that got cut short when he suffered an ankle injury in the third match of that campaign, down in O’Moore Park against Laois.  He was out injured for a long while last year and so his two Connacht championship appearances were only as a sub and both times he came on, this supposed full-back ended up replacing the incumbent full-forward, Austin O’Malley.  Then, just in case he was getting settled or anything, it was back to wing forward again for the qualifiers.  Bringing matters right up to date, it’s there that he’s lined out twice for us in the league this year.

In all, BJ has played in eight outfield positions for the county but while he has lined out in every central position from full-back all the way to full-forward, his natural position – from what I can see, anyway – is where he’s currently deployed, in the half-forwards.  So, after all these years of wandering, it does seem to be the case that Johnno wants to play the Belmullet man there but the issue then becomes one of what role he is tasked with.  This cannot, of course, be viewed in isolation and it becomes instead a discussion on how we organise our efforts in the middle third of the field.

As I see it, his current role – or maybe it’s just the job he ends up having to do – is that of firefighter: lending support in grabbing all that messy ball around midfield and, in particular, minding the shop behind midfield when the half-backs go off on their rambles.  He doesn’t seem to end up all that often doing what you’d expect to see a half-forward doing, like getting the ball in opposition territory with the object of doing damage with it.  I don’t think this is necessarily his fault; instead, so much of his time is spent on extra-curricular duties further back that he’s missing from where he could be employed best.

I could be wrong but I’d say this was one of the main reasons why he was so pissed off at being hauled ashore the last day.  From what I can gather (I wasn’t at the game but this theory fits with what I saw myself at the Derry game), all three members of the half-back line took the view that their main job was to attack and this resulted in too much space being afforded to Donegal in this area.  Time after time, Vaughan, Cunniffe and Gardiner were caught out of position and this inability to stick to the knitting allowed Donegal to open us up at will in that first half.  It also forced BJ, honest team player that he is, deep in an attempt to stem the tide and, in doing so, meant that he hadn’t the same latitude to help out further forward.  Midfield was labouring at times too so a dig-out wasn’t going to be turned down there either.

The way in which our half-back line, in general, and Peadar Gardiner, in particular, put too much effort in supporting the attack and not enough on minding the shop is something that has been bugging many Mayo supporters for a good while (especially those of us who think back to famous half-back lines of old, such as the one comprising Noone, Flanagan and Finn).  Sure, it’s good for the soul to see the half-backs get forward and join in the scoring but it can’t – as it so often seems to be the case with us nowadays – be at the expense of core defensive duties.

When Peadar defends – as he did to such marvellous effect against Tyrone last year, when he totally nullified the threat of Brian Dooher – he’s as good as anyone but he needs to bear in mind that this is his primary job.  There are eight men further up the field from him to do the scoring and, with Barry Moran in the side and Mort and the others feeding off him, there’s now a good chance that the attack will have much more potency than it’s had of late.

A half-back line that sticks more to defending (and a settled midfield that can hold its own with whatever the opposition boasts in this area) would also free up BJ to make a more positive contribution to the cause offensively.  BJ is as honest as the day is long and every time he plays for us, he works his nuts off.  We should channel that energy better by ensuring that, instead of having to help out all the time to win that messy ball in the middle, he gets quality ball further upfield.  When he gets good ball, he doesn’t have to be told twice what to so with it either, as he demonstrated in last year’s match against Tyrone at Croke Park:

It’s obvious that Billy Joe will never be the talismanic figure to Mayo supporters that his father so clearly was a generation ago.  But that doesn’t in any way lessen his importance to us as we seek to build a team that can challenge the best in the country once again.  Think back once more to that awful day in September 2006 and recall that BJ was, despite getting subbed then as well, one of the few Mayo players to emerge from that debacle with his reputation intact.  It’s a reputation that could well be significantly enhanced if, five years after his full Mayo debut, we were at last to begin using his understated talents to the full.

10 thoughts on “The curious case of Billy Joe Padden

  1. A thoughful and badly needed essay on the mis/use of Billy Joe. Like you said Willie he had a legend to follow, however , he has done well to seperate his dads career from his own. Part of this has been thanks to the Mayo supporters who are intelligent enough to know the difference and allow the lad develop his own style. You have covered his various substitutions and lineout positions. Back in the 1999 All-Ireland minor final team so brilliantly managed by JP Kean, Billy Joe was a centre forward. Gill and Gavin Duffy broke ball into him and Billy Joe ran at the various defences with brilliant results. He has fast hands, takes responsibility and can win his own ball. He is not a defender, although he is as good as most we currently have. My one fear is that his confidence will be eroded. Leave him at centre forward and he will do the bread and butter stuff. Thats whats needed now.
    Some time you might look back on JPs career. Railway cup winner, All-Ireland minor and U21 winner, All-Ireland club winner with McGees UCD. Managed Mayo minors to 5 Connacht titles 1996-2001 plus two All-Ireland final appearences. Since then we won 1 Connacht title. What a waste of managerial potential. Its not just players we squander. The likes of Kean should be plotting our future at county board level or some other such forum.

  2. Well said WJ, excellent stuff.
    It’s something that has bothered me for quite a while, although maybe it’s because I’m from Belmullet that I take such an interest in the player.
    I personally don’t think there’s any doubt that his best position is in the half forward line. Ontheroad makes some very good points about his case for CF, particularly as we don’t seem to have that position nailed down yet.
    Trevor Mortimer seemed to struggle at CF for large parts of the Donegal game, so a swap with BJ should of been tried. They’re both adaptable players, but I feel we don’t always utilise them correctly. Trevor’s pace as a wing forward could bring us some joy.
    The experiment with BJ in the backs should stop. For county (as with club) he should stay in the half forward line. Get BJ in a scoring position and you’ll find he’s one of the most accurate kickers we have.

  3. I agree with most of what is said there WJ. His best position is in the half-forward. He is honest and tough and has the ability to kick the odd point from play. I was at the ’06 final and he roasted Tomás O Sé in the first half and was our only decent source of possession. It was only when Jack O Conor brought on Tommy Griffin to deal with him that Kerry got to grips with BJ. If everyone else had preformed as well as him that day we would have won.
    Haven’t said that at the moment in my mind we have 4 contenders for 3 half-forward positions; Dillon, Harte, Trev and BJ. Now most people would have Dillon everytime which leaves 2 positions for 3 of our most whole hearted players. Someone is going to lose out and at the moment it looks like BJ

  4. Excellent piece WJ, I really do feel for Billy Joe he seem’s to suffer from the corner forward syndrome of when things aren’t going right there the first to be hauled off even if they’re doing all they can. Everyone knows that Billy will never be the iconic figure that his father was, but what he is an honest to god, give it all footballer which is somthing every kid who kicks a ball should aim to be and learn from. I do think that the centre forward line is where he operates best as a midfield mopper and a starting point for attacks.

  5. BJP is some man to run with the ball….he´s strong AND skillful, a good passer of the ball and good enough with both feet…. could be his most telling contribution would be a role which allows him to run with the ball drawing frees and yellow cards.
    Think his versality comes against him as per the article above… and also he never has made any position truly his own… he has never taken the game by the scruff of the neck… whether he has been left in any position long enough to make it his own is a debate.

  6. An excellent piece as always WJ….

    You gotta give a major thumbs up to Billy Joe…Jaysus he never gives less than 110%……

    I was at the launch of Club Mayo-Dublin last Feb and he spoke at it as a representative of the players……To be honest he speaks better than any politician that is currently spouting shite in Dáil Eireann at the moment!!

    In terms of his football, I personally think the half back line is his best position..He is perfect for the graft that is needed around here….

  7. Billie’s gone to play in Armagh now, wonder if we’ll see him wearing an orange jersey?

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