The Pat Holmes/Noel Connelly/Micheal Collins management team that have guided the county’s fortunes at U21 level for the past four seasons have decided to call it a day (Mayo News story here). In their first year in charge of the U21s back in 2006, the HCC team delivered an extremely welcome All-Ireland title when their charges beat Cork down in Ennis in that year’s final, a win remains the only positive blip in our long-running All-Ireland final losing streak.
In the three years since then, the lads have claimed another three Connacht titles for the county at this level but on each occasion we’ve come a cropper at the All-Ireland semi-final stage (to Laois in 2007, to Kerry in 2008 and to Down this year). As a result, the HCC team are open to the accusation that they failed to build on that 2006 success and that the county has to some degree punched below its weight outside the province at U21 level over the past three years. I’m not sure that such a charge would, however, be justified: four Connacht titles in four years (in a province that’s arguably far more competitive than it is at senior level) and an All-Ireland crown is, by any standards, a good record for any Mayo management team. As a result, the lads deserve our unqualified thanks for all they’ve achieved for the county at U21 level during their time on the sideline and our best wishes for the future.
Speaking of the future, we now need to find ourselves a new manager for the U21s. For my money, there is only one name that should be considered in this context and that is obviously Ray Dempsey. Ray has performed wonders at minor level in recent years and it could be argued that he’s now done his bit for the county in that position. Moving up to U21 for next year would provide Ray with a new challenge, as well as constituting a smart bit of succession planning for the senior job. It would also give Ray the opportunity of working again with the lads who came so agonisingly close to claiming All-Ireland honours for him in the last two years at minor level and it would be interesting to see how Ray might go about blending the best bits of both of those minors teams in order to ensure maximum impact at U21 level next year. If there is (and I think there could be) an All-Ireland in next year’s U21s, then Ray is surely the best man to lead us to it.