I remember Donald Rumsfeld talking once about what we know. To paraphrase, he said that there are things that we are aware we know (Known knowns), things we know we don’t know (Known unknowns) and things that we don’t know we don’t know (Unknown unknowns). I was thinking of how this might be relevant to the Mayo GAA Senior football panel as we approach the first League game on Saturday next.
Let us start with the Known knowns
There has been three games this month that paying punters have seen, either on TV or live. I was lucky enough to be in the Dome for the middle game and I saw the other two on TV. All three had experimental line-ups but with a fair smathering of experienced players making an appearance.
There have also been a few challenge matches but the reports from these have been sparse at best. We have a good deal of certainty on who has left the panel and therefore are not available to the county. We also know that many of the experienced players are back in action.
We know that serious operators like Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus, Matthew Ruane, Jordan Flynn, the O’Connor brothers, Aidan O’Shea, Eoghan McLaughlin and Ryan O’Donoghue are all fit and ready. We are sort of assuming that Robbie Hennelly is also in this category.
Lads that have been knocking on the door of a first fifteen place for a couple of years, such as Enda Hession, Rory Brickenden, Fionn McDonagh, Bryan Walsh, Aidan Orme and James Carr are all showing well.
Jack Carney is also ready for the step up and he is also leading a group of developing players who made the breakthrough into the panel in the last year or so. This group also includes Rory Byrne, Donnacha McHugh, Sam Callinan, David McBrien.
Add to these lads like Conor McStay, Jack Coyne, Paul Towey and a great collection of new talent and we can see how getting into the first 26, rather than the first 15, is going to be quite an achievement.
We know that we have four League games in Castlebar, one in Roscommon, one in Armagh and one in Ballybofey. We know that the management want to get safe in Division One as soon as possible and would probably continue to experiment after that with upcoming talent, as we know that we have a rough route to a Connacht title this year.
The Known unknowns
While we are aware that Padraig O’Hora is injured and will be back a few games into the League, we don’t know the precise prognosis for Brendan Harrison. We have not yet seen Paddy Durcan or Tommy Conroy. We seem to be assuming that Paddy is in the frame for Saturday, but is he? We are also assuming that Tommy is not far off full steam but we don’t know for sure.
We know that Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty have both committed to giving another year to the cause, but we have no idea as to where their form is.
How is Michael Plunkett going at present? Is Darren McHale making waves? Will Stephen Coen the captain for the full year or just the pre-season?
What will Conor Loftus’ actual role be this year? A holding centre-back or a raider bursting from behind midfield? If it’s the latter, who will mind the house when he breaks forward? In relation to squad management, we don’t know how the U20 competition will be approached this year in terms of releasing potentially senior players to that panel.
The Unknown unknowns
This is crystal ball stuff. The only things I can put into this category is how mad would the county go if we won the bloody thing and what the chances are that my liver would survive the celebrations! Consequently, I think we have enough to concern ourselves right now in considering what we do know and in hoping that unknowns will be resolved in the near future.
On the positive side, Stephen Coen is playing some good football so far, let’s hope that trajectory keeps rising. Conor Loftus has bulked up and has serious pace. Jordan Flynn looks like he will be even better this year.
The newbies are impressive. I was particularly impressed by Colm Reape, Jack Coyne and Fenton Kelly.
Having Donie Buckley back is adding a bite to the defence. There is a bit more structure to the forwards in that we are using two fast wing half forwards to get the ball in faster. In the past, the half forward line seemed to be a place where we tried to fit in those who were not picked at midfield or in the front line. The half forward line is now shaping up in its own right. Also, the ball is being kicked more rather than hand passed – particularly the 30-yard passes.
All in all, there seems to be a more noticeable sense of purpose, but as we set out again on the annual quest, we have no idea where it will bring us. We will know more as each week progresses. But looking at the interest in the games so far, I am hopeful that a good run early in the League could bring back the big crowds. There is nothing to beat the excitement of a good Mayo performance with a big Mayo crowd.
And of course, there is always that great unknown – could this, finally be the year?
Only time will tell.
Keep the Faith!