Saturday, March 31, 2007
This time the previews favour us (for what it's worth - they went for Cork last weekend), with Setanta, RTE and the Irish Times all plumping for us. Paddy Power even joins in the chorus, making us 8/13 for the win. Hmmm.
There's a good article on tomorrow's match, also in the Irish Times (also premium content, I'm afraid), by the excellent Keith Duggan (a far better sportswriter than the vastly-overrated Tom Humphries, who is not at all excellent), who has been talking with both Johnno and Pillar. Duggan makes the interesting (and fairly valid) observation that Dublin and Mayo are, for different reasons, the two most scrutinised and talked-about counties in the Gaelic football world. Given this, it's not surprising that neither manager is giving too much away about tomorrow's hostilities, which Duggan describes - with some merit - as a rare kind of league game, which will have a once-off championship feel to it.
It'll be tough enough to get a result tomorrow, unless the backs perform far better than they've done of late. While individually competent, as a unit the backs seem to have some kind of glass chin and the Dubs are the boys to exploit such weaknesses. If we lose, it'll be because we've conceded at least three stupid goals (not an impossibility: we conceded four such goals against them in Parnell Park this time last year). However, the Dubs don't like it when the going gets tough - as they showed against Tyrone under the lights at Croker back in February - and if we come at them hard with our running game, we can expect them to buckle. With the large home support (though the Dubs will bring a fair few too), it should be our day.
Also, let's not forget the U21s who take on Galway in the Connacht semi-final later this afternoon in Pearse Stadium. Any meeting between Mayo and Galway is going to be competitive and the fact that our Connacht and All-Ireland crowns are on the line will add some piquancy to the occasion. Another tough one but, hopefully, another win to celebrate.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Elsewhere, Johnno was on the radio last night - wearing his politician's chapeau - on a Vincent Browne special from Breaffy. Most of the Mayo candidates were also on the programme, which was broadcast live from Breaffy in front of an invited audience, but Johnno struggled to make his presence felt in a midfield crowded out by such noted blabbermouths as Beverley Flynn and Michael Ring. Even Browne himself, who it must be said is a reprehensible toad at the best of times, was civil to The Great One, instead using him to make a few sly digs at Ring. The whole show was local politics at its very worst and it makes you wonder what on earth Johnno is doing in such ghastly company. More to the point, what impact will a General Election in May have on our chances against Galway on the 20th? Priorities, Johnno, priorities!
Thursday, March 29, 2007
MAYO (SF v Dublin) - K O'Malley; L O'Malley, J Kilcullen, K Higgins; E Devenney, B J Padden, P Gardiner; D Heaney, P Harte; A Campbell, G Brady, A Kilcoyne; C Mortimer, A Dillon, A Moran.
Johnno has made just one positional switch, with Ger Brady moving back to the centre-forward position that he held for much of last year under the M&M regime, while Killer moves across to left-half forward. Otherwise, it's the same team that started against Cork last Saturday.
Aidan Campbell and Alan Dillon have both been named in the starting lineup but, according to today's Indo, both have still to undergo fitness tests before Sunday to determine if they're in a position to line out. Team captain Kevin O'Neill drops down to the bench but he's certain to get called into the action at some point, quite possibly from the start, if either Campbell or Dillon fail to recover.
No word on the subs, in particular the two Macs. Given his second half display against Cork, it would be great to have have Marty Mac to throw into the fray at some point but, as mentioned yesterday, he appears extremely doubtful due to the foot injury he picked up playing for Breaffy on Sunday. Given his wonder point to slay the Dubs last year (go on, treat yourself to another look!), it would obviously be nice to see Ciaran Mac make a cameo appearance on Sunday as well.
Johnno is obviously developing rapidly as a politician as well. He's quoted, in the same article in the Indo, as saying that they decided to prior to the Cork game not to blame a defeat on the injury list. "It'll be the same if things don't go to plan for us against Dublin" opines the Great One. So now we know: the injuries could, so he says, be a factor in any defeat, but you're not, if we do lose, going to hear us whingeing about them. Now, does that man deserve a vote or what?
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
This catalogue of the walking wounded contrasts sharply with the situation in the Dublin camp, where Pillar has, unsurprisingly, named an unchanged team for Sunday's crunch match. This means that both Ciaran Whelan and Alan Brogan have to be content with places on the bench at McHale Park.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
It should first be confirmed that any further points gained in our final two matches, against the Dubs and Tyrone, will take us over the line. Even a draw and a defeat would do. This puts us in the happy position of having our fate in our own hands.
Because the four counties - ourselves, Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone - chasing the three Division 1 paces on offer (Donegal have already secured their Division 1 berth for next year) play each other over the two remaining rounds (next Sunday, it's us v the Dubs and Kerry v Tyrone, the following Sunday it's Tyrone v us and Dublin v Kerry), the final placings will be directly impacted by how these clashes turn out. Things are complicated further by what's happening as regards points difference - a crucial factor, as it will determine final placings if two or more counties end up with the same number of league points.
Currently, we're second on 8 points (with a +9 points difference), Dublin are third on 6 points (+22), Kerry are fourth, also with 6 points (+5) and Tyrone are 5th, with 6 points too (-5). The immediate point that leaps out here is the enormously positive points difference enjoyed by the Dubs, arising from the hidings they gave to Cork and Fermanagh in their last two outings. This means that any county finishing level on league points with the Dubs is certain to finish behind them on points difference.
Okay, so what's likely to happen?
Let's, for starters, assume that we lose to the Dubs and Kerry beat Tyrone next Sunday. We'd then be level with Dublin and Kerry on 8 points, with an inferior points difference to the former but our relative position to the latter dependent on how badly we fared and how well they did in our respective outings. Continuing this example, if Kerry then beat Dublin in the final round, they claim the second playoff place with the Dubs finishing third, providing we lose to Tyrone (if we beat Tyrone, we'd finish third). However, even if we do lose to Tyrone (as well as the Dubs), we're still likely to beat them to fourth place, unless they hammer us, as our points difference is significantly better than theirs.
Now, let's assume that Tyrone beat Kerry while we're losing to the Dubs, with Tyrone beating us in the final round as well. Our fate then hangs on the outcome of the Kerry/Dublin clash. If the Dubs win that one, we're safe in fourth place, with Kerry losing out (hurrah!). However, if Kerry win, we end up level on league points with them but, unlike the earlier example with Tyrone, this time we'd be the ones likely to lose out on points difference and so finish fifth. This means that there is still a possibility that we could find ourselves in fifth place when the music stops on 8th April and it's the reason why Johnno is incorrect to be claiming that we're home and hosed as regards our Division 1 status for next year.
Monday, March 26, 2007
My thanks again to the excellent Leitrim GAA website for providing this result, the only place where I could find any mention of it, either on the web or in the papers. You have to admire the way that Leitrim GAA provide details of matches such as this week after week, despite the fact that, so often, the results don't go their way. The official Mayo GAA website is, by comparison, a bloody joke. It's poorly laid-out and never contains any timely information. Leave it to the Western, lads!
So, a full weekend of football lies ahead for the county. An U21 clash with the Old Enemy on Saturday and what promises to be a real humdinger of an NFL match with the Dubs on Sunday. And the clocks have gone forward: Summer football is drawing ever nearer.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Early on, it looked as if Cork were going to do to us what Kerry did in last year's All-Ireland. Using their early midfield dominance, they rained ball into their 6'7'' full-forward, Michael Cussen, and a glut of scores ensued. Cussen himself fisted a free from Masters into the net after ten minutes and later he broke another incoming ball into the path of corner-forward Kevin O'Sullivan who hit home Cork's second goal. We were 2-5 to 0-5 down at half-time and a chastening defeat appeared to be on the cards. However, as Eugene McGee noted in his half-time analysis on Setanta, Mayo's backline wasn't actually playing all that badly but Cussen was clearly proving a handful. With Kilcullen having been booked early in the game, he was obviously somewhat compromised in terms of grappling with the Cork full-forward. Losing a man in such a situation would almost certainly have resulted in a pasting for us.
What needed fixing in the second half was midfield, as that was where all our problems were starting from. We were never going to win ball in the air against Kavanagh and Murphy so the obvious Plan B was to start breaking it, crowd the sector out and try to snaffle up the loose ball. The tactic worked against Fermanagh last time out and soon it became apparent that it could work here as well. With more ball coming into them, Mayo were soon attacking with intent (shades now of the Dublin game last year rather than the final) and Conor Mortimor finished a fine move - involving David Heaney, Kevin O'Neill and the overlapping Peadar Gardiner - with the goal we so badly needed. This meant that, with only six minutes gone in the second half, we were back on level terms.
It still looked like we might fail narrowly to get anything out of the game, with Masters - who ended the night with six points - a constant threat. However, Cork never managed to get more than two points ahead of us after Conor's goal and Masters' final score twenty minutes from the end - which restored their two-point cushion - was also the last one of the night for the home side. It wasn't enough for a win, however, as points from Andy Moran, Marty Mc and Killer instead sealed victory for our lads.
This was a cracking result, one that will do wonders for the team's morale. Despite shipping those two early goals and battling to stay in it in the first half, they recovered superbly to dig out the win. While we were obviously caught on the hop in the first half by the threat poased by Cussen (though, in true Eurovision fashion, we should expect that every county will this year try to ape Kerry's successful tactic last year of deploying a big man in the square), Johnno's second half tactics were spot on. Once the supply to Cussen was choked off, we had a chance but we still needed scores ourselves to get back into it. Conor, once again, showed his worth to the team, with his 1-4 contribution earning him a second-successive MOTM accolade, but it was good too to see the scoring duties being shared around, with two points each from Killer and Marty Mc and a point each coming from David Heaney, Pat Harte, Andy Moran and KoN.
The win makes Division 1 football next year more likely, but we're not there yet. We're currently second in the table, on 8 points, and will remain there until next weekend's matches providing Donegal beat Kerry this afternoon. If Kerry win (and I think the cute hoors just might do so), we'll be level at the top on 8 points with both of them, though (unless Kerry paste them, which I don't think they will) with an inferior points difference, we'd drop to third in the table.
The Dubs are two points behind us but they annihilated hapless Fermanagh last night and so have a massively superior points difference to us (we're +9 but they're +22). If Tyrone beat Limerick today - which surely they will - they'll be level with the Dubs on points, but behind on points difference. Our two final matches are against the Dubs (next weekend) and Tyrone (the weekend after) so we can't afford to be complacent as both could yet overhaul us.
However, after last night's win, the aim now should be a top two finish in order to reach the play-offs. To keep on track for this, we need to beat the Dubs in Castlebar next weekend. They're showing good league form too and they also have a score to settle with us, but, having got into the habit of kicking their asses last year, we'll be looking to give them second helpings in McHale Park this day week.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
It has all the indications that we could be in for a tough evening. If Cork tear into us the way Fermanagh did and hit us with a few early scores, we could be in real bother. We’re weak at midfield – although David Heaney should do better there than James Nallen did the last day – and so if Cork win lots of ball - which they should with their pairing of Murphy and Kavanagh - and move it quickly inside, they could punish us fairly hard. If midfield becomes the problem I think it might, then the temptation will be to handpass our way from one end of the pitch to the other, which, as the Clones match showed (and common sense would suggest), is not a sensible tactic for a game played in March. At least the weather should be okay tonight compared to Clones and the pitch cannot be as bad as St Tiernach's Park was but a short-passing game would, I fear, still be a route to nowhere for us.
On a limited supply of ball, economy of effort is likely to be very important tonight. We kicked a fair few wides in the first half in Clones but were far tighter in the second half, picking off scores with isolated attacks while Fermanagh were wasting plenty of chances at the other end. I wouldn’t expect Cork to be as wasteful as Fermanagh were (they haven’t that great widester Tom Brewer playing for them, for starters, and they do have James Masters) which means that our lads will have to make even better use of whatever ball they get. This is, I know, a tall order.
It’s an important match for the two Aidans – Campbell and Kilcoyne – who both experienced victory over Cork in last year’s U21 All-Ireland final. We’ll need a few scores from both lads if we’re going to have any hope of taking something from the game. Alan Dillon and Ger Brady will have to put in improved performances and, needless to say, we’ll need all the points that Conor is able to poach. Andy Moran will also need to put in yet another tireless 70 minutes, most likely further out the field than where he's been named in the starting lineup. Johnno still has to figure out what formation works best for the players he has – a two-man full-forward line comprising Conor and Alan Dillon doesn’t rock my boat, I have to admit, especially if high ball is being sent into them.
The sideline will be enormously important tonight as well, especially before the lads take the field. Johnno needs to get it into the players’ heads that any notion that Cork have a greater need of the points is just rubbish. If we want to make the playoffs – a reasonable target to aim at, I would have thought – then we need to win not only tonight’s match but next Sunday’s home clash with the Dubs as well. So, any thoughts that this is a “must win” for Cork but merely a “nice to win” for us - a suggestion made by a contributor to Mayofans.com the other day - have to be nipped in the bud. Johnno could do worse than take a leaf from the book of that celebrated Corkonian, Roy Keane, who this week questioned the motivation and will to win of the Irish soccer team in fairly trenchant terms. I hope Roy isn’t using the weekend off to psyche up his county’s Gaelic football team!
Finally, a reminder that the match is live on TV on Setanta Ireland tonight, for all those in the land of cable (in particular, that of NTL) and for those who subscribe to the channel on Sky. Radio commentary is, of course, also available on MWR.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Once upon a time, none of us knew that we had such things as metatarsals in our bone structure. But then along came David Beckham and broke the second metatarsal in his left foot in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup finals. Cue daily medical updates and a general media frenzy. The humble metatarsal hasn't looked back since. When Wayne Rooney followed suit (fourth metatarsal, right foot) shortly before last year's World Cup finals, another media scrum ensued.
Trevor's injury won't generate the same kind of media interest but, thanks to Becks and Shrek, we know a fair bit about how long he's likely to be out. Medical reports suggest a 4-8 weeks recovery period but it can often be longer (Arsenal's Robin van Persie broke one at the end of January and there's no sign of him returning to action two months on) so it could be of the order of 10-12 weeks. That would mean that, assuming we make it there, the earliest we could reasonably expect him back would be for the Connacht final on 8th July. There appears to be little chance that he'll be back in time for the clash with Galway on 20th May.
It's tough luck on Mort, who has had a rough enough time over the past two seasons what with injuries and suspensions. His performances so far this year, notably against Fermanagh a few weeks back, gave room for hope that he was recapturing the form he showed in 2004. Now this.
With David Brady and Kevin O'Neill still out, Ciaran Mac hampered with a recurring back problem and the unfortunate Ronan McGarritty's future prospects up in the air, we're having little luck as regards injuries. To make matters worse, all five are experienced campaigners and so we'll definitely miss their input in the coming weeks. We could certainly do with them down in Cork tomorrow night.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
K O'Malley; L O'Malley, J Kilcullen, K Higgins; E Devenney, BJ Padden, P Gardiner; P Harte, D Heaney; A Campbell, A Kilcoyne, G Brady; C Mortimer, A Dillon, A Moran
There are only two changes from the Fermanagh game, one of which is enforced. As expected, James Nallen doesn’t hold his place in midfield with, predictably enough, David Heaney coming in to partner Pat Harte. The injury Trevor Mortimor sustained against the U21s last weekend was obviously serious enough to keep him out of action and, with Kevin O’Neill still out as well, Johnno has given a first league start to Aidan Kilcoyne, at centre-forward. The rest of the team is the same as that which started up in Clones the last day.
The backline is now starting to look settled, though how settled they look under the lights on Saturday night is a different question. While Heaney will bring a more combative approach to midfield, we’re likely to struggle - given Nicholas Murphy’s presence - to win primary ball there. This should mean plenty of ball coming into our backs and it will be a good test for them to see how they cope with that. The wobble the last day has me slightly worried – we wobbled against Kerry last September too and found ourselves comprehensively filleted inside ten minutes. Saturday night will be a big test for all the backs but how Keith Higgins handles James Masters is likely to be of particular interest.
I think we’ll miss Trevor Mort in the forwards. He had a good match there the last day and while he does favour keeping it in the family in terms of how he distributes ball, Conor did nothing wrong with the ball he got, scoring four fabulous points from play on that glue pot of a pitch. Conor seems to play better when the big brother is around and we’ll need a good performance from him if we’re to get anything out of this game so it would have been good to have both Mortimors in the starting fifteen. That said, I’m delighted to see Killer get a starting berth and I’d like it even better to see him put in the kind of performance that would ensure he retains his place for the Dubs the following weekend. Think last year’s U21 final against Cork, Killer! Think 1-6! Kill! Kill!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
The report also quotes Cork selector John Corcoran who says they remain confident of escaping the drop to Division 3 for next year. After playing us, they have Fermanagh (away) and Limerick (at home) in their final two outings so they could conceivably finish on 8 points. Corcoran claims this could be enough to claim a play-off place but I don't think he's got the maths right there: I think ten points will be needed to have any hopes of a top two finish. It would, however, be enough for them to retain their Division 1 status and so, no more than ourselves, they'll have every incentive to battle hard to secure the two league points on offer.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Johnno also had kind words to say about the defence which, after that opening wobble, performed very well. Johnno appears to be building the side from the back and it looks as if he's now got the backline he wants. I'd say that the back six that took the field in Clones will all be there when we face Galway in May, unless one of them gets injured or is taken severely to the cleaners in the interim. Needless to say, the same can't be said (for various reasons) of midfield or the forwards but, by the end of the league campaign, we'll have a good idea as to what the team for Galway will be.
In terms of injuries, Johnno says that Kevin O'Neill could be back for the Cork game but that David Brady is unlikely to make it. Pity - this is the kind of game where we could really do with DB's combative presence but it will be good to have KoN back on board. I wonder will this mean giving him another run at centre-forward? In which case, what happens to the younger Brady? Finally, Johnno confirms that Ciaran McDonald is on the way back, but not just yet. He won't be back "for the next game or two" according to The Boss but this leaves open the possibility that he might be back in time for the Tyrone match, where our possible participation in the play-offs could well be decided. It would have been nice to have him back to the face the Dubs: bet they would have loved to have seen him too. Maybe he could have, just for them, reprised his winning point into the Hill, only this time into the Bacon Factory End.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
We're likely to have a similar start to the U21 campaign as we have at Senior level. Galway must first dispense with Leitrim at home on Paddy's Day but, assuming they do, we play them away on 31st March. There's no word yet about where this will be or what time the throw-in is but, no doubt, all will be revealed nearer the date. Sligo are at home to the Rossies in the other semi-final on the same day.
A new dedicated website for the U21 championship was launched yesterday by the tournament sponsor, Cadbury, and this provides plenty of information on fixtures/results etc. There doesn't appear to be any date fixed yet for the Connacht final but the All-Ireland semi-final (where the Connacht champions play their Munster counterparts) is set for 21st April, with the final on Friday (why dah?) 4th May.
With no back-door, this could be a short campaign but it would provide the perfect lead-in to the Senior championship if the lads could repeat the heroics of last year.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Saturday, March 10, 2007
K O’Malley; L O’Malley, J Kilcullen, K Higgins; E Devenney, BJ Padden, P Gardiner; P Harte, J Nallen; A Campbell, T Mortimer, G Brady; C Mortimer, A Dillon, A Moran.
It would appear that Liam O'Malley, Enda Devenney and Aidan Campbell have recovered from their respective ailments and, thanks to this, changes have been kept to a minimum. The entire backline is unchanged from the Limerick game, James Nallen and Pat Harte come in for DB and Ronan at midfield, with Conor Mort filling KoN's place by returning to the full-forward line and Aidan Campbell making the consequent shift to the half-forwards.
Two talking points, I guess. First, why Nallen rather than Heaney at midfield? Does this, as a contributor to Mayofans.com suggested yesterday, mean that Heaney's days in a Mayo jersey are over? It's beginning to look as if this could be the case, though apparently he's doing exams at the minute and so he might have been excused for the trip. Second, what's the story with the forward line? Alan Dillon at full-forward again? Tomorrow, where he'll be up against Barry Owens, an All-Star full-back, should tell us all we need to know about that particular experiment.
The previews, predictably, all go our way. RTE, the Indo, the Irish Times and Gaa.ie all expect us to win. So do I and, for the first time this year, I'm actually going to see them play. The forecast for tomorrow is bad (rain, rain and more rain), it'll involve a 180-mile round trip but that's what being a supporter is all about, isn't it?
Thursday, March 08, 2007
So, if we assume all the doubtfuls are definite absentees, we'll need a corner back (Dermot Geraghty?), a half-back (Aidan Higgins?), two midfielders (Pat Harte and David Heaney?), a half-forward (Killer? Alan Dillon to switch back out from full-forward?) and a corner forward (got to be Conor Mort, hasn't it?). Well, at least there are plenty of back-up options and it will give more players the opportunity to shine. However, in the same Mayo News article, Johnno laid it firmly on the line when talking about new players coming in, when he stated "there’s no hiding place now. When people are given an opportunity they have to perform".
He ain't wrong there. Like the Limerick game and, in view of the upcoming clashes with Cork, Dublin and Tyrone, this is a must-win game if we're to retain our Division 1 status next season. I'd say Johnno was well hacked off with the flat performance against Limerick and he'll be looking for a significantly improved outing the next day.
No news yet on the team but that's normal. It'll probably be in the papers tomorrow but, given all the injuries, we mightn't see it till Saturday.
In other news, Kevin McStay has an interesting article in the Mayo News about Johnno's first hundred days. The activity might not have been as frenetic as what one would expect to see at the start of a new US Presidency but, as Kevin shows, Johnno will have had a busy time putting in place plans and programmes for the year on both the playing and the (often-forgotten but increasingly important) non-playing side.
That's it. Back tomorrow, assuming the team is announced.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
We can all become very passionate about football and we can, in the immortal words of Bill Shankly, take the view that it's more than just life and death. Then, along comes news like this to prove that such a viewpoint is, at best, more than a little glib. Sport can seem so central to what many of us think and do but this kind of development shows that what happens on the playing field - including how the beloved teams we follow with such devotion perform - is less important than we often let on.
Get well soon, Ronan - I'm sure all of Mayo is rooting for you at this difficult time.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Sheehan says "the two in a row is the major driving force behind us this year. We do feel we have the players to go on and do it". For good measure, he thinks they'll challenge for the league as well, stating "we're not just trying to stay safe in the division. We're determined to reach the knock-outs." This is the confidence that winning 34 All-Irelands gives you, I suppose (just as it was when Paul Galvin, that little runt, proclaimed his delight at winning "his first" All-Ireland medal in 2004).
The main problem for Kerry is, in a word, Tyrone. This is also a problem for Mayo, as we shall see. It all began when Kerry got clobbered and clattered by Tyrone in 2003, following which they decided to get stronger and meaner and to get their revenge. Tyrone, however, didn't play ball: in 2004 their heads were, understandably, all over the shop following Cormac McAnallan's shock death and so, instead of a rematch with the Northerners, Kerry had to be content with poor, soft Mayo as All-Ireland final opponents. Result: 1-20 to 2-9, as I painfully recall.
At the start of 2005, there was plenty of loose talk from Kerry about the two-in-a-row and how it hadn't been achieved since 1990 and wasn't it Cork that did it then and wouldn't only be right, nay proper, for the Kingdom to claim the mantle of back-to-back champions, yada, yada, yada . . . But back came Tyrone (in the process even recovering from being robbed of the Ulster title by a refereeing performance that made Graham Poll look competent) and, boy, they took considerable glee in giving the Kerrymen an almighty root up the hole in that year's final. Cue mad as hell Kerrymen looking for revenge in 2006 but, once again, those pesky Tyrone boys just refused to come out to play. This time Armagh got to take some of the brunt of Kerry's righteous indignation but, once again, we have to take our more than generous helping of it in the full glare of the All-Ireland final.
If there's a pattern here, then we can expect Tyrone to re-emerge from the bushes this year, poised and ready to deliver another knockout punch to the would-be two-in-a-row champions. If they manage to do this - and they could - then we'd be well advised to steer clear of the All-Ireland final in 2008, especially if Kerry are in it . . .