Too darn busy for my liking and after a Bank Holiday weekend too. Plenty of news and stuff in the papers today so let’s get to it, shall we?
First up, a correction on yesterday’s post concerning David Brady. I said his last appearance for us prior to the challenge match on Sunday was the opening NFL match against Kerry back in February. It wasn’t: he also played in the defeat to Donegal and then started in the next match, at home to Limerick, where he went off injured after only nine minutes. Thanks for the correction, Bro, even if you were wrong on the detail too (it was the Limerick match in which he got injured not the Donegal one).
Next, let’s get the inevitable fresh injuries story out of the way. David Clarke (who wouldn’t have been playing against Galway anyway now that Kenneth O’Malley is back in action) and Liam O’Malley (who hopefully will start on the 20th) are both apparently suffering from hamstring problems. Enda Devenney and Kevin O’Neill have also suffered “knocks” in recent days but they’re both expected to be okay for Sunday week.
The same Mayo News story reports that Johnno has trimmed his playing panel a bit, with Barry Regan, Mark Ronaldson and Michael Conroy among those jettisoned. The Davitts man is the most noteworthy name on this list and his fall from grace is a fairly spectacular one, having been on the starting fifteen as recently as the league final. After a very poor performance that day (where he was eventually replaced by Kevin O'Neill), Conroy wouldn’t have been in the frame to start against Galway but the fact that he’s failed even to make the panel for the championship shows Johnno’s intolerance of underachievement.
Onto the Kildare match where, as I mentioned yesterday, we won by six points (a fairly irrelevant fact) and where David Brady and Trevor Mortimor made it through in one piece (a rather more relevant bit of news). Kildare fielded a second-string team – their injury-list is much worse than ours at the minute – and our guys were in the midst of an intensive long weekend’s training so it’s not surprising we won with a bit to spare. We were a point up at the break but, following a number of half-time changes and with the wind behind them, we pulled away to win easily in the second half.
Team selection is, of course, the interesting thing from Sunday. Kenneth O’Malley returned between the sticks, his thumb is fine and Clarke is crocked so he’s the man for that position. As mentioned earlier, Liam O’Malley was out injured and so Aidan Higgins played in the corner with his Ballyhaunis namesake in the other corner. Once again, Paddy Navin started at full-back so it really does look as if Johnno is not going to field James Kilcullen at no.3 against Galway. Navin struggled to contain Kildare’s full forward Adrian Kelly and this led to his replacement at half-time by BJP, with Heaney shifting to centre-back and the Ballina Alpha Male coming on in the middle. Pat Harte also shifted to the middle at half time, with Jimmy Nallen moving to wing-back to replace Trevor Howley, who is also now a doubt for Sunday week (did I mention that earlier? Thought not).
That’s a fair bit of shifting round and, although there was a good deal of the same in the forwards, that was to be expected. Altering the central spine of the team from midfield back this close to the mega clash with Galway . . . I dunno about you folks but I’m not sure I like all this eleventh hour tinkering.
Okay, let’s say that Liam O’Malley and Enda Devenney are okay, as are DB, Trev and the Skipper. Does that give us a team like this for Salthill?
K O’Malley; L O’Malley, BJP, K Higgins; Devenney, Heaney, Gardiner; D Brady, Harte; Dillon, O’Neill, G Brady; C Mort, T Mort, A Moran.
Here’s Kevin McStay’s thoughts on same. Kev reckons a horses-for-courses policy is likely for the full-back position. If this is correct, then Heaney might well start on Joyce as he has a good record against him but, unlike what happened in 2004 and again last year, don’t expect to see the Swinford man in the position thereafter. Kev also feels Pat Harte is the ideal man for the no.10 jersey, with his strong running and his ability to score from distance. It’s one more reason to rue Ronan McGarritty’s continuing absence from the side.
Elsewhere in the papers, there’s a cracking championship supplement with the Irish Times today, which is well worth a read even if it does have Donaghy’s ugly gob on the front of it. (I’ve just checked and the articles don’t appear to be in the online version of the paper). In the supplement, Sean Moran talks about contenders for the All-Ireland and, in discussing us, makes a few cogent observations. He reckons that the league final defeat illustrated “the thin enough range of options available” to us. I’m not sure I’d agree wholeheartedly with this – if you take the shite pitch and Donegal’s huge will to win the NFL out of the equation, we were there or thereabouts and we did have a very successful league campaign, despite all the injuries. His next statement is more chilling and is worth quoting in full: “The trouble for Mayo is that they have to go all the way to the third Sunday in September to substantiate any improvement and that’s a long journey”. Too true. I’d have my doubts as to whether we’re truly up for such a journey this year, I have to admit, but I also know that it's too early in the year for such defeatist talk so strike that from the record, as the LA Law people say.
Also in the same supplement, Keith Duggan backs us to beat Galway but says there could be skin and hair flying if and when we square up to the Rossies in the Connacht final. I like old Keith – he’s had a soft spot for us and all our travails over the years.
That’s it. Just a brief mention of the radical overhaul to the format of the ladies All-Ireland this year, which is also covered in the same Irish Times supplement. This year, the mná are introducing a Champions league type of group stage after the provincial championships, with the four top teams in each province taking part. Two teams would then qualify out of each of the four groups to produce the quarter-final lineup. Fair play to the wimmen – why can’t the fir sort out something like that? As things stand, the chronically imbalanced nature of the current championship can only prove to be its downfall at some point in the future, as the already apparent decline in attendance figures gathers pace. Also, and possibly more to the point, Kerry would find it harder to win if these changes were made, as they'd have to work a damn sight harder to reach the business end of events. Do it now, I say! More (perhaps) on this later in the week.