Thursday, June 07, 2007

Checking out the options

Fresh from his electoral success, The Deputy and his selectors have, according to Mike Finnerty in the Mayo News, been taking time out to watch a number of club matches where, it is hoped, they might unearth some fresh talent. In no particular order, names such as Louisburgh’s Jarlath O’Malley, Charlestown’s Tom Parson, DavittsRonan McNamara, Tomas Griffin and Ciaran Griffith from Claremorris and Ballaghaderreen duo Barry Kelly and David Kilcullen are all mentioned as having come to the attention of Johnno and the lads.

That’s half a team and it would make you wonder what the plan is – if there is one at this juncture – for the first round of the qualifiers in four weeks time. “We’re not as bad as we looked in Salthill was our mantra (well, it was mine in any case) in the days immediately after the May 20th meltdown and the feeling was that, after the predictable howls for a total clearout had died down, what we’d see the next day would be some limited changes to the team that lined out in Salthill.

I still think that this is the most likely option. Pat Harte is suspended so that’s one for starters and I can’t see James Nallen lining out either. Peadar Gardiner will be a lucky man to keep his place but such was the comprehensive way that Galway ripped us apart that you could say the same about virtually the entire backline.

Clearly, Johnno and the boys need to sort out the spine of the team first, something they had seemed to have done early in the league but, by the time we got to Salthill, it was as if players were simply being tossed unceremoniously into key positions. In retrospect, it had all the appearance of a chronic failure to put together our best possible starting fifteen. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

For the next day, we need to decide who is best equipped to fill the key positions of full-back, centre-back and midfield and then work out from there. How about David Brady at full-back, Trevor Howley (as Sean Rice suggests, also mentioning David Kilcullen and Sean Ryder as options) at centre-back, with David Heaney and Barry Moran at midfield? Then with Kenneth O’Malley in goal, Liam O’Malley and Keith Higgins in the corners and Enda Devenney and, maybe, Aidan Higgins on the wings, that’s half a team.

It’s difficult to know what to say about the forwards. We’re obviously over-reliant on Conor Mort for scores and with Dillon in such a poor vein of form, this reliance is greater than ever. When Dillon is on form – as he was the first day against Laois last year and again against the Dubs – he’s just superb but when he’s not, he’s barely worth his place. Maybe a spell on the bench is what he needs.

I think Mac will start the next day, as, of course, will Conor, Andy Moran and, most likely, Trevor Mort. We may as well pick Mac on the forty because that’s where he’ll play anyway. That leaves two places to fill. Have we better options at this point in time than Dillon and Ger Brady, who, despite not performing well in Salthill are both battle-hardened and experienced campaigners? I’m not sure we have.

The conclusion, I think, is that we’ll see more of the same the next day. Indeed, Johnno is likely to keep faith with this group of players for as long as our interest remains alive in the championship. With the first two qualifier rounds taking place on successive Saturdays, we could see our championship season end on July 7th or July 14th or (less likely in my opinion) we could see our Summer reignited by a couple of compelling performances. If it’s the latter, then it’s a case of hold onto your hats and enjoy the ride. If it’s the former, however, then it really will be the end of the line for many of the current starting lineup and we’re likely to see a much-changed Mayo emerge in 2008.

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