Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pierce Hanley's off to Australia

The bad news doesn't end, by the looks of it, with our being knocked out of the championship: the Mayo News has reported that recent senior debutant Pierce Hanley has all but agreed to take up a two-year professional contract to play Aussie rules. This is seriously bad news: the young Ballaghman has already provided evidence at senior level - in the recent qualifier matches against both Cavan and Derry - of his precocious talent and he's one of the crop of youngsters around whom Johnno will, no doubt, have been planning to build his new senior team for next year.

We can ill afford to lose someone with Pierce's array of talent and our hopes of building a team that is able to compete once again at national level will be diminished by his departure from the inter-county scene. It's not hard to see why the opportunity to play football on a professional basis would be an attraction for a player like Pierce - that RTE programme about the O hAilpin brothers, with Sean Og working full-time and training in the evenings down in Cork while the two lads lived it up as professional athletes over in Oz, showed clearly why this would be the case - and it would be churlish not to wish the lad the best for what is likely to be the adventure of a lifetime for him. You can't help thinking, though, that it would have been better (for the county, if not for Pierce) had those Aussie scouts stuck to watching the likes of Kerry and Tyrone instead.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Interesting quarter-final draw

Yesterday evening's draw for the All-Ireland football quarter-finals threw out a few interesting matches. I don't know what it is with these draws but, up until now, they have had a habit of producing all the wrong kinds of pairings so, on that basis, yesterday evening I was fully expecting to see the likes of Tyrone v Derry and Dublin v Meath. Thankfully, it didn't happen: instead we got four cross-provincial matches, with two Ulster/Leinster clashes (Tyrone v Meath and Derry v Dublin), an Ulster/Munster pairing (Monaghan v Kerry) and a Connacht/Munster one (Sligo v Cork).

That last one is likely to be the curtain-raiser in next Saturday's double-header at Croker, where Tyrone and Meath are also on the bill. De Dubs get their own day out for the match with Derry the following Saturday, which means that Kerry and Monaghan will get the chance to fill Croker on their own the day after. Well, the Monaghan crowd will, along with the fifty or so punters that'll show up from the Kingdom.

It's an intriguing quarter-final draw. The strength of the four teams coming through the qualifiers, and the way they've been paired, means that all four provincial champions are vulnerable. It's unlikely that they'll all lose but I'd be surprised if at least two of them don't come crashing down.

Sligo are, obviously, the most likely lads to lose. Beating Galway was, as the cliché goes, their All-Ireland and the month they've had to savour that historic win won't have done anything to aid their preparations for next Saturday at Croke Park. Sligo have beaten New York, Roscommon and Galway this Summer but Cork will be a big step up for them and, much as I'd like to see them do it, it's difficult to go for anything but a decisive Cork win in this one. Since the new structure was introduced in 2001, Mayo are the only Connacht champions to have progressed past the quarter-finals (Galway's All-Ireland win in '01 was, of course, via the back door) and I don't expect to see Sligo altering that record.

Tyrone and Meath should be a fascinating encounter and it is, arguably, the tie of the round. Tyrone seem to be building a head of steam again and, if the likes of Stephen O'Neill and Brian Dooher are available, you'd have to fancy them as genuine All-Ireland contenders. However, Meath will will really put it up to them and will, after their qualifier travels, relish being back again playing in front of what's likely to be a full house at Croker. Meath are a better side now than they were when they faced the Dubs back in June and, while they're probably a bit too raw to go all the way this year, if they get a good start on Saturday Tyrone could have their work cut out to get past them.

Derry will also put it up to the Dubs the following weekend, as the counties face off in the championship for the first time since the All-Ireland semi-final back in 1994 when the Oak Leaf lads won by a point on their way to their first All-Ireland title. The hype machine will make de Dubs huge favourites to win but Derry will present them with tougher opposition than anything they've faced to date and previous years have shown that the first half-decent side to get their hands on the Dubs (that was us last year) has a great chance of beating them. That said, the Dubs have had the benefit this year of two hard games against Meath and they do look a better side than twelve months ago. They'll need to be at the top of their game, with Derry - following wins over Armagh, ourselves and Laois - now on a roll and all de pressure and de media attention on de Dubs. It all might prove too much for them, the poor dears.

Monaghan are on something of a roll too and, while there's never really a good time to face Kerry, a quarter-final meeting is probably as good a time as any. The Farneymen have made great strides this year and their demolition of Derry in the Ulster semi-final now looks even more impressive, given the latter's good form since then in the qualifiers. Monaghan almost caught Tyrone in the Ulster final and then walloped the bejaysus out of Donegal on Saturday night (League, howarya? None of the four NFL semi-finalists, ourselves included, made it into the hat for the All-Ireland quarter-finals, which has to be a record of some sorts) so they'll come to Croker with their confidence high and their recent form impressive. Kerry, meanwhile, have been indolent since their fortunate Munster final win over Cork but, Kerry being Kerry, you can expect the cute hoors to move up a gear or two when they get to Croker. Kerry should prevail in this first championship meeting between the counties since 1985 (when it took two matches to separate them, in the same year that we also took the Dubs to a replay) but, before they do, they'll know they've been in a contest.

Semi-final lineup? Cork v Meath and Derry v Kerry. You heard it here first!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Back from a relaxing few days in the west (where there was mercifully little in the way of rain, I'm happy to report), it's time to sort out the immediate future for this blog. As I mentioned the other day, now that the lads have made their exit from this year's Championship, that well and truly buggers things up in terms of raw material on which to report. (How bad things have got so quickly is evidenced by this piece in the Mayo News about an article written by Joe Brolly where he reportedly said that Conoreen is "no good" as a player. Please: is this all we're left to talk about? We all know Brolly is a bollocks - an occasionally insightful and sometimes witty bollocks but a bollocks, nonetheless, and what else, pray tell, does one expect a bollocks to come out with but a pile of, well, bollocks? I rest my case.)

It's definitely time to move on. In my case, prior to putting the blog into dry dock for the winter around early October, it's time for a little bit of metamorphosis. Not the kind that befell poor old Gregor Samsa in Kafka's acclaimed short story of the same title, I hasten to add, though such a fate might be just the job for our friend Mr Brolly. Instead, what I have in mind is to use this forum (as I've been doing to some degree up to now) to discuss the rest of the championship, now that (sniff!) we're out of the running.

So too, of course, are Galway, following their defeat to a resurgent Meath at the weekend and Cork have joined the Royals in the last eight, though a plucky Louth side really made them work for the win. This coming weekend, the quarter-final lineup will be completed (for what it's worth, my money's on Derry and Donegal to make it through) and on Sunday we'll have the draw itself. In other words, the real business of the championship is at last about to get underway.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Homeward bound

We're fleeing the metropolis en famille later on this evening, heading for the west to the place which - even though I haven't lived there on an ongoing basis for getting on towards thirty years at this stage - I still mentally call home. The three little Dubs in the back travel best at night so we won't leave here till after eight, by which time the M50 should be clear enough and the road to the west similarly uncluttered.

One drawback of night driving - and, despite the still-long evenings, it will be dark by the time we get there - is that we won't get to see those two natural landmarks that, when they first appear, tell you that you're back on home soil. Just after passing the county border between Ballinlough and Ballyhaunis, the road rises and, when you reach the brow of the hill, the squat, imposing bulk of Nephin comes into view for the first time. Soon afterwards, away to the left, you can also see the cone-shaped Reek sticking its head out of the far horizon. Once I clock both of these lads, I know I'm not far from home but it'll be dark by the time we get that far tonight so I'll have to resort to the mental hard drive to conjure up the required images.

I'm looking forward to spending a few days in Mayo, giving me the chance to thumb through the sports pages in the Western (I know, I can always see what they're saying online but it's a different tactile experience to read the print version) and, over a few beers, to chat about how Johnno might reconstruct the team for 2008, starting at full-back. And to think about what I do with this blog over the coming six months, now that - a bit like the Russians turning off the gas - my raw material has completely dried up on me. The championship rumbles on, I know, but it's just not the same, is it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

If you're up to reading about it . . .

There's plenty, as you might expect, about the Derry defeat in the Mayo News. There's Mike Finnerty's match report, which obviously makes for an uncomfortable read. There's Daniel Carey's report on Johnno's after-match comments, most of which you'll probably have seen already as they were contained in yesterday's match report in the Indo. There's a head-scratching "where the f**k do we go from here?" piece by Jimmy Lyons (surely not Aghamore's Jimmy Lyons, he who lined out for the county a quarter of a century ago?), which won't, I fear, help to lighten your mood. Neither, I reckon, will Kevin McStay's column, in which the Ballina man discusses the fundamental nature of the rebuilding process that Johnno must now undertake. Nor will The Voice of Experience himself, Sean Rice, who also - you've guessed it - talks about how it's time to start all over again. No, none of that did it for me either. But do you know what I think will? A nice cool glass (or two) of Pinot Grigio, that's what. Slainte, hombres.

Monday, July 16, 2007

How did it come to this?

It’s only the middle of July and already our 2007 championship season is over. It’s been our worst Summer’s football in years and it’s the first time since the new format was put in place in 2001 that we’ve found ourselves idle so early in the year. Think about it this way: today is exactly a year on from the date of last year’s Connacht final. After that narrow win over Galway, we were to have four big days out in Croker in 2006. In other words, our season was just getting revved up this time last year, whereas this year it’s already over.

There’s no Croker for us this year, our only visits to HQ in 2007 will remain those two we had at the fag-end of the league campaign in April. It’s the first time in four years that we’ve failed to reach the All-Ireland series and it’s also the first time we’ve taken such a pasting in the qualifiers. In short, it’s been a year to forget.

So how did it come to this? Seen in the cold light of defeat, the warning signs were there for some time. While the early part of the league was encouraging, the way in which the tinkering with team selection started after the league semi-final with Galway showed that Johnno and his colleagues were in no way sure about what kind of side they wanted to field for the championship. The changes since then have been dizzying, with the result that the team that started in Celtic Park bore only a faint resemblance to that which lined out against Donegal in the league final.

Experimentation with team selection was a definite requirement after Johnno took over, especially in light of last year’s disastrous All-Ireland. But why did it take till late April to start this process? Up till then, changes were largely made out of necessity, due to the severe injury list we’d built up. Two big decisions – Kilcullen at full-back and BJ at centre-back – appeared to be set in stone right through the league but Kilcullen was jettisoned following the semi-final with Galway and BJ’s career as centre-back ended in the confusion in Salthill.

Instead of using the league to try out different players, this year we’ve used the championship and, in particular, the two qualifier games to blood the next generation. Seen in this light, it’s not too difficult to see why we took the hammering we did from Derry. There’s a time and a place for team building and it’s not the month of July.

There are a few factors which I think are relevant in terms of explaining how we came to this pass. The first is, obviously, the residual after-effects of last year’s All-Ireland final. How many of the players – in particular those who had been involved in the 2004 thrashing by Kerry as well – were really up for another long, hard campaign? Not too many of them, I fear.

You need to be up for the fight to stay in the championship and at Celtic Park on Saturday, it was brutally clear that we weren’t. I remember turning to The Brother after Derry got their first goal and saying that this was the moment of truth: we’d soon find out if they had anything in the tank. As became painfully clear over the following twenty minutes or so, we didn’t. It’s hardly a coincidence that our best performers against Derry were the U21s that had just come in. It’s also obvious that these guys will, as early as next year, form the backbone of Johnno’s new Mayo team.

The second relevant factor is the league and how it threw our championship preparations out of kilter. This happened in two ways. I think we became obsessed (I know I did) about the need to finish in the top four and so secure our place in the new Division 1 in 2008. Because of this, league points became more important than building a championship team and, while we avoided dropping down to Division 2, we’ve paid a very high price for our top tier league status. Are Dublin or even Cork any the worse off for having failed to make the league grade? I think not.

The other thing is that, once we’d secured our league status, winning the damn thing became the priority. Think back to the league semi-final with Galway: they didn’t give a rat’s arse about that game and spent most of the seventy minutes toying with us. In large part, our win over them there contributed to our downfall in Salthill. Then, having got to the final, we went and lost it, picking up in the process more catcalls about what chokers we were and how the Croke Park hoodoo had struck again. This was the last thing we needed just as our championship preparations were supposed to be getting into top gear.

Which leads us, inevitably, to the month of May and all that happened then. The sun was shining - remember that? There was an election on too and it can’t be denied that Johnno’s election campaign cost us dearly. It certainly helps to explain why we emerged so ill-prepared and incapable for battle at Salthill. Just at the time when we needed his genius, Johnno was – understandably – using his grey matter primarily in pursuit of the third seat in Mayo for Fine Gael. Running for election is a 24 x 7 commitment and with Johnno giving his all to the election campaign, football was bound to suffer.

You could even argue that the way we approached the league was part of a fiendish political master plan, in that a league title won would have helped deliver the votes. I’m not so sure: the Galway match took place just four days before polling day and so the best way to secure football-minded votes would obviously have been to beat Galway in Salthill. I think the answer is a far simpler one: Johnno’s mind was focused on politics rather than on football during those crucial weeks prior to the clash with Galway.

Whatever the reasons are for our failure to mount a serious championship campaign this year, one thing is sure and that’s that we cannot change the outcome now. We need instead to look forward and so the last thing we need is another witch-hunt by the County Board. While I think, for the reasons outlined above, that Johnno has some questions to answer about the campaign, I also believe that he, along with his management team, is the man who is best placed to engineer another resurgence in our footballing fortunes.

Speaking to the Indo today, Johnno makes the blindingly obvious point that the team is in transition but he also says that the next few years will be a time of great opportunity for players to step forward and show what they’re made of. We're fortunate in that we have an extremely talented bunch of young players coming through - ten of last year's All-Ireland winning U21s are already on the senior panel - and Johnno's task will be to find the right blend of youth and experience for 2008.

Next year we’ll be under no pressure in the league and we can spend all Spring experimenting to our heart’s content. We won’t (unless lightning strikes twice) be faced with the prospect of playing Galway in May and, with the Tribesmen now in obvious decline and the Rossies all over the shop, our main opponents in Connacht next year could well be Leitrim and the new provincial champions Sligo. With Johnno fully focused on the job, we’d have to fancy our chances of front-door entry to the All-Ireland series next year. So while we can only watch from the sidelines as this year's championship plays out, we shouldn't be too downhearted. We’ll be back, more than likely next year, with big days out in Croker to look forward to again. And, who knows, unlike this year, we might even get a real Summer too.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Derry 2-13 Mayo 1-6: end of the road following Bogside battering

After 296 miles behind the wheel today, it certainly felt like the end of the road. Over six hours driving, soaked to the skin twice in the first half and then, just when it looked like we were starting to get the measure of the home team early in the second, it all went totally pear-shaped. We ended up, once again, getting beaten out the gate and this time we couldn’t even blame the referee. Well, at least the Derry crowd were nice, hospitable people and I finally got to lay eyes for the first time on the Walled City, at last getting the chance to proclaim that I had stood in all 32 counties of Ireland.

That’s about as good a boast any Mayoman in the vicinity of Celtic Park could have made at around five o’clock this afternoon, as we surveyed the wreckage of yet another championship hammering. Ever since the draw was made last Sunday, we knew this was going to be a tough assignment and, while we had real doubts as to whether or not we would make it through to tomorrow evening’s draw for the third round, I don’t think we had any real fears that we’d take the kind of hiding that we eventually did.

The odd thing was that, although we played poorly for much of the seventy minutes, for a good deal of the game it looked as if we might just do it. We started the match like the weather – horribly. The ball was thrown in, the heavens promptly opened and Derry immediately took control in the treacherous conditions. By the time the rain had eased, we were already four points down, Paddy Bradley was – as we’d feared would happen - skinning Liam O’Malley and Derry were winning all the ball that was flying round – and there was plenty of it, as it was proving impossible for anyone to get a clear catch – in the middle.

Then, all of a shot, we were back in it. A mistake by the Derry keeper gifted a soft goal to Barry Moran and this was followed soon afterwards by a Conor Mortimor free. So, despite having been comprehensively outplayed in the opening twenty minutes, we were level. Barry Moran went on to score two more points after that, one of which

That’s how it looked to be shaping up for the first ten or fifteen minutes of the second half, during which time we virtually controlled midfield and drove forward repeatedly. Aidan should really have been a second goal but although Derry went in two points in front, we were happy enough at the break to be still in with a shout. If the lads could up their performance in the second half, went the line of thinking, we might just shade it.Kilcoyne had replaced an injured-looking Alan Dillon at the break and he looked really up for it, kicking a nice early point and generally making a nuisance of himself. A Pierce Hanley point then pulled us level and the stage looked set for the lads to ease ahead and kick for home.

And then, almost completely without warning, the roof fell in on us. We’d kicked a few bad wides, Barry Moran narrowly missed another goal chance and then Killer went off injured and his departure seemed to unbalance the side completely. Enda Muldoon began to win ball at midfield and our profligacy in front of the posts was thrown into sharp relief when Derry raced up the other end and got a goal which, like our own one in the first half, had as much to do with defensive shortcomings as it had to forward invention. And so, all of a sudden, we were a goal down with twenty minutes to play. Of itself, this shouldn’t have been terminal but their stranglehold around the middle became more pronounced and the main beneficiary was Paddy Bradley who, as he’d done in the first half, proceeded to rip Liam O’Malley to pieces.

The next ten minutes was like watching a car crash in slow motion. Everything Derry tried came off, everything we attempted fell flat on its face. Super Mac came on but it was too late to make any difference. Derry ended up scoring points for fun as we lost all sense of purpose and the first of our supporters began to bolt for the exit.

Then, to cap it all off, Derry began flinging the ball around from one to the other and, with Celtic Park ringing to the repeated cries of olé, olé olé, the ball was worked over to Muldoon who lobbed Clarke for Derry’s second green flag. That really was the end of the road for our 2007 championship hopes.

We can have no complaints about the result. It was a match we could have won but when Derry put it up to us in the second half, it became all too clear all too quickly that we had no response in us. Maybe the scar tissue from last September was a factor but that kind of analysis is for another day. The simple fact was that this afternoon we were well beaten by a side that showed a far greater desire to win than we possessed. It now means that, for the first time since 2003, we’ve failed to make it to the All-Ireland series and that there’ll be no big days out for us in Croker this year. In other words, it’s the end of the road for us . . . for this year.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Northern exposure tomorrow?

Because of the wonderful scheduling arising from the current championship structure, here we are, for the second time in just seven days (following a seven-week layoff - what's all this crack about sevens?), on the eve of another shit-or-bust championship clash. While last Saturday's match never really evoked any kind of "oh jaysus, this could be it till the FBD in January" trepidation in advance, tomorrow's trek northwards certainly does. And if the Cavan match felt a little too much like a souped-up league encounter, tomorrow's tussle with the Oak Leaf lads will almost certainly be a proper blood and thunder championship tie. One that we could very easily lose and so kiss goodbye to our involvement in the 2007 championship.

I know that the bookies have us as favourites and that Setanta also tip us to win but that's no guarantee of success. RTE plump for Derry and I'd expect some of the print media to do likewise tomorrow. If we are favourites, we're only marginally so and solely because of our 2007 championship form and our good league campaign earlier this year. The odds don't factor in the significant alterations made to the team since the Salthill meltdown nor, apparently, do they seem to recognise that we cannot, in the third largest county in the country, apparently find a full-back that's six feet tall and can play a bit. They certainly don't account for the three soft goals we gave away to Cavan and the fact that we could easily have conceded three more. Neither do they take into consideration that Derry - unlike Cavan - are playing at home and that their side is packed with a hell of a lot more talent than the Breffni men had. In short, I'm worried about tomorrow. Very worried, truth be told.

I can only presume that Johnno has some fiendish plan for dealing with Paddy Bradley that somehow doesn't involve Liam O'Malley and that, likewise, we have over the past week developed some kind of effective ploy to counteract a policy of aerial bombardment. The Cavan match illustrated with perfect clarity the extent to which we're currently exposed at the back and my big fear is that if we haven't come up with some kind of strategy to deal with this problem, tomorrow is going to lead to a bad case of Northern exposure.

The big positive from last week, of course, was the high score we ran up so that, regardless of the amount of damage being wreaked at the back, we were able to make up for it at the other end. (Faint echoes may be picked up here of John Morrison's risible Brazil comment from last year). However, last Saturday our 2006 All-Stars were given the freedom of McHale Park by the Cavan backs and I for one don't expect the Derry backline - who limited Armagh to just nine points last weekend - to be quite so accommodating. We know that Alan and, in particular, Conor don't shine when subjected to close marking so tomorrow will be a big test not only for them but also for the other forwards to do the business. For example, if Andy Moran gets a point-blank-range opportunity in Celtic Park, he'll need to bury it. It also means that big performances are, once again, needed from Pierce Hanley and Barry Moran.

The refashioned attack does appear to be more potent than the previous configuration but if they're to do damage, they'll need to get the ball. As I said yesterday, it's great to have Pat Harte back at midfield because we'll need a bigger effort around the middle tomorrow. In fact, we need to be far, far tighter around the middle third tomorrow. The amount of time and space that we gave the Cavan lads to win the ball, have a good think about what to do with it and then pass to an unmarked teammate was just eye-popping, the very antithesis of a swarm welcome. I know we pride ourselves on the grand, open brand of football we like to play but if we play like this against Derry tomorrow, we're just asking for a hiding.

In a sense, tomorrow is a defining moment for us. If we turn up and play in the same lackadaisical manner as we did last weekend, then that's our championship season over. However, if we do step on the gas and provide our first truly satisfying performance of the year, we stand a great chance of getting a result, one that would, in turn, open the door for us to a return to the All-Ireland series. It's not in our own hands, of course, as Derry are a damn good side and will be difficult to beat at home so we could play really well and still get edged out. This is the all-or-nothing way it is with the knockout format: tomorrow could be the end or it could be our calling card to say we're back in business. Twenty four hours out from the action, I have to confess I haven't a clue which one it'll be be but I'll be making the round-trip of almost 300 miles from Dublin tomorrow to find out.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Two changes for Derry clash

The team for Saturday's second round qualifier clash with Derry was named this evening according to Mayofans.com (citing Mid-West Radio) and GAAboard.com, although RTE has nothing to say about it as yet. Hell, who needs the imprimatur of the national media? Here's the team:

D Clarke; T Cunniffe, L O'Malley, T Howley; D Heaney, D Kilcullen, T Mortimer; P Harte, D Brady; BJ Padden, P Hanley, A Dillon; T Mortimer, B Moran, A Moran.

In short, Aidan Higgins loses his place to Tom Cunniffe, who impressed last Saturday against Cavan when he came on for Higgins in the second half. Pat Harte returns from suspension to take his place alongside clubmate David Brady in midfield, with David Heaney switching to wing-back, where he displaces Peadar Gardiner. For the first time in aeons, we've named the same forward line for two matches running. That's where 1-19 gets you, I guess.

Aidan Higgins can't really have any complaints about losing out to young Tom Cunniffe, who played a blinder when he came on against Cavan, bringing stability and some real tigerish aggression into what had been a fairly frighteningly loose full-back line up till then. He definitely deserves his chance to line out in the position from the start against Derry.

Liam O'Malley couldn't have had any complaints were he to have found himself warming his posterior on the bench at Celtic Park as well. I know he's a good footballer and, in particular, is a fine corner-back but a full-back he sure isn't and I cannot for the life of me understand why, after the sorry way in which he was taken apart against Cavan, that he's lining out again at no. 3 at Celtic Park. And marking Paddy Bradley, to boot. We're just asking to get our holes kicked, I fear.

Peadar Gardiner has been edging ever closer to getting dropped for some time now and his kamikaze display against Cavan appears to have been the last straw. David Heaney did well when switched back there the last day and you'd have to say that young Kilcullen now has two formidable amigos flanking him in the half-backs. This could be part of Johnno's plan to protect the shop further back as the Derry lads will quickly think twice about trying to run through that half-back line. However, in the same way that Cavan did, they'll still be able to bypass this particular Maginot Line by simply hoofing Hail Mary balls over them into the square.

On the credit side, it's great to see Pat Harte back in the starting team again. We missed his energy and strong runs through the middle the last day and these skills should dovetail nicely with the more sedentary talents of the Elder Brady in that area. Given that leakages at the back are likely to remain a problem, it would also be useful if Pat could weigh in with a few of those trademark booming long-range points of his. No more than the last day, I reckon we'll need all the scores we can get in Celtic Park if we're to make it into the hat for the third round of the qualifiers on Sunday evening.

Derry airs

No team for the Derry game to report on yet - I'd thought that it would have been named last night, what with the match being played on Saturday, but I suppose we can expect to see it later on this evening. The Indo had the story yesterday about Pierce Hanley's knock and the likely unavailability of Super Mac but that was old news. There don't seem to be any other fresh injury concerns and so the main taking point will obviously be what kind of defensive lineup is selected. There's little point speculating further at this stage on that particular issue.

Bereft of team news, I was casting my mind idly back earlier this morning on previous clashes with the Oak Leaf lads. We haven't, of course, ever played them in the Championship before (and we've never played a Championship match in Ulster before, I bet) and we haven't clashed in the league much in the 21st century either. I have, howver, two very clear memories of being at matches against Derry - one extremely sweet, the other less so - which I thought were worth sharing.

The sweet one first. This was all the way back in 1983 when Mayo's U21s (with Johnno at the helm - a good omen or what?) squared up to Derry in the All-Ireland final. Myself and The Brother had followed that precociously talented side through Connacht - where we beat the bejaysus out of Sligo and Roscommon - and down to Ennis where, despite having Padraig Brogan unfairly sent off, we sent the Kerrymen packing in the semi-final. Then it was onto the final in Carrick-on-Shannon against Derry, where we were in control for most of the 60 minutes, until Derry hit us with a sucker punch of a goal to force a replay.

This took place up in Irvinestown in Fermanagh and a crowd of us went up on a bus to it. Going to the North was a very different experience back then - there was a proper border post (manned by the British Army) to get through and then, a few miles on, a UDR (remember them?) checkpoint. Eventually, we made it to the ground to see another tight contest between two evenly-matched teams. Derry got a goal early in the second half, at which point it was starting to look grim, but that was just what our lads needed to get them going. Almost 24 years on, the only one of our flurry of scores that I can remember was Sean Maher's bullet of a shot that was still rising when it hit the net but I do remember that we owned the final 15 or so minutes and won comfortably enough in the end. For some odd reason, I can also recall the headline in one of the dailies (though I can't remember which paper it was) the following day, which said "Late Mayo spurt decisive". It sure was.

That team represented, to a large extent, a Golden Era for us and formed the backbone of the senior team that was to propel us back onto the big stage later in the Eighties. The likes of Gabriel Irwin, Peter Ford, John Maughan, John Finn, Sean Maher, Padraig Brogan and Kevin McStay were all destined to become household names in the colours over the remainder of the decade but, for me, the real star of that team was the no.10 Ger Geraghty who was one of the classiest footballers I've ever seen. Sadly, the times being what they were, he emigrated (to the US, I think) soon afterwards and so never got to display his sublime skills for the Mayo seniors at Croke Park.

The second memory is a more recent one, this time from 1996 when we faced Derry in a league semi-final at Croke Park. I had only just - about a week or two previously - returned to live in Ireland following an eight-year absence and I remember in my final few weeks in London plotting about my chances of seeing the lads in action again soon after returning home. (This was, remember, before the era of cheap flights when you couldn't just hop on a plane home for any old reason, such as going to a match.) Mayo had wintered in the twilight zone of what was then (and will, once again, next year be) Division 3 of the league but, under John Maughan's tutelage, a resurgence had begun. I remember diligently seeking out all the match reports - the local library stocked the Irish papers (no widespread availability of the Internet then either - emigration was an altogether different experience in those days) and so I was able to keep myself well versed on how things were going. Shortly before I un-emigrated, Maughan's men ambushed Meath in the quarter-final to set up the semi-final clash at Croke Park with Derry.

I don't have any clear details on this match stored in my mental hard drive but I do recall we were badly beaten - I think it was by eight points - and that it pissed out of the heavens all day. It was my first time being in the new Cusack Stand at Croker (that was the only bit that had been rebuilt at that stage) and while it did look impressive, the rain and the hammering we were taking from Derry took the gloss off the experience. Leaving Croker that day, I didn't think we'd be back there later in the year but, of course, not only did we get there, we took Kerry to pieces in the semi-final (that still has to rank as my favourite Mayo match of all time, surpassing even last year's win over the Dubs) and we came, literally, to within the bounce of a ball from capturing the Sam.

Memories, memories. Come on Johnno, time to name the team!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Johnno on the Cavan game

The Deputy seems to be fairly upbeat, perhaps too much so, about the Cavan game. In Hogan Stand, he's quoted as saying that there were "plenty of positives" to be taken from the game and mentions in particular the performance of Barry Moran at full-forward. Barry was a success, alright, and his goal came at just the right moment, as Cavan's second goal just beforehand had put them into a two-point lead and things were momentarily starting to look a bit dodgy. Barry's goal righted the ship and set us on the way to the win.

Speaking of Barry Moran, there's an interview with him in the Mayo News, where he talks about how different it is to be lining out at full-forward compared to his normal midfield position. He also reminds us that he's only just back from injury following that horrible dislocated ankle he suffered in the All-Ireland U21 semi-final defeat to Laois back in April.

Also in the Mayo News, there's more from Johnno, this time looking forward to the Derry game next Saturday. Johnno is such a great man for managing expectations, isn't he? He does a good job in talking up the Derry lads and saying how difficult it will be for us to get a result there. That third seat in Mayo was difficult too, wasn't it?

As expected, he confirms that Mac is unlikely to be back in time for Saturday and, while he mentions that Pierce Hanley is recovering from a knock, it doesn't sounds too serious.

Paddy Power have us at 8/11 to win on Saturday, with Derry on offer at 6/4. Fairly miserly odds, you'd have to agree. I suppose the fact that we were the beaten All-Ireland finalists last year is a contributory factor in setting these odds but so too, you'd think, would be our comical defending last Saturday evening.

That's it - we may, I suppose, have an announcement about the team tomorrow evening. There's plenty to ponder on there, not least the issue of who is going to be named as full-back . . .

Monday, July 09, 2007

Afternoon throw-in against Derry

We're to be spared another Saturday evening throw-in next weekend. The fixtures for the second round of the qualifiers have now been released - details here - and our clash with Derry has been fixed for Celtic Park with a 3.30 pm throw-in time. That should make the travelling, in particular the homeward leg, a bit easier to complete. Then again, if we win we won't feel the journey regardless of how long it takes whereas, if we lose, every mile will seem like an eternity.

Video clips from Cavan match now uploaded

I've just finished uploading to the YouTube Channel a whole raft of shaky, gritty, of-the-moment video clips from the match against Cavan on Saturday evening. There are seventeen clips in all and included in them are most of our scores, including Pierce Hanley's first two points in the colours, Barry Moran's goal and Mort's superb long-range point from play right at the end, as well as Cavan's penalty goal.

I was concentrating mainly on capturing just the Mayo scores from the match and so haven't posted any evidence of our Keystone Kops style of defending. Anyone who was at the match won't, however, need any further evidence about our shortcomings in this sector. Nor, indeed, once they get their hands on the full tape of the game, will Messrs Bradley, Muldoon and friends . . .

Sunday, July 08, 2007

It's Derry, away

The draw's just been made for the second round of the qualifiers and we've been paired away with Derry, who beat Armagh by a point today. This is, needless to say, a tough draw for us. That's to say nothing about having to traipse all the way up there next weekend for it.

While the qualifier draw was our big news of the day, it would be churlish in the extreme not to mention Sligo's great win over Galway in today's Connacht final. I have to come clean and admit that I didn't give them much hope in advance (nor, indeed, did I think they'd beat Ros in the semi) and that, yes, I did say that our clash with Galway in Salthill was the real Connacht final. I'm delighted to be proved wrong - Sligo are long overdue a provincial title (I still remember being at the drawn and replayed Connacht final of 1975 when they last won it, beating us) and they well deserve their day in the sun.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mayo 1-19, Cavan 3-7: win still leaves questions unanswered

The qualifiers are an oddity, aren’t they? It’s still the championship – in the pure distilled sense, given that one slip and you’re gone – but it doesn’t really feel as if it is. Maybe it’s to do with playing the matches on a Saturday evening – what’s wrong with 3.30pm on a Sunday, by the way? – and the fact that the attendances are well down on what you’d normally expect. Maybe it’s simply that, having failed so dismally in our sole Connacht championship outing back in May, we don’t truly believe there should be a second chance for us this year. I don’t know what it is but it certainly makes for a different championship experience.

McHale Park was far from jammers this evening. I’d say that the crowd was certainly no bigger than the 15,000 or so that were at the league clash with the Dubs back at the beginning of April. Cavan brought a small enough support, but that wasn’t hugely surprising given their expectations about the game. I thought we’d muster more support but clearly the faithful need a bit more time to come around.

This evening’s performance won’t have convinced too many doubters, it must be said. We won – which, in a knockout tournament is a big plus – and, in doing so, we racked up a very respectable scoreline. The young lads who were pitched in did, by and large, well and they can expect to be named in the starting fifteen next Saturday. But we were so bloody loose all over the field, it simply wasn’t amusing and our full-back line – with the honourable exception of the excellent Trevor Howley – was torn to pieces. Further adjustments to the team have to be made, and fast, or else next Saturday (unless we get another soft draw) our championship season will be over.

First, the positives. Pierce Hanley did very well on his debut and showed why he’s been spoken about in such exalted terms. He’s a strong lad, well able to put it about and capable of bursting forward with intent. He can score too – he got two excellent points from play, one in each half - and he’s able to create chances for those around him. He’s a definite addition to the team.

Barry Moran did okay as well, especially in the second half when more decent ball started to come into him. His handling wasn’t always that assured and he got knocked off the ball more than perhaps he should have but he laid off a few neat balls to create scores and he did get the goal at a crucial time to cancel out Cavan’s second green flag. He also did enough to keep his place.

David Kilcullen was alright at centre-back, where Trevor Mort put in a strong display beside him. He didn’t do a whole load wrong over the seventy minutes and was busy throughout, always ready to receive possession, generally sound defensively.

Trevor Howley played a stormer but he needed to as his colleagues in the full-back line were all over the shop. The repeated interceptions, tackles and clearances that he made (as well as those made by young Cunniffe when he came on for Aidan Higgins in the second half) helped to prevent things from getting too uncomfortable at the back in the second half.

Both Conor Mort and Alan Dillon used the space the lax Cavan backs gave them to wreak predictable havoc. Mort ended up with seven points, four of which were from play, while Dillon chipped in with five, two of them from placed balls. While it’s true that better opposition than Cavan would have more severely rationed the time and space the two lads were given, it’s also true that they made hay while the sun shone and ensured that the winning margin was healthy enough, despite the horrendous leakages at the back.

Which leads us neatly onto the negatives. Liam O’Malley had another nightmare performance to place alongside his Salthill one and was run ragged by the Cavan attack. He was continually beaten to the ball, forever being caught out of position and directly responsible for two of the Cavan goals.

Aidan Higgins in the corner wasn’t a whole load better though, for whatever reason, Johnno chose to replace Higgins and leave O’Malley in place, despite the fact that Cavan, aware that we were all at sea there, kept raining high ball into the area. Cavan’s ineptitude in attack was what saved us – any half-decent team would have punished our shortcomings in that sector far more severely but even still, bad and all as they were, they still got three goals against us.

Peadar Gardiner was very poor too and gave further proof that his place on the starting fifteen is under serious threat. Two late, mistimed tackles led to a booking followed by a ticking, which prompted Johnno to haul him out of the action before the half-time whistle has sounded. Gardiner’s departure did allow Ronan McGarritty to make a welcome return to midfield – with Heaney switching to wing-back – and while Ronan looked rusty enough at times, he did do quite a lot of good work and, once he recovers full fitness, he’ll be back as a real force in midfield for us.

We’ll need him back there too because Brady and Heaney didn’t exactly work their cojones off in that sector. For long periods of the game, we were very loose and lackadaisical around the middle and I though we gave Cavan far, far too much time and space on the ball. We didn’t close them down quick enough, we lacked aggression in the tackle and we didn’t seem to play with the kind of intensity that we know will be required if we’re going to be able to live with the top sides later in the year.

Cavan were limited enough opponents and would have resigned themselves to their fate far sooner had they not smelled blood in our backline. Once they got the taste for it, they were happy to return for more and the three goals they ended up scoring made the contest look a lot closer than it really should have been. We were never really in any danger – despite the yawning fault lines at the back – of losing this evening but this was mainly because of Cavan’s obvious shortcomings.

So we’re back in the hat tomorrow evening, with another championship tie facing us this day week. Regardless of who we draw (please let it be Meath in Navan, please, please, please), we need to find a full-back, and quick. David Brady gets my vote – Pat Harte will return from suspension the next day and so DB could easily shift back – failing which we may need to recall James Kilcullen to the position.

Overall then, this wasn’t the kind of compelling performance I had in mind when I discussed our prospects ahead of the game. However, unlike Cavan (not to mention Roscommon, Longford, Down and Leitrim), we’re still standing and now we must wait to see who’ll we get paired against tomorrow evening.

PS: I got plenty of video clips of Mayo’s scores this evening and will endeavour to post as many of them as possible to the YouTube Channel tomorrow evening, once I get back to base after this short but, on balance, enjoyable trip to the West.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The championship season starts here

This is it. No more second chances, one more loss and that’s it till the FBD League next January. After the ridiculously long layoff following the defeat in Salthill, we now potentially face an equally mad period of intensive activity . . . but only if we manage to win each tie we face.

If we get through tomorrow, then we’re in the hat on Sunday and back in action the next Saturday. If we win again, we’re back into the hat the night after that and then, depending on which of the losing provincial finalists we draw, we’re playing either the following weekend or the one after. Win again and then it’s a fortnight's break before the quarter-finals, the business end of the championship.

We’ve got at least this far in each of the past three seasons but it’s going to be a hell of a battle – what with the likes of Armagh, Donegal, Meath and Cork possibly barring our way – to make it through to the All-Ireland series this time round. But at least we now know what we have to do to get there – win, win and win again.

We should win – perhaps with some ease – against Cavan tomorrow. Paddy Power certainly thinks we will: we’re on offer at 1/7 and the three previews published to date, on RTE.ie, Hogan Stand and Setanta, all tip us to do it. Cavan in McHale Park: of course we should do it but only if we have learned the lessons we needed to after the trimming we got in Salthill back in May.

Much has been made of the sweeping changes to the team for tomorrow night. A little too much, to my mind. Some changes were inevitable and the injuries suffered by Keith and Super Mac, as well as Enda Devenney’s illness and Kenneth O’Malley’s lack of fitness following a recent injury (not to mention Pat Harte’s suspension) meant that there was always going to have to be a number of changes, no matter what team was being selected.

What was eye-catching, of course, was Johnno’s decision to turf the two Ballagh kids into such pivotal positions and, for good measure, his decision to gamble with Barry Moran at full-forward (that’s assuming he plays there, I’ve heard plenty of opinions to the contrary). But even here, what other choice did he have? Stick with Jimmy Nallen, Chucky and Ger Brady? The simple fact was that changes had to be made and all three central positions were effectively unoccupied (it's the same at full-back – Liam O’Malley is no long-term solution there) so Johnno needed some fresh talent to fill them.

Sure, it’s a gamble but it’s the right match in which to take such a risk. And it’s not totally radical – if he really wanted to wield the knife, the likes of Peadar Gardiner, Alan Dillon and one or two others could have found themselves warming their posteriors on the bench tomorrow evening. What we got was a combination of changes that were enforced and changes that plainly had to be made. The outcome does, I agree, look radical but I don't think that was the motivation behind the changes.

As I said the other day, it’s impossible to know how the new formation will perform but at least we don’t have too long to find out. What we’d all like to see, of course, would be a really compelling performance, one that would announce in no uncertain terms that we’re back in business, that the Summer – despite all the shite weather – has only just begun. I'm certainly looking forward to jumping in the car for the drive West tomorrow and to seeing the lads in action at McHale Park later on in the evening. We've been so thoroughly written off by all and sundry at this stage that it would be just great if we were to provide some compelling evidence tomorrow that we still have a part to play in this year's championship.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Johnno's Ballagh gamble

So it was a case, after all, of sweeping changes from Salthill. Some of the omissions from that match were enforced, like Keith Higgins, Pat Harte and, perhaps, Enda Devenney but the others - Kenneth O'Malley, James Nallen, Ger Brady and skipper Kevin O'Neill - weren't. There are seven changes in all, though three of those coming in - Aidan Higgins, Trevor Howley and David Brady - all played a part in Salthill (as did Super Mac whose hamstring injury rules him out for Saturday) and all three are fairly hardened competitors, as is David Clarke who displaces Kenneth O'Malley between the sticks.

However, the main talking points will undoubtedly be the parachuting of Barry Moran, a la Donaghy and Cussen, into full-forward (a position in which he played in the second half of last year's All-Ireland) and the championship debuts handed to the two Ballaghaderreen greenhorns, David Kilcullen and Pierce Hanley, in the pivotal centre-back and centre-forward positions respectively. Johnno is obviously going with his gut instinct here, as he'll know the Ballagh lads well.

Here's the team in full: D Clarke; A Higgins, L O'Malley, T Howley; P Gardiner (Capt), D Kilcullen, Trevor Mortimer; D Heaney, D Brady; BJ Padden, P Hanley, A Dillon; C Mortimer, B Moran, A Moran.

It's a radical remix, make no mistake, but I suppose when you look back at the display against Galway, significant changes had to be made. It's hard to know how this new formation will perform - we'll have to wait till 7pm on Saturday evening to find out, I guess.

That's it - we're still on hols dodging the deluge of rain. Well, at least the forecast for Saturday appears to be okay.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Holiday postcard (2)

I have a few on me at the minute, Your Honour, but Mayofans.com are reporting that this is the team for Saturday evening, which represents a fairly sweeping number of changes from Salthill. For a number of reasons, it's information worth sleeping on.

Holiday postcard (1)

It's only gorgeous here but the only problem is that, seeing as we haven't left the jurisdiction, it's still bucketing down. Nothing for it but to head for the swimming pool - we may as well get properly wet.

Right, to business. Today's Indo carries a brief story which says that Campbell and Austie are fit but that Devenney, David Kilcullen and Super Mac are all doubtful. In the Mayo News, meanwhile, Johnno confirms that Mac won't be fit for Sunday. In the same paper, there's also an interesting report on the Big Wind final of 1948 against Cavan which, as the report says, shows that our All-Ireland final heartbreaks didn't start with Colm Coyle in 1996. In his weekly column, Kevin McStay mentions all the rumours emanating from Cavan about players buggering off to the States and morale being on the floor but he then cautions that pre-match rumours carry as much weight as performances in challenge matches. That's a fairly apposite comparison, methinks.

That's it. Gotta dash, swimming pool is calling. Wish you were here and all that.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A short break

We (that’s me and the wife, not the royal plural) have decided that, what with the chisellers off school and all that, it’s time for the lot of us to have a few days away together, to recharge the batteries and what not. Okay, okay, I recognise that, after weeks of inactivity, these are the final few days leading up to our second championship outing of the Summer and that, no doubt, there will be the odd few morsels of news about the team that will need to be conveyed to the wider world.

In this context, I can reveal that I have a two-pronged strategy for dealing with the critical information need that will exist over the coming few days. One prong comprises my laptop and the availability of the wonderful Bitbuzz Wi-Fi service in the hideaway to which we’ll all be skedalling in a few hours time. The second is my adoption of a more staccato-like writing style, sort of like Ernest Hemingway (of whom it was said that his writing was like an iceberg, in that he only put in a fraction of what he wanted to convey, leaving the reader to do the rest) but without the bulls. Or maybe like Big Tom (no, not THAT Big Tom, THIS one). With his. Two word. Sentences, yeah.

Adios, compadres. There’s a. Car to. Pack, like.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Graham Geraghty's political credentials

You have to hand it to him, you really do. Graham Geraghty first showed his adroit political sensibilities Down Under in 1999 and has always been known as a man who is far from afraid to, ahem, fight his corner. Up till now, these confrontations have tended to be with the opposition - as, for example, Dublin's David Henry could testify from their encounter a few weeks back - but reports today suggest that his penchant for such manly romping extends to the internecine variety as well. A fully-fledged Alpha Male, one that's well capable of putting it about both verbally and physically: you can see now why the Blueshirts wanted him on board. It's such a pity those unenlightened electors in Meath West only saw fit to bestow 1,284 first preference votes on him: can you could just imagine what he'd have done to John O'Donoghue in the Dail had the new Ceann Comhairle had that toddler fit with him instead of with Mayo's own Michael Ring?

Ref's howler swings Munster title away from Cork

Kevin McStay got it spot on a few weeks back when discussing refereeing standards in his Mayo News column. What he said you needed to watch for were the big decisions because the better refs tended to get those big calls right. On that basis, Mr M Duffy from Sligo is not one of the game's better refs as he got a big decision late on in yesterday's Munster football final horribly wrong.

An enthralling battle between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald stadium was all-square with just a couple of minutes left when a slick Cork move resulted in midfielder Derek Kavanagh being put through clear on goal. As he shaped to bury the ball in the net, Tomas O Se yanked his jersey from behind, unbalancing the Corkman who blasted his shot wide. It was as clear a penalty as you could ever hope to see but Mr Duffy (who had earlier on overruled his umpires and disallowed a Cork point, simply because Kerry goalie Diarmuid Murphy had a blue hissy fit when the white flag went up) saw nothing wrong. Kerry promptly went up the other end and scored two stonking long-range points - the first from Kieran Donaghy, the second from sub Sean O'Sullivan - to seal their first Munster title at this famous old ground since 1986. While the ref didn't win it for Kerry - they did that themselves with those two superbly-taken points - had he got that crucial decision at the other end just beforehand right, Cork would almost certainly have been a goal up with seconds to go. They wouldn't have lost it from there.

Still, Billy Morgan won't be too unhappy as his side matched the All-Ireland champions pretty well throughout the field and showed that they're likely to be a force to be reckoned with in the All-Ireland series. Fifteen minutes into the second half, when they trailed by six points, it looked as if Cork were going to take a beating but the inspired Donncha O'Connor scored a superb goal to haul them back into contention and with time running out it looked more likely that the visitors would prevail. They would have too, had our Sligo friend been up with the action a bit better.

Kerry looked solid enough yesterday, given that it's only the start of July. They've often looked in wretched form at this time of year (two examples - 2004 and 2006 - will suffice to prove this point) whereas yesterday they looked well up to speed and as hungry for success as ever. It's in the forwards that they look most impressive - Donaghy is obviously back in form, Declan O' Sullivan was everywhere, Mike Frank did bugger all from play but kicked some superb dead balls and the Gooch sonambulated through the first half before opening up to devastating effect in the second. His goal demonstrated pure economy of movement as he fielded the ball, swivelled and buried it. The Carrot-Headed Assassin clearly hasn't gone away, you know.

Who else was there? Oh yes, that gimp Galvin, who - true to form - was involved in a right old belting match with Cork's Noel O'Leary (who, in fariness, should have been red-carded for kicking Galvin in the first half but then maybe there's a secret dispensation within the rules for kicking Galvin, seeing as everyone outside Kerry would happily spend a few hours every day at such a pursuit) and whom Pat O'Shea wisely called ashore in the second half when it was becoming clear that he was unlikely to stay on the field much longer.

While Kerry look good in the forwards, midfield wasn't hectic - that lumbering hulk Quirke didn't do a whole deal and Darragh O Se was under severe pressure to cope with the excellent Derek Kavanagh and Nicholas Murphy. When Michael Cussen switched out there in the second half, he ensured that Cork continued to win more than their fair share of ball round the middle. Kerry also look weakish at centre-back and full-back, with Aidan O'Mahony and Tom O'Sullivan struggling somewhat to fill the illustrious shoes of Seamus Moynihan and Mike McCarthy. I think if Tyrone rip into those Kerry backs the way you'd expect them to, the 2003 and 2005 champions could well be celebrating the continuation of this geometric series in 2007.

The other problem for Kerry is the one relating to Winner's Curse, which sees them now kicking their heels for six whole weeks before the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Cork, in contrast, are back in action in three weeks time and the narrow defeat they suffered yesterday shouldn't cause too much psychological damage to them. We haven't seen the last of the Leesiders this year, I reckon.

Elsewhere yesterday, Laois came from four points down at half-time to see off Wexford in the Leinster football semi-final at Croker. Here too, a hotly-disputed refereeing decision turned the tide. Once Wexford's centre-back David Murphy went on a second yellow with twenty minutes to go, Laois began to take command but they made hard work of it, shooting 18 wides in total (and they say Mayo can't shoot straight!) in a match they eventually won by a goal. Laois got murdered by the Dubs in the Leinster semi-final last year and, on yesterday's performance, they'll do well to avoid a similar fate this year.

And so to the mighty Mayo ladies, who continue to upstage their male counterparts. Yesterday at Salthill, we had no election-distracted manager, no early defensive collapse and no headless-chicken approach in attack. Instead, another gutsy performance for the Green and Red as the girls pulled off a one-point win after extra time over defending champions Galway in the Connacht decider. They now go forward to the new mini-league All-Ireland series, where, once again, they'll be serious contenders for outright victory.

There's no word as yet on the chaps but with only six days to go now till we face the Cavan Bucks, we should be getting some news within the next few days on the team that'll line out at McHale Park on Saturday evening.