Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Johnno Hops a Ball During the Phony War

What a bizarre Championship build-up this week has been. Mayo and Limerick are the last two counties, numbers 32 and 33, to take a bow in this year's football Championship. In other years, their whole summers would be over by now - instead, both of them are straining at the slips, trying to make up for the missed chances of other years.

Poor Limerick are doomed I'm afraid. Maigh Eo is a harder egg to figure. The county underwent severe psychological trauma from that regal scutching delivered by the Kingdom in the All-Ireland final and, even though every match report read by An Spailpín Fánach during the league invariably started with "Mayo went another step towards putting their All-Ireland final defeat behind them with a convincing yada yada yada," there remain areas of profound concern in the Mayo football landscape.

The dogs in the street seem aware that, after being one of the outstanding players for Mayo as they picked themselves off the floor in the League, Billy Joe Padden is to be moved from midfield, where he played so well in the League, to full-forward, in a move that sends tremors through all gallants of the Green and Red. Two-fold tremors, as it means that not only is Padden playing at full-forward for the first time at county level (and spare me some load of yak about challenge games), Shane Fitzmaurice, cispheileadóir, is back at midfield for the first time in three years. I hope Fitzmaurice is the second coming, I really do, but my God the evidence for it is scant, is it not? I believe that when Fitzmaurice returned to the squad Georgie Golden remarked on Fitzmaurice's prowess as a basketballer as one of the reasons for his return. Which, if Mayo were playing the Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden, would be good news, but when Mayo are playing Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park basketball is beside the point, surely?

Regular visitors to, the Roscommon supporters' website that has the best football discussion forum on the internet bar none, will be amused at how the tone of discussion has changed there as the first "real" game of the Championship approaches. For about a fortnight after their close call in London it was all rending of garments and gnashing of teeth with the Sheepstealers; this week a certain fatalism has settled on them, marbled throughout with gallows humour.

These are bitter times in the Ros. Roscommon never really got over that nudie pool incident of three years ago, when photographs of a weekend's jigacting by the Roscommon team in some hotel in the North were published by the Sunday People. The team was stood down, but when the new team was put together, all the scamps were reinstated, which perhaps gave certain members of the Roscommon panel a misguided conception of loyalty, honour and discipline.

If so, they're paying for it now, as most of Roscommon expect to get their ears comprehensively boxed by Mayo. As they probably will. Even in a worst case scenario, where Fitzmaurice proves another junior goalkeeper and McGarrity gets laid out by a Whelo-esque first five minutes Shaq-smack, allowing Roscommon to rain ball in on the Mayo full-back line, who's going to clock up the scores? Roscommon have scored one goal in the entire league - that's not that potent, really. There seems to be a view in certain sections of Roscommon that Frankie Dolan can turn talent on and off like a tap; this view may be mistaken.

On paper, Mayo, fraught and all as they are by demons real and imagined, should have too much for Roscommon - if it wasn't for one terribly subtle move by a terribly subtle mind in this week's Western People newspaper that causes An Spailpín to wonder. While enjoying his time out of football, John O'Mahony is keeping himself from under the wife's feet with media work, such as his appearances on the Sunday Game (buy a tie lads - Jesus Christ, the whole country is watching!) and his column in the Western. As well as the hedging for which he is justly famous, this week Johnno named an alternative Mayo XV in his Western People column, just for the gas, like.

Here's the team: Peter Burke; Kenneth Mortimer, Pat Kelly, Gary Ruane; Gary Mullins, Alan Roche, Brian Ruane; David Brady, James Gill; Aiden Kilcoyne, Patrick Harte, Ger Brady (Claremorris); Liam Brady, Kevin O’Neill, Austin O’Malley.

Anyone that follows the Mayo team at all well hear quite a few clicks in his or her head looking at the names - good old Kenny, the pick of the Morts, young Ruane deserves his chance, my God, David Brady and James Gill in midfield together, Kevin O'Neill - was it really twelve years ago? - and Austin, who never got a run. And they'll be thinking: what is this? A CV?

Johnno is the cute old fox. Whoever supplies Rennies in County Mayo ought to leave the truck parked outside John Maughan's for the week. Maughan has to be looking at Johnno now like Jack Lynch was looking at Charlie Haughey in 1977. In the meantime, Mayo to win on Sunday, scrape past Galway by the seaside, get a lucky draw in the quarters and then come to a bloody end of the line in Croker in the semi-final. And then there'll be crack.