The first Mayo team of the summer has been named at last – kinda. With typical efficiency the County Board has let confusion reign, and even now there is doubt over who will start at corner-back, Trevor Howley or Dermot Geraghy, in Mayo’s first Championship outing against London in Ruislip.
An Spailpín has chosen to reserve judgement on this Mickey Moran era – good start to the league nothwithstanding, Mickey’s china plate Mr Morrison remains a cannon so loose that he makes a nineteenth century Scotch Presbyterian look like Dr Timothy Leary. The big innovation is the Ulstermen’s “star” full-forward formation - it might make Morrison sound like a Saoi, or “wise one,” among the more gullible of our scribes, but An Spailpín can’t shake the idea out of his head that such choreography would be more at home in London’s West End at a revival of 42nd Street than on the playing fields of Erin when the summer is high.
But no matter. Though London might be seen as lowly opposition, there is always a tingle when the first team of the Championship is named and, with the great risk of leaving a hostage to fortune, An Spailpín really likes the look of this one. David Heaney has finally been freed from bondage in the last line of defence and moves forward to the thick of midfield battle, like Don John of Austria advancing to the war. An Spailpín’s dream midfield pairing is David Brady and Ronan McGarrity, but Heaney and Harte should prove able understudies.
The full-forward line is heavy with folk heroes, with neither Austin, McDanger nor C-Mort having to stand their own porter in their own towns, where each is hailed not as man, but god. Ciarán McDonald is the only one of the three to regularly deliver on the national stage, but it remains to be seen how he plays at full-forward, a position to which McDonald is unaccustomed. However, whatever doubts may be entertained by the always faithful support of the County Mayo, Moran has made it fairly clear that he is building his church on Ger Brady at centre-forward, and as such McDonald must serve the greater need. All Mayo will pray the experiment works during the summer, and that Austin and Conor deliver on their rich promise.
Doubts have been expressed about the size of the full back line, with the trauma of 2004 still biting deep in the Mayo psyche. An Spailpín is not that concerned; Heaney was clearly under pressure at full-back, and there have been problems finding a midfield pairing all year – the moving of Heaney is an eminently sensible decision. As for Liam O’Malley guarding the square, that same square that has been guarded by such forces of nature down the years as Mick Lyons, Sean Doherty and that punishing primose, Pat Lindsay, An Spailpín is not worried. In his last two outings for Mayo, O’Malley put stern shackles on Tyrone’s Stephen O’Neill and Galway’s boy-king Michael Meehan, two of the more dangerous desperadoes that one meets while patrolling the green and red redoubt. An Spailpín also noticed, from his eyrie in McHale Park, that when Stephen O’Neill attempted some funny business, O’Malley, for all his size, was not slow to chastise the Tyroneman, and show him the error of his ways.
Ger Loughnane told his troops that the referee would not protect them; a fact as sad as it is true. Liam O’Malley will be alright, and how could he not be, for what is O’Malley if not one of the proudest family names in Mayo’s long history? The song about Captain George O’Malley, that seafaring hero related to Gráinne Uaile herself, is never far from any Mayoman’s lips and, in the hope of a long and glorious summer, An Spailpín takes his leave with the final verse, and wishes the team all the best against London and further. Maigh Eo abú.
Nár mhór an clú is an t-ádh dúinn an bealach úd a shárú,
Is gan againn ann ach namhaid romhainn is inár ndiaidh,
Bhí water-guards san airdeall agus póilíos lena sála,
Revenue na háite is gach spiadóir dá raibh leo.
Bhí cutters, beag is mór ann, píolótaí santacha leofa,
Loinseacha Rí Sheoirse sa tóir uilig i mo dhiaidh,
Ach is mise Seoirse Ó Máille, fear maith de chineál Ghráinne,
A chuireadh i dtír mo lucht go sásta, is ná raibh maith acu dá chionn.
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