Friday, May 18, 2007

A Game of Chess or Lannigan's Ball? Johnno Names the Team for Sunday

Johnno: Thinking all the timeJohn O’Mahony’s team selected to play Galway on Sunday has been met with arched eyebrows, pursed lips, and requests to pull the other one, Johnno, it’s got bells on. A good friend of your humble correspondent assured An Spailpín Fánach via text message last night that if Mayo lined out as selected, specifically with Billy Joe Padden at fullback and James Nallen at centre-half back, he, the texter, would leap off the pier at Blackrock in Upper Salthill, and into the cold, cold briny below.

Let this column assure friends and detractors, assenters and dissenters that there will be no need for this sort of thing. Billy Joe Padden has played at fullback before, and played very well there – he went in fullback against Monaghan in the League last year after David Heaney got sent off, and performed very well there. Heaney was suspended for the following game and your faithful narrator expected Billy Joe to slot in there for the foreseeable, but Liam O’Malley played there the next day and Heaney returned to the last line of defence once he came out of purdah.

People have been suggesting all sorts of switching and shifting in formation to go on before the throw-in, but An Spailpín isn’t quite so sure. Having named this team it would make as much sense to start it, as opposed to working on bluffs and double-bluffs until we get to the stage where the coaches exit and the discrete mathematicians and quantum physics theorists take over. A man stepping in and a man stepping out again is all very well at Lannigan's Ball, but it might get confusing in a game of Gaelic Football. Besides, if P Joyce decides to go strolling and Ja comes in to the square to rest his venerable bones, then Mayo’s full and centre-half backs are changed anyway. It’s best to stay calm in this regard.

For An Spailpín, the most interesting confrontations are at midfield, where Mayo’s Harte and Heaney face Galway’s Bergin and Coleman, and in the corners, with very interesting tussles coming up between Michael Meehan and Keith Higgins, Cormac Bane and Liam O’Malley, and, perhaps most crucially of all, Galway’s Damien Burke against Conor Mortimer. How these battle pan out will tell a lot on the day. Mayo’s bench is in theory the stronger, and you can expect a cheer in Salthill the likes of which haven’t been heard in that area since Planxty played the Hanger in 1972 if or when David Brady or Ciarán McDonald are stripped and ready to enter the fray. The downside is that if the old warriors are sent for Mayo may be in trouble – in the All-Ireland Finals in which David Brady was introduced as a sub, the moving finger had long ago done its terrible work. All Mayo would face the horrendous battle to the notoriously inaccessible Pearse Stadium with a little more ease were Brady full fit and starting, but it’s hard to have it every way.

Galway are a more free-scoring team than Mayo – if Mayo dominate midfield, this will negate that, but if Galway win the centre then it’s double jeopardy, as Mayo’s difficulties in front of goal increase exponentially. If any one of the Galway inside line catches fire and gives his man a trimming, Mayo are in trouble. If two of them light up, Johnno is as well to start looking at the map, as his next game won’t be in Castlebar no more. And if all three of those desperados catch fire, well, Michelle Mulherin might see Dáil Éireann yet. On the bright side, that’s a lot of if’s. Mayo by 2 is the vote.

FOCAL SCOIR: If you're finding all this Gaelic Football a bit much as the Championship moves up through the gears, try how the other half lives - a fasncinating story on ESPN about the Russian Professional Women's Basketball League. Incredible stuff.

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