Thursday, July 05, 2007

Johnno Goes for Broke

Deputy DogSeven weeks after Mayo’s latest humiliation in Salthill, Mayo manager John O’Mahony had a choice – he could stick with what we were used to and limp on in the Championship, eventually waiting for a sweet and anonymous dispatch in Crossmaglen or Ballyshannon, or he could go for broke, shake up the whole setup and let the cards fall where he may. In the end, it was no choice at all.

Much has been said in the past of Johnno’s innate conservatism – he is a Fine Gaeler after all – but it seems, as the county Mayo awaits this new model Mayo that’s been delivered so late in the summer, that the chief motivating force under O’Mahony’s bonnet is a thrilling hated of losing. The deep and caustic sting of being taken off after five minutes in the 1975 Connacht Final has never left him, and that fire has forged, in its way, today’s revolutionary lineup to face Cavan in Castlebar on Saturday evening. If Mayo lose, what of it? It’s not like it’ll be the first time, or the last. But if they win, if this new look team can bottle lightning, then the county will sit down to Sunday night’s draw with no small amount of interest and eagerness.

The team, for anyone that hasn’t seen it, is: David Clarke; Aidan Higgins, Liam O’Malley, Trevor Howley; Peadar Gardiner (c), David Kilcullen, Trevor Mortimer; David Heaney, David Brady; Billy Joe Padden, Pierce Hanley, Alan Dillon; Conor Mortimer, Barry Moran, Alan Moran.

Astonishing, really. It’s hard to remember a time when a Mayo team was so remodelled in a season but then again, the backdoor is only with us for six years, and it’s hard to say, in Mayo’s four previous and inauspicious journeys in the land of the undead, just how interested anybody was, really.

John O’Mahony is clearly interested, and so is the panel. The message is clear – if you’re good enough, you’re in, and reputation counts for nothing. It isn’t even necessarily the end of the road for some old campaigners – better to see Jimmy Nallen stride in from the bench to guide the ship safely home in the last ten minutes than to see him wrecked before the mast once more, and to send in a stripling before some Cavan men whose nostrils are flaring at the scent of an unexpected victory. But it does show this – that as far as John O’Mahony is concerned, Mayo are still in contention for Championship 2007, and will be while they can still stand on their feet.

Will it work? Who knows? But it matters little, really. If all accounts coming out of Cavan are accurate, the Breffni County that won 39 Ulster titles and five All-Irelands are but shadows of themselves, and the three defections to the Chicago Championship were hardly three endorsements of summer glory to come. Cavan are there to be had. On the other hand, if it is to be Cavan’s day, then good luck and more power to them. Mayo can have few complaints in that regard – Mayo will have tried their best and played all their cards, and been found out as not being good enough. There’s no shame in that. Thirty-one teams aren’t good enough in any given year and, after the traumas of the past three years, we are as well to fall on our own sod as to repeat the caught-in-the-spotlight eviscerations of 2004 and 2006.

However, if it does work out, then we are looking at a Mayo team that will have sloughed off the defeat in Salthill, and who knows what else besides. Our Sligo neighbour William Butler Yeats (and best of luck to his countymen against Galway on Sunday) pointed out that the young have no need to dread the monstrous crying of the wind, to which we can include for these purposes the Munster crying of the windy, as Kerry and Cork smile among themselves after confirming their status as the two best teams in the country with that little phoney war in Killarney on Sunday. Youth knows neither fear nor limit, and if Pierce Hanley and Barry Moran and young David Kilcullen can seize the day, then the world is theirs for the spoiling. Mayo then regroup, aware that Pat Harte, Ronan McGarrity and Ciarán McDonald, our prince of men, are as greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The defence has a more solid look to it, and the potential upfront is suddenly deep. It is always a mistake to count chickens but it will be with greater heart that the faithful will assemble in Castlebar on Saturday evening and, as long as we have a Mayo team to watch, doing their best for the proud old county of shamrock and heather, life can’t really be said to be all bad. Roll on Saturday.

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