Monday, July 14, 2008

Mayo Remain Defiant After Galway's Sammon Leap

An Seoigeach Gan SmalGalway 2-12
Mayo 1-14

One of the great feats of gaiscíocht, or acts of heroism, of the mythical Irish warriors was the salmon leap. The warrior had to be able to leap an opponent’s shield in order to hack off the opponent’s head from above, what modern marketing consultants would consider thinking outside the envelope.

Galway are doing some Sammon leaping themselves this year, as crowned by their Connacht Championship on Sunday. Manager Liam Sammon is in his first year in charge and does not enjoy the media profile of his Mayo opposite number, but that doesn’t make him the lesser man. In this age of special assistant to the isotonic water carrier, the craggy featured Sammon is refreshingly old school. He seems to believe in finding the best fifteen players in the county, showing them the jersey, throwing them a football and telling them to let rip. Works pretty good so far.

It’s fashionable to preface any comments about Galway’s potential with the remark by dismissing their All-Ireland winning prospects. If Galway aren’t All-Ireland contenders, then may I beg my masters’ pardon and ask who are? Lethal forwards, a midfield that can only get stronger when Joe Bergin returns, tigerish backs in Burke, Blake, Fitzgerald and Hanley, Bradshaw and Conroy bringing the bloom and beauty of youth and the ageless, iconic Padraic Joyce, a winner since his Hogan Cup days with Jarlath’s, invested by Sammon with the power to loose and to bind from the pivotal 11 position – what’s not to like?

As for Mayo, once the bitterness of a one point defeat dies away and the acrid taste is washed away by a week’s consoling porter, things will not appear as bleak as they may seem now. Galway are nearer Sam, certainly, but the Championship is more about cats on hot tins roofs than the one county that can be champion – the real purpose for most counties in the Championship, as with the tabby on the slates, is to survive for as long as you can.

Mayo finished the game stronger than they started, and are still in the Championship. They were still in the Championship last year after defeat to Galway, but that happened earlier in the year and they did not leave Salthill stronger after the seventy minutes. By contrast, there is much to build on this time out, especially in contrast to the desolation of last year.

Firstly, there is the return to form of Alan Dillon. Dillon has been played all year at centre-half forward and clearly hated it. Back on wing, he was popping them over happily, and the return of Pat Harte frees Dillon up to do just that. An Spailpín has full confidence in Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons in midfield, and once any team has a foothold in midfield it’s a contender.

Either side of midfield remains an issue. There’s nothing new there. Aidan Higgins was magnificent when he came on, because he set about doing what should be first on every defender’s list – making his man’s life a misery. The story was that Matthew Clancy did not emerge in the second half due to an ankle injury, but An Spailpín can’t stop himself from suspecting that Sammon didn’t want to lose Clancy to a second yellow, as Higgins’ playful banter was really getting on the moptop’s nerves.

An Spailpín would like to see Liam O’Malley’s return to the colours also, for the same reason. He has a gift for being a pain in the ass. The third man who impressed when he came on was Billy Padden. There is so much criticism directed at Padden it surprises An Spailpín why he bothers sometimes, but he’ll always have something to deliver for the Green and Red. An Spailpín would play him at full-forward or full-back, somewhere where he can get busy, get on the ball and make things happen. He’s that kind of a fella.

Leaving the ground, An Spailpín was asked by a friend from the great town of Ballaghaderreen if I was going to “have another go at the Ballagh man.” I thought it unfair, not least as I didn’t have a go at the Ballagh man first time out. We might as well clear the air on this issue.

John O’Mahony remains the only man for the Mayo manager’s job. Full stop. He’s certainly made mistakes, and clearly made them yesterday, but we all make mistakes in life. It’s how we respond to those mistakes that defines us. Yesterday, when Mayo were being cut open in the first half, Johnno make the switches and Mayo were unlucky in some ways not to pull it out of the fire. Now Johnno has a fortnight or three weeks to pick through the debris, and arise from the ashes. What though the field be lost? All is not lost; Mayo are one win away from being in the same position as Galway in the All-Ireland series. Mayo can’t match Galway for talent, but the race is not always to the swift, thank God.

What O’Mahony and Mayo do have to do, however, is to maximise their resources to deliver the best efforts they can. One of the reasons that An Spailpín believes Johnno the best man for the job is because he’s the only man for the job. There is no other contender with the same credentials. Not one. There is no point in replacing a man unless you have one better to take his place, as Sammon has proved by building his team around the aging Padraic Joyce, because there’s no-one in Galway that can match him. The biggest mistake Johnno made so far was in letting men go when he was not able to replace them, thereby leaving himself some hostages to fortune as remarked in this space previously, but in life it’s never too late to deal with mistakes and make amends. Mayo have three weeks to rise again – the green and red still flies proud over the sweeping fields of heather as Reek Sunday approaches.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,