Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Path to Nestor Runs Through Midfield: Connacht Final 2008

An Spailpín Fánach is flattered once more to be in the pages of the Mayo News, the paper with the best sports coverage in Mayo, as the Connacht Final looms.

I’m writing about the rivalry between Galway and Mayo, and how surprisingly gentle it is. It’s played for keeps of course, and there have been some crunching hits going in (last year’s hit on Ciarán McDonald springing instantly to mind), but it certainly has never descended into anything particularly ugly. Some handbags between Gary Fahy and either Ray Dempsey or John Casey before the throw-in in Tuam eleven years ago is about the only belting that particularly comes to mind, but then Ray was always something of a mischievous sprite, please him. Please God he’ll fill the minors from the same bottle.

Football will more than likely be the winner this weekend too, with the match being decided by three factors: midfield domination, the ability to score goals, and the ability to stop goals.

It looks like advantage Mayo in midfield, not only because Tom Parsons has that marvellous to-the-manner-born air about him, but because Pat Harte is likely to wear 11. This means that if the moving rocks of Coleman and Cullinane threaten Parsons and McGarrity just as the moving rocks of the Hellespont threatened Jason and the Argonauts, then Pat Harte can be the man that comes to their rescue. Classicists will recall it was a dove that showed the way to Jason; An Spailpín is hoping that Pat can take after a doughtier class of a bird – Lizzie Borden, perhaps.

Harte’s presence at eleven may ease some of the pressure that seems to have been burdening Alan Dillon in recent years, and restore him to the wing, where he’s played his best football for Mayo. That, certainly, would be the earnest hope of the county. Ahead of them again, the management have picked the same full-forward line at every opportunity and if midfield can claim possession it’s up to them to convert that into scores. Now, now is the hour.

Not least as Galway are so incandescent with talent at the other end. Galway stand or fall on the strength of their forwards and if they slip the leash they will punish you. Cormac Bane scored two highlight reel goals against Mayo last year, and he’s been struggling to make the team this year. That says something.

Padraic Joyce is rejuvenated since he’s moved out to eleven, a man in whom all football should glory. Sad is the heart that didn’t lift to see the great man signing autographs for the faithful after the Leitrim game, smiling with the kids. Joyce without the ball is just another helpless spectator, of course, but with it, he is the destroyer of worlds. A classic in prospect.

FOCAL SCOIR: On the eve of such a sporting treat, it's good to keep perspective and remember those who might have more on their mind than who'll win the midfield breaks. As such, spare a thought on Saturday for Marie Carolan of Glencastle, who's not having a good time right now and whose uncle, Michael Carolan, will be hitting the road on Saturday in the Addidas Five Mile Race in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. You can see details on how to stump up here. Best of luck to them all.

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