Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bad Maroon Rising - Are Mayo in a for a Mauling in Castlebar?

Go bhfoire Dia orainn! Tá na Gaillimhí ag teacht!Not since King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans looked down from the Pass at Thermopylae at the invading Persians massed on the plain below can stout hearts have felt a greater trepidation that the ever-true hearts of the heather county feel this week as the prospect of a trimming at the hands of the herring-chokers in this Sunday’s Connacht Final.

Mayo have two things on their side – home advantage, and the weight of history. Home advantage goes without saying; it’s always easier to win on your patch than theirs (when was the last Mayo win in Salthill, now I think of it? And we thought Tuam had a hoodoo. Sigh). The history books tell us that Galway have never dominated Mayo, and the maroon jersey always brings out the best in a Mayo team. Thank the Lord for that, for without those two crutches, Mayo would be viewing Galway with the same sense of inevitable destruction as the frog views the harrow.

Galway have hammered Mayo in their last three meetings, in the League semi-final this year, in the FBD game at the start of the year and in last year’s Connacht Final. Galway haven’t edged those games; they’ve clearly been the superior outfit in all three contests. But Mayo were able to give Galway a 1-3 start and still beat them in 2004 in the Connacht semi-final in 2004, and that was the precursor to a very fine summer. So who knows what tomorrow brings, in a world where so few Hartes survive, as Laois proved on Saturday. But while the flame of hope will always flicker from Westport to Charlestown and all points in between, Mayo have to be concerned about where the scores will come from, and the potential of Galway to drill them over at the other end.

Interestingly, neither Michael Meehan, in his inchoate career, or Pádraig Joyce, in his considerably more extended one, has gone gangbusters against Mayo. Dermot Geraghty has been able to hold the Boy King in check in previous meetings, but such is Meehan’s deep pool of talent that one can only fear and dread that the berserker mood will descend on him one of these days, and he will cry havoc!, and let slip the dogs of war.

While Joyce has never danced on a Mayo coffin himself, as he did against Meath in the All-Ireland final of 2001, he has certainly got the scores when they counted, most notably in Castlebar in 2002. Whatever; the potency of the Galway forwards has been alluded to before, and there’s no point giving them big heads.

Pat Harte’s triumphant display at midfield in Carrick-on-Shannon, before he clumsily got himself sent off, gave hope to the fans that Mayo can hold their own at midfield, although the loss of David Brady to a broken metatarsal cannot be over-estimated. The heron-choker fears Brady as the crusty fears soap, and no doubt sang a grateful Te Deum when news of Brady’s injury filtered through. For Mayo though, it is a bitter blow, and we can only pray that Harte will be able to weather the storm.

Behind Harte and McGarrity an Cispheileadoir An Spailpín remains confident in the defence, but in front of midfield, as it has been for such a depressingly long time, problems not only remain but have multiplied as Mayo’s early form in the league imploded and began to eat away at the team.

An Spailpín was interested in mathematics in a previous existence, and his formerly potent arithmetical powers tell him that if Mayo are playing two forwards as third midfielders, Billy Joe Padden and Andy Moran, that’s two less forwards to whom the serried midfield ranks can supply with ball. If we also take it as read that Conor Mortimer’s temperament issues persist, that neither Ger Brady nor Ciarán McDonald can both wear the 11 shirt, this means that Mayo do not have an inside forward line in the recognisable sense of the term, and one gets the feeling that scoring will be an issue on Sunday in McHale Park.

Perhaps Mayo will play with a two-man full-forward line featuring Trevor Mortimer in harness with his brother. Perhaps Michael Conroy, star of the U21 team that brought Mayo its first Championship title in 21 years after so many final disappointments, can go in there and do his stuff. But the frozen rictus of fear displayed by the Mayo line in Carrick on Shannon, when the team was reduced to fourteen headless chickens after Harte got sent off, does not fill the heart with hope that the management have spotted this. We’ve been hearing all year about the profound tactical insight of John Morrison, Sancho Panza in Mickey Moran’s Don Quixote; if Morrison can figure out a game plan where a team with no full-forward line wins a game against the most potent full-forward line in the country then Hannibal Barca of Carthage and Irwin Rommel of Germany are only in the ha’penny place with him.

Galway are superior to Mayo in terms of experience, personnel and management. Mayo’s best chance against Galway would have been to infiltrate their borders with agents provocateurs during their Arts Festival, to wreak such destruction as they may while the enemy revelled. Miserably, the purple bastards have already thought of that, and do not start the Festival this year until the day after the Connacht Final. I see the bad maroon rising; I see trouble on the way.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,