James Horan's squad culling was certainly the talk of the county last weekend, with six players let go from his panel for the 2019 championship.
Of those six, the two biggest names omitted - and main talking points - were the dropping of Conor O'Shea and Jason Gibbons. Their release was certainly a big statement from Horan, whilst also a declaration that he is the boss and no one sways his opinion. There is obviously no room for sentiment or loyalty as a manager who strives to land the holy grail.
Horan has had to be ruthless in his decision making. Gibbons would have been a pivotal part of the Ballintubber set up as James Horan dipped his feet into management for the first time, when he led Ballintubber to their first Moclair cup in 2010. With question marks over the fitness of Seamie O'Shea, Barry Moran's retirement and of course the injured Tom Parsons, many felt Gibbons would have to be kept as cover for the midfield sector.
However, with the emergence of Mattie Ruane and the partnership he has forged with his Breaffy team mate, Aidan O'Shea, along with the fact that Seamie O'Shea , Donal Vaughan and Stephen Coen could all fill the gap in midfield - and now that Ballina midfielder Mikey Murray has been added to the extended panel - Gibbons was considered surplus to requirements. I feel we won't see him in a county jersey again as he was also let go by Stephen Rochford at the end of last year's league - and there are only so many kickbacks a guy can take.
The fact that Conor O'Shea was included in the match day 26 for the last three league games, including the final, certainly led me to think he was going to be part of Horan's championship plans. Fionn McDonagh's early league form, combined with the unearthing of James Carr and Ciaran Tracey and the encouraging displays in the closing stages of the league by Fergal Boland, probably sealed O'Shea's fate.
Some can point to the fact that James Durcan and Conor Loftus didn't exactly set the place ablaze when they got their chance in this year's league and can count themselves lucky to be included, but obviously, the management see things at training that we don’t and feel their place is warranted at the expense of O'Shea.
In terms of development and players stepping up and making the breakthrough, it's a little disappointing that only Conor Diskin from last year's u20 team that reached the All-Ireland final, has been kept. I know for a fact Cathal Horan from Kilmovee Shamrocks will be bitterly disappointed at being let go without getting to kick a ball in anger. He, of course, was one of Mayo's stand out u20's last year, along with Ryan O'Donoghue and Colm Moran, who haven't made the cut either. Cathal Horan's issues are simple, trying to break into a Rolls Royce half back line is not the easiest ask and when you have the likes of Colm Boyle spitting fire on the sideline raring to be released into the fray, it gives you some kind of indication of where we are at in that department. Horan is young though, hopefully the knock back will inspire and encourage him to knuckle down and train hard to get back into contention for 2020.
If it's any consolation to him, James Nallen was let go from the Mayo squad at the same age in 1994, by Jack O'Shea, and returned the following year to be a mainstay in the team, and then, of course, went on to win an All-Stars in 1996 and 2004, going on to become one of our best centre half backs ever. Westport’s Colm Moran did get a chance in one game against Cavan in the league and failed to capitalise on it, but he has time on his side also. Belmullet's James Kelly - the sixth player to be sent back to his club - didn't get any time during the league either.
No matter what way you butter it up, it's not a pleasant time for a player to be told he's not wanted or needed, especially for the championship. With the impending trip to New York and the anticipation in Mayo after the league success, it's like rubbing salt into the wound. The buzz around a Mayo camp when the weather is good and the evenings are long is something every player starting out dreams to be part of. Those let go will have gained immeasurable experience from Mayo's 2019 league campaign, that's for sure. They could, as a former team mate of mine did in 1996, just keep turning up after being dropped from the championship panel and refuse to take no for an answer. The management hadn't the heart to let him go a second time. Perseverance pays off, I think? And James Horan wouldn't mind, would he?