Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly had to make the first big decisions of their tenure as Mayo joint managers when culling the panel after a recent challenge game against Clare. The two biggest and most talked about casualties are Gavin Duffy and Enda Varley. Duffy’s inclusion in the panel last year certainly gave the county a lift with his professional athletic background and obvious experience of big match days. However as the year went on and there was no sight of him in a Mayo jersey his much anticipated return to a Mayo jersey became more of a fascination with “what was the point in having him in the panel”. I was at every Mayo match last year and on every occasion his whereabouts was discussed by media men and women from all over the country.
Despite his ineligibility to play for Mayo in 2014 which only came to light last month, I don’t think Duffy was considered for a place in James Horan’s match day panel until the replay against Kerry in Limerick, where he was probably being considered as an alternative to curb the threat of Kieran Donaghy, only for Horan to find out about his ineligibility a few days before the replay. I have said this on many occasions, with the exceptional condition and physicality of the modern GAA player, a rugby international back like Duffy would not stand out physically in a GAA dressing room.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see him for a single minute in a competitive game. I can certainly think of a few players I would not have minded seeing him go for a 50-50 ball with. Enda Varley will have to come to terms with club football training for the first time since 2009. I can only imagine it is a bit of a shock to the system realising your inter county career is all but over or put on hold when you still have a clean bill of health and you have not reached your 30th birthday.
I have no doubt Holmes and Connolly have left the door open for a possible return to any player showing good form with his club, but the reality is unless you do something exceptional in every club game your time is done. I can’t think of any player who has been brought back in the same year he was let go. If I’m not mistaken James Nallen was let go off the Mayo senior panel in 1995 and brought back in the year after by John Maughan, and we all know the career Nallen went on to have, the only difference was Nallen had youth on his side, Duffy and Varley do not.
Another surprise omission from the squad is Hollymount/Carramore’s Darren Coen, a player Noel Connelly would have had first hand experience with, so either he feels he is not up to the task or else he has given him a chance to sort out his form with his club and leave a glimmer for him to return if he does. By chance I ran into Ger Cafferkey on Enniscrone beach two years ago, just after the Mayo team was announced to play in the first round of the championship, and Coen was named on the starting 15 to everyone’s surprise but Cafferkey informed me that Coen had been “shooting the lights out” at training and was virtually unmarkable and deserved his place. It’s a shame his progress did not continue.
As the Mayo and Monaghan match draws closer you realise it’s quite a significant game for Mayo and for the management. Losing two on the trot is not ideal, losing two at home will make people start asking questions. As stated on numerous occasions division one in the league is extremely competitive and you may have a better chance of winning the lotto than predicting the outcome of the four games on this weekend. Monaghan will be reeling after their home loss to Cork last time out, Mayo no doubt despondent after the collapse against Tyrone. The only benchmark we have for this game is Tyrone; Monaghan comprehensively beat them in Omagh, Mayo comprehensively beaten by them in Castlebar. Monaghan are a really good outfit, physically very strong all over the field. Mayo have had three weeks to work on their fitness which they badly needed, and the entire county will be eager to see what happens if we come up against a blanket defence again, Monaghan will certainly filter men back and try to catch you on the break. It’s a regular occurrence to see their corner forwards back on their half back line tackling like their life depended on it. Mayo’s extra fitness from three weeks ago should see them cope with this a little better and offer more support to the man in possession. The bookmakers see this as a Mayo victory and offer very miserable odds of 4/7 while Monaghan are a very generous 7/4. I fancy a draw at 15/2 although I would rather Mayo snatch a one point win.