The Mayo club championship finally gets under way at the weekend and I have no doubt the two most nervous spectators will be Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly especially as the games are on a week later than planned as it will give their county players a week less to get over any niggles or strains picked up to be fit in time to face Galway.
I am sure they will be waiting anxiously by their phones on Saturday and Sunday. It is a county player’s responsibility to give his all for his club, and that should bring about some high octane duels in the club championship and of course the potential of picking up an injury. Looking at the senior championship it is hard to look past reigning champions Ballintubber or 2014 All-Ireland finalists Castlebar for the Moclair Cup although I am sure Breaffy with the three O'Sheas and Robbie Hennelly in tow will want to put in a good campaign after failing badly last year. The eventual winner will be from one of those three.
The pride of the parish
What a story has emerged about the plight of Mayo Junior corner back Barry Leonard, literally bringing a parish to a standstill in pursuit of a Connaught Junior medal. Playing in the final, 94km away on the day of your daughter’s communion, getting the Communion Mass brought forward, winning the game, and then getting the man of the match award is real Roy of the Rovers stuff. Heartiest congratulations to Barry and the juniors and well done to Barry’s family and the parish of Lahardane for accommodating and understanding, it is a brilliant story.
Tyrone became the first so called big casualty of the provincial championship when losing to Donegal in Ballybofey. There was a football fest on last weekend with really only one shock occurring when Longford overturned a seven point deficit to beat Offaly in Tullamore. What is most impressive about Longford’s win is that it comes just three weeks after Offaly beat them by 13 points in the division four final and for that they deserve the team of the week accolade, but would you want to face Dublin in Croke Park?
As expected Galway turned over Leitrim with a bit to spare, however they looked far from impressive. The game was a dire spectacle but it was a classic case of damned if they do and damned if they don’t for Galway. The pessimists will say they should have won by more, the optimists delighted they did not win by 20 points and the performance does not get blown out of proportion before they face Mayo. If they did win by 20 points the quality of the opposition is the reason offered for the facile victory. Kevin Walsh will be worried that their keeper was one of the stand-out performers and saved the Tribesmen on several occasions. In one way it is the perfect situation for Galway, winning without any fanfare and expectations not so high. They also have two competitive championship games under their belts which will add a bit of fluency to their play. Let’s be clear, Mayo will be severely tested in Salthill in a few weeks time. The Tribesmen are hurting badly from the drubbing they received two years ago. Damien Comer has certainly added spice to the Galway attack and needs to be shown some respect from a Mayo defensive point of view.
Sledging and smashing
If we learned anything from the Donegal and Tyrone game it is a new descriptive noun for a tactic in Gaelic football- “sledging”. Back in the day sledging to me was hacking at or lashing out persistently at your opponent, now it is used to describe verbal abuse. The sledging (verbal abuse ) that went on in this game was deplorable at the very best, Justin McMahon the main culprit. He constantly jibbed, badgered, and goaded Michael Murphy, and credit to Murphy he never reacted, but at the same time he was not very influential on proceedings either so McMahon got away with it.
I often wondered about the role of a sports psychologist, maybe it is to help players cope and not react to such abuse. If we go back to the Tyrone and Mayo league game, McMahon dished plenty of verbal abuse that day also. I distinctly remember him chasing Donal Vaughan down the field roaring at him after Vaughan kicked a wide into the bacon factory end. There was some glorious counter attacking football played in Ballybofey by both teams but unfortunately it was marred by some negative and disgusting tactics. For me Tyrone are finished, despite winning the u21 final a few weeks ago. Mickey Harte had to resort to re calling some of his old guard back to his squad as he did not have faith in the new crop and young players left the panel as a result. He has had a great innings; maybe it is time for a new face at the helm. On the contrary Rory Gallagher got off to a flying start and will have won over Donegal supporters with that impressive victory, their fourth in four championship games against Tyrone. It’s between Donegal and Monaghan for the Ulster title, but we knew that already.