Saturday 24 February 2018

Gavin Duffy will be a massive addition for Mayo – McHale

Former Connacht rugby player Gavin Duffy has joined the Mayo football panel. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Former Connacht rugby player Gavin Duffy has joined the Mayo football panel. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There was a certain tiredness, almost a deflated feel to Mayo as their league campaign concluded abruptly in last month's semi-final against Derry.

They had sleepwalked somewhat into the campaign in the first place, training collectively only a handful of times before travelling to Newbridge for their opening game that they lost to Kildare. So it had ended in much the same way it had started.

In between there were some good points, notably their attacking flair against Cork at home and the first half against Dublin in Croke Park. But their failure to capitalise on an extra man against Dublin and Derry stoked old doubts about them.

James Horan surely noted the mood. A couple of interviews he conducted with local newspapers last weekend sought to accentuate some positivity around the squad.

EXCITED

"I've never seen guys so excited about football or so enthusiastic about getting out on to a pitch and showing what we can do," he said.

He mentioned the impetus the addition of a player like Tom Parsons had given to them. The real impetus was perhaps only days away, however.

Gavin Duffy's invitation and subsequent participation in a Mayo training session on Tuesday last may amount to nothing over the next few weeks but it has the capacity to act like a jolt to the back-to-back All-Ireland finalists, who could possibly have continued sleepwalking into the Connacht championship as well, with eyes on dates further down the road.

If nothing else, Duffy's involvement can bring more of the vitality that Horan spoke about last week and something he clearly believes they need. Something different never hurts in that respect. What is there to lose by it?

There are some who will see it as a gimmick, an act of desperation even or a curve ball that can't possibly go anywhere.

Duffy has barely played Gaelic football during his time as a professional rugby player and has never featured for Salthill-Knocknacarra, despite suggestions to the contrary.

After almost 15 years out of the game, what can he possibly bring to a squad that is already well in to its fourth year of an impressive cycle under Horan?

No one, not Horan, not Duffy himself, can answer that. One thing he surely has is desire. It is apparently something he always wanted to do and didn't have to think twice when the invitation came after his failure to secure a contract extension with Connacht.

Liam McHale, once a Ballina Stephenites colleague of Duffy, recalls being in charge of the Mayo U-21 team with Kevin McStay trying to coax some action out of him.

"We sat down and had coffee in his parents' bakery and coffee shop and he said to us that he would give his left arm to play with Mayo. But it just wasn't practical," said McHale.

Now that the connection with Connacht has been severed, his circumstances have changed.

There are offers from other clubs but that means uprooting from Galway where he lives. There is surely some prospect of even resuming his career with Eddie O'Sullivan in Biarritz.

But, just as there was something with Tadhg Kennelly five years ago, he just may not be able to get it out of his system that he wants to see how far he could take his Gaelic football career.

The Kennelly experience should serve as a warning to those expecting too much from this experiment.

Kennelly made regular visits home from AFL to feature for Listowel Emmets in the north Kerry championship. The dynamics of AFL are much more compatible to Gaelic football than rugby. And he also had regular International Rules contact involving use of a round ball.

Yet after returning in January 2009 it took him until August to really adjust. If Duffy sticks around, his time-frame is far more compressed than that in which Kennelly eventually thrived.

McHale sees his former colleague, now 32, making a swift adjustment and an impact, however, because his Gaelic football game was never primarily based on subtlety or skill.

"He is a phenomenal athlete, a top-class athlete in this country. Obviously he will be rusty. I know they are two totally different games but he has been playing ball, he's in great shape, he has a healthy feel for it and wants to give it a shot. I would love to see him back playing in the championship this year. I think he'll be a massive addition," he said.

SAVAGE

"You could be looking at playing him on the half-back line or midfield – the power and pace and leadership he will bring to that will be savage. Once he gets going he will provide a serious lift to 'A' v 'B' games on Saturdays. People have been saying it could mess up everything but I don't see that.

"You know that old saying, a warrior doesn't take from the tribe, he adds to it. Gavin is a warrior, he is the complete package."

It is the very things that he brought to his rugby game that he can transfer to Gaelic football, McHale reckons.

"He never kicked with the inside of his boot, he was never a fella that was going to score five points, he's not going to break your ankles with dummies. He was a big strong, athletic, straight-line runner. I remember him playing in Knockmore, he was 17 or 18 at the time and he was lifting guys out of it with belts.

"Once he gets to the pace of the game, once his handling is okay, he will win breaking ball, he will put in big tackles, he will win ball in the air for you and he'll drive the team forward, but he's not gong to score four points."

Duffy didn't want to say much about the experience when contacted except to note how "I thought my heart was going to explode during training with the running involved and how the rules have changed since I last played!"

He hasn't much time to catch up.

Irish Independent

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