Sunday 22 September 2019

Comment: Write them off at your peril, but Mayo need new blood and a lot of luck to save their summer

Few might fully appreciate the true loss a player like Parsons is to this Mayo team. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Few might fully appreciate the true loss a player like Parsons is to this Mayo team. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Going into Sunday's game, Mayo would have hoped - and maybe expected - to beat Galway but with their record against them over the past couple of years, it's unlikely either management or players would have put all of their eggs in the basket of a Connacht title.

For that reason, Stephen Rochford and his squad should already be mentally prepared for the journey that's in front of them.

What he wouldn't have prepared for, is having to navigate his way to Croke Park without the assured presence Tom Parsons and the growing injury list which will make a repeat of last year's heroics all the more difficult.

The only question that matters at this stage for Mayo is can they win an All-Ireland? Possibly yes, but not on the basis of what we witnessed in Castlebar.

The odds are certainly against them but there are a few areas which Rochford can target to get back on track and, potentially, go one step further on the mountain they have already climbed so often.

Much of the focus has been on whether Mayo's ageing legs can cope with a potential seven games in nine weeks and, to do so, Rochford must find more room for emerging talent.

Eoin O'Donoghue and Stephen Coen have shown enough to suggest that they can bolster Mayo's defensive reserves.

Up front, however, is the key area where Rochford needs a leap of faith. Conor Loftus is improving, and needs to be given the encouragement and responsibility to build confidence and continue his upward trajectory.

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There is talk that James Durcan, twin brother of wing-back dynamo Paddy, has the potential to add some further and badly-needed impetus to Mayo's attack.

On his fourth-quarter arrival on Sunday, David Brady tweeted that "we were about to see one of the best forwards in the country for the next decade". Moments later, he got turned over after blindly soloing into Galway traffic, to Andy Moran's obvious frustration.

If going by David's bold prediction, and James is to become one of the best, he needs to quickly learn from one of the best.

The management team needs to put some trust and faith in these young players to see how quickly they can rise to the demands of top-level inter-county warfare. Rochford simply doesn't have next year or beyond to wait and see what they can offer.

Tom Parsons' injury on Sunday was as bad as I have ever seen on any GAA pitch. As someone who has spent 20 years throwing myself into hundreds of similar situations, I thank my lucky stars to have never suffered anything close to what he must be going through at this present time.

And while the well wishes and admiration are well placed, few might fully appreciate the true loss a player like Parsons is to this Mayo team.

Since his second coming in the Mayo jersey, the Charlestown man has been a rock of consistency at the heart of Mayo's robust middle third. Safe if not spectacular, he rarely has a poor game for Mayo.

Providing a consistent link between defence and attack, his ball-winning, retention, and honest work rate will be difficult to replace. Consistency in the middle is at the core of all great teams.

But, hard though it is to countenance so soon after such a dreadful injury, one player's misfortune needs to be another player's opportunity for a team to progress.

Replacing Parsons' undisputed value in this regard could prove to be one of Rochford's greatest challenges in his quest to get Mayo back on track in this summer's All-Ireland race.

Had Parsons stayed fit, he would have been among the long-serving generals who need to be kept fit and fresh over a hectic qualifier schedule which will require some careful planning on Rochford's part.

Again, with a view to delivering a squad ready for Super Eights and beyond, he will need to spread the workload amongst his trusted deputies, whilst maintaining a high level of competitiveness which is why having a few young guns snapping at their heels will be so critical.

A kind qualifier draw is key too, and a few soft starters against lowly opposition would be a blessing. The four-week break ahead of the first round of the qualifiers should give ample opportunity to build up the fitness of some of his key men, namely Lee Keegan, Cillian O'Connor, Chris Barrett, and throw in Keith Higgins who has little enough football played this season.

Andy Moran has shown enough already this season that there is still a sprinkling of gold in his boots.

But Moran needs to be minded. Even allowing for his defiance of the ageing process, it is simply not feasible to suggest he could come through a full qualifier and quarter-final schedule unscathed.

Against Galway, again, Moran was replaced before the final whistle at a point when the team needed somebody who could engineer a score or two. Even if he doesn't start, imagine the lift his arrival from the bench could give his team-mates and crowd if Rochford decides not to start him in a game rather than not allow him to finish it.

With more proven calibre than anyone else in Dublin's chasing pack, it would be unfair and unwise to write Mayo off at this stage.

If nothing else, surely they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Irish Independent

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