The 25 best Mayo players of the past 25 years
Martin Breheny picks the players who have shone for Mayo
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Mayo lost the All-Ireland semi-final to Meath but, under John O'Mahony's guidance, showed signs that things were changing in the county. A year later, they reached the All-Ireland final for the first time since 1951 but lost to Cork.
Since then they have played in six more finals (1996 draw and replay, 1997-2004-2006-2012), with a draw against Meath 17 years ago their best result. Still, the last 25 years have marked a big improvement on the previous quarter century during which Mayo won only four Connacht titles.
So who were – and are – the stars of the last 25 years? We rate our top 25 since 1988.
1 James Nallen
Now a selector with James Horan, Tom Prendergast, Donie Buckley and Ed Coughlan, nobody would deserve the big breakthrough more than Nallen, whose career extended for 15 years (132 games), during which he played in five All-Ireland finals, four of which were lost and one drawn. A superb centre-back, he also enjoyed going forward, just as current No.6 Donal Vaughan does.
2 Ciaran McDonald
He didn't win an All-Ireland medal but he will always be held in high regard in Mayo and beyond. Individuality is no longer encouraged in football, replaced by a slavish adherence to systems which rarely wander far into imaginative territory. McDonald, to his credit, always retained his adventurous spirit. He was possibly the best long-range kick-passer of all time.
3 Liam McHale
Would Mayo have won the 1996 All-Ireland final replay if he hadn't been sent off early on with Meath's Colm Coyle? Quite possibly. McHale was a huge presence for Mayo that year and was badly missed in a game which they lost by a point. Operating from midfield to centre-forward to full-forward, he scored 8-58 in 90 games for Mayo.
4 Alan Dillon
His finest day could be yet to come in his role as one of the elder statesmen in Mayo's latest attempt to end the All-Ireland drought on Sunday. A regular on the Mayo team since 2003, he is still hugely influential in their attacking strategy, using his positional instincts intelligently to take him to the main points of the action.
5 Dermot Flanagan
An inter-county player for 13 years, he wore the green and red on a total of 123 occasions. He was the All Star left corner-back in 1989. A win on Sunday would have a special resonance for Flanagan whose late father Sean was the last Mayo man to captain the county to an All-Ireland win in 1951.
6 Andy Moran
Would Mayo have beaten Donegal if he were playing in last year's final? He hasn't quite recaptured his best form since coming back after sustaining a serious knee injury but remains very much Mayo's spiritual leader. A regular on the team for a decade.
7 Conor Mortimer
Mayo's all-time highest scorer must still be wondering how the cards would have fallen if he hadn't left the panel before last year's Connacht final. The Mayo attack is a very competitive place these days but Mortimer (31) would have been in contention for a place if he hadn't walked out 14 months ago.
8 David Heaney
One of the most versatile players ever produced by Mayo, he was equally effective in defence and midfield in a 13-year career. He played 108 times for Mayo, making him one of the most 'capped' players in the county. Multi-purpose players don't always get the credit they deserve as with Heaney, who never won an All Star.
9 Willie Joe Padden
One of classic midfield exponents, his excellence during a 106 game run (much of came prior to the period under review for this 'Best 25' exercise) will be recalled fondly by Mayo supporters when he is introduced to the crowd on Sunday as a member of the best team of the 1980s, drawn from players who didn't win All-Ireland titles. His fielding talents were legendary as he became one of the box-office players of his era.
10 Kenneth Mortimer
A two-time All Star at right corner-back in 1996-97, he played 75 times for Mayo, including three All-Ireland final appearances in 1996 (draw and replay v Meath) and 1997 (v Kerry). He became the first Mayoman to win All Star awards in successive years. Tight and tigerish, he played for Mayo between 1992 and 2003.
11 Keith Higgins
He has spent most of his career as a trouble-shooting defender, usually dispatched in the direction of the opposition's most dangerous attacker. That didn't curb his attacking instincts which are now being deployed in a more formal role, following his switch up front. He used to be an attack-minded defender, now he is a defence-minded attacker.
12 Kevin mcstay
He started the Connacht gold rush this year when steering St Brigid's (Roscommon) to the All-Ireland club title. Galway have since won the All-Ireland U-21 title and now Mayo seniors and minors are attempting to make it a Western clean sweep. As a player, McStay was a classy forward who scored 7-122 in 56 appearances.
13 Donal Vaughan
The 24-year old Ballinrobe centre-back will, barring injury, be a key figure for many years, having already been aboard the team since 2009. His attacking instincts (he has scored 2-2) in his year's Championship greatly adds to his value at what is a hugely exciting time for Mayo football.
14 James Horan
Is he the man to lead them from the desert after 62 years of drought? He did his best to make it happen as a player too, especially in 1996 and '97 when Mayo played in three All-Ireland finals (one replay). He scored a total of 4-83 in his 57 appearances for Mayo.
15 Noel Connelly
Team captain in 1996-97 when Mayo lost successive All-Ireland finals, his leadership skills were an additional string to his bow. He was a very effective wing-back in a 60-game career lasting a decade.
16 TJ Kilgallon
Played mostly at midfield during his 118 appearances but was also comfortable as a half-back. He scored a total of 7-60, underlining how efficient he was when he got forward. Hard-working and consistent, he is one of the many Mayomen who deserved an All-Ireland win over the last six decades.
17 Aidan O'Shea
Still only 23 years old so, barring injury, his best days are still ahead of him. However, he has already done exceptionally well, most especially this year when he has been the best midfielder in the game. Mayo need another big performance from him on Sunday
18 Peter Burke
Mayo's second most 'capped' goalkeeper behind Eugene Lavin, he played 60 times between 1997 and 2004, playing in All-Ireland finals in his first and last years. He kept a clean sheet against Kerry in 1997 and conceded only one goal against the Kingdom in 2004.
19 Kevin Cahill
Ger Cafferkey is building a fine reputation as a full-back of real stature, a role enjoyed by Cahill for several years. He was with Mayo for a decade during which he played 76 games. Steady, assured and always reliable, he was one of the more under-rated players in the game.
20 Pat Holmes
An All Star award winner at right half-back in 1996, he was comfortable in a variety of defensive positions. He played for Mayo on 72 occasions between the 1987/88 National League and his final outing in the 1998/99 NFL. He managed Mayo to their last national senior title when beating Galway in the 2001 League final.
21 Colm McManamon
Versatility was his trademark as his range of skills took him all over the pitch in search of possession. He played 94 times for Mayo between the 1990/91 League and the end of his career in 2002. His style would have made him very much at home in the current Mayo set-up.
22 Pat Fallon
An All Star midfielder in 1997, he was a consistent ball winner in a career which lasted from 1993 to 2001. He played 59 times for Mayo, scoring 1-21. His best season was in 1997 but unfortunately for him and Mayo, it ended with a defeat to Kerry in the All-Ireland final.
23 Trevor Mortimer
The Mortimer clan did the state of Mayo football some service. Conor and Kenneth had higher profiles than Trevor but that should not detract from his solid contribution to the cause over many years. A versatile sort, he played mostly in attack but was also comfortable in defence.
24 John Finn
So who did break his jaw in the 1985 All-Ireland semi-final clash with Dublin? It remains one of the GAA's great unsolved mysteries. His career spanned from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, during which he established himself as one of the most consistent wing-backs in the game.
25 NoeL Durkin
An All Star left half-forward in 1989 (when Mayo reached the All-Ireland for the first time since 1951), he scored 7-48 in 51 games. His career lasted for eight years but, like so many other fine Mayo players, was destined to end without an All-Ireland medal.