Croke Park here we come

August. Championship. Croke Park. It is what it’s all about. It’s great to be part of it and for the first time since 2006 and we travel east with the wind in our sails. The anticipation and the build-up are something to savour. The feeling when you turn off the Clonliffe Road and that wonderful vista of the stadium dominates the entire sky-line – well it makes you proud to be a Gael. And altogether better when you’re county are at the business end of the championship.

That’s where we’re at folks. Five teams left in the championship and we’re one of them. Will we be in the last four come Sunday evening? I certainly hope so and I believe it will be the case.

WILL HE, WON'T HE? Despite being picked during the week, questions still linger over Barry Moran's participation on Sunday.

WILL HE, WON'T HE? Despite being picked during the week, questions still linger over Barry Moran's participation on Sunday.

What will be interesting in terms of management thinking is who will play on the edge of the square. Barry Moran has been picked there but there are a few reasons why I don’t see him starting there. The hand injury is obviously one but, if Moran had been, say, the key man in the full-forward line, O’Mahony would start him even if he is only, say, 80% fit. Moran, though, needs to be fully fit because he has just been average this year, although he is capable of more.

And what’s more the injury is significant because it impinges Moran’s best asset – his hands. Moran has been only a threat this year when the ball has been lorried in on top of him. He hasn’t been quick out in front to low ball and he hasn’t been pinging the ball over the bar. If he is going to struggle to actually field the ball then the question is begged – is there any point starting him?

I know John O’Mahony isn’t one for passing dummies with his team selections. We all thought he was acting the smartass when he picked Ronan McGarrity for the Connacht final after his fractured cheekbone picked up only two weeks before the Galway game.

But McGarrity started, proving that O’Mahony was being completely genuine. The key difference is though that Ronan McGarrity at midfield is one of our most vital players. Barry Moran, in his current form at full-forward, is not. I don’t see him starting.

So who will? Three names are in the reckoning. Tom Parsons. Conor Mortimer. Billy Padden. Who would you pick? Personally I’d go for Parsons because it will continue the twin towers approach which has been a successful tactic. And he’s actually pacier than Barry Moran and some might argue has more football in him. But I’m led to believe he wasn’t a massive success on the edge of the square in auditions.

The second option is Conor Mortimer. He’d move into the corner and Aidan O’Shea would go to full-forward. While it might make sense on one level – both players may be comfortable in their respective roles – I’m loathe to it happening. We should try and retain the strong ball winners inside. Conor has serious talent and has a point to prove but he has been a great weapon off the bench. He could start and be shackled by the likes of Seamus Kenny and then we’ve blunt. But he can come on with twenty minutes in an open game and make hay.

I hope and I think that John O’Mahony is of a similar mindset. And what looks like the preferred option is Billy Padden on the edge of the square. Padden is easily the most undervalued member of the Mayo squad. He has football oozing out of every pore. The main difficulty he has is probably a lack of pace. But he is strong, even footed and very aware.

His ability has brought him all over the park but I liked him at full-forward in 2005. He will be able to contest high ball, perhaps not as effectively as Barry Moran or Tom Parsons, but enough to allow the tactic to continue. And, crucially, he’ll be a great leader of the full-forward line with his awareness. He’ll really link well with the two Aidans. I believe he will start and, given that Tom Parsons isn’t flying, if reports are to believed, I think Billy Joe is the right man to start.

I haven’t been blogging all week due to manic work pressures but what has been striking me during the course of the week, in fact since last Saturday when Meath beat Limerick, is how confident Mayo supporters are of victory.

Part of that makes me uneasy – we’re the past masters of setting ourselves up for a fall. It’s as engrained in people’s perceptions about Mayo as much as tightness is a trait of a Cavan man.

People are talking about whether we will beat Kerry or not already. Dangerous talk before a game against a county who truly fear no team. But I like what I see and what I hear from team Mayo. There is no manager in the country who has a reputation for making his team concentrate on the here and now like John O’Mahony.

The squad was brought to Tullamore last weekend where any arrogance or lack of focus was ran out of the squad. It is all about Meath are far as team Mayo are concerned. I’ve read interviews both today and during the week with the likes of Trevor Mortimer, Peadar Gardiner and Andy Moran where the talk isn’t the usual cliched dross about ‘one game at a time’ for the sake of it. No, it’s one game at a time and they mean it.

That’s the biggest reason why we’ll win. The inner confidence in this Mayo squad is excellent. And it’s not to be confused with an arrogance we might have seen before. How far that will bring us remains to be seen but it will bring us past Meath. Mayo by three.

Maigh Éo Abú!

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