Mayo’s Marquee Men

Posted: July 27, 2012 in GAA
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YOU may have heard the term ‘Marquee Forward’ a few times during the course of this year’s championship, if not you will do before the summer is out. After a lot of searches that mostly ended with results such as “Open sided large tent,” I found its academic definition:

*Marquee Player/Forward(A top-tier athlete and major selling point of a team or league)

In the somewhat amateur environment of the GAA, a Marquee Forward is less to do with selling points and more a prerequisite for All – Ireland Glory.

Ever since the misleadingly gentle sounding ‘Blanket Defence’ came into our lives ten years ago, the search began for the solution. The ‘Target Man’ was the remedy back in 2006 with Kieran Donaghy making it the must have item for every managers full forward line. Having brought it back into fashion it was a case of you can’t get too much of a good thing, so they threw Tommy Walsh into the mix too.

It took Mayo a while to catch on to this one, our version of the twin towers emerged three years later. The august bank holiday should see them reunited again but this time in a more traditional location on the half way line.

The big man on the inside line can and is still a potent weapon in the game, Tomas O’Connor of Kildare an example of the not so potent. But in the last number years it’s been all about the rarest, most mystical creature of them all, the aforementioned nouveau GAA-ism, the ‘Marquee Forward’.

There has always been an onus on high profile forwards to perform. However, with defences dominating over the last decade, All Ireland contenders are now required to have at least two outstanding forwards who can unlock Donegal style, vice-like defences.

The Brogan’s, Gooch and O’Sullivan2, O’Connor and Goulding, Murphy and McFadden… and em Bolton and O’Flatherty? When Mayo are mentioned as All – Ireland contenders it’s the supposed lack of these players, (the last inclusion was a joke in case you were wondering – half backs don’t count) which is cited as our major stumbling block in reserving our place at the top table.

Comparisons between this year’s team and Horan’s team of the 90’s would not be too far wide of the mark. An assured and attacking defence, a formidable midfield with impressive strength in depth, and a hard working half forward line with some scoring ability. Unfortunately like the 90’s, doubts remain about the makeup of the inside line.

The performances in the League and Connacht Final only added strength to that argument. There has been a loss of form and a lack of cohesion among the forwards, but those with short memories must remember two things;

  1. Andy Moran –      2011 GAA GPA All – Star Team, Full Forward
  2. Cillian O’      Connor – 2011 GAA GPA All – Star Young Footballer of the Year (Corner      Forward)

Last year Mayo had the best full forward and the best young player in the country, two stars operating in their inside line. It may be a slightly basic way of looking at it but Donegal can’t boast those credentials. It’s likely that O’Connor will move back into the corner for the quarter final. It could be a sweet release for him. He looked burdened by the centre forward role and he’s too good to allow the game to pass him by.

Injuries and lack of options may prevent Moran joining him in the full forward line; eventually Mayo will need their two biggest threats nearest goal. The loss of Pat Harte and the doubts over Seamus O’Shea’s fitness leaves Mayo lacking a physical presence in the half forward line. Rumour has it that this will result in Andy Moran moving to centre forward and Alan Freeman returning to the edge of the square, probably at the expense of Varley.

Moran is suffering slightly for his talent and versatility. He would probably prefer to remain at Full Forward but the need is greater at 11 at this stage. Superheroes are all the rage at the moment and if (please insert preferred Mayo town now) is ever threatened by an evil entity, Andy would be the man you’d look for. His performances and the encouragement he gives younger members of the squad seems to have created a real togetherness among this group of players.

Alan Dillon and Kevin McLoughlin will resume on the wings. Dillon was one of the composed when indecision was endemic against Sligo, while McLoughlin is one of the most underrated footballers in the country. His skill level and work rate is sometimes overlooked in a game where brawn is the new brain.

Mayogaablog.com raised the issue regarding the forward replacements looking fairly threadbare at the moment. Padraic, another of the Ballintubber O’Connor’s, was required to make up the numbers in an extremely competitive A v B game recently but fresh call ups seem unlikely.

This means Conroy and either Varley or Doherty will be the only cover for the full forward line. Michéal Forde is the only recognised half forward replacement fit at the moment, with Horan using him as a wing forward in training. Despite being a big fan, it’s doubtful if Horan will give the 19 year old much game time having never played a competitive game for the seniors.

Aidan O’ Shea will return in some capacity, but if Horan decides to stick with the Connaught Final midfield, another option rears its head. O’Shea is no stranger to playing centre forward in Croke Park. If Mayo progress beyond the quarters, players returning from injury will bring further options back into play.

These are the dilemma’s Horan has. He was always a forward who performed on the big day. A slight reshuffle of his pack may and an upturn in form is all that’s needed for his players to carry on this most precious of traits.

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