Stick or twist? That is the question Horan must answer

The Brexit referendum started a two-year process which was due to conclude on March 29 — a deadline which has since been extended to October 31.

Stick or twist? That is the question Horan must answer

The Brexit referendum started a two-year process which was due to conclude on March 29 — a deadline which has since been extended to October 31.

I wonder how long will the ‘Provexit’ take to execute — the removal of the provincial championships from the GAA.

We have our own BoJos (Boris Johnsons) in the GAA world who are slowly but surely cranking up the ante to sound the death knell for the provincial championships.

At the weekend, I heard former players wax lyrical about the great battles they had in the Connacht championship, the intense rivalries and the great friendships that they made along the way.

Those lucky enough to win a Connacht medal still cherish it. Blood (lots and lots of blood), sweat, tears, and thumbing lifts for training. They too made sacrifices!

Former players made sacrifices? Yes, they did. They just don’t talk about them on a daily basis.

These same players, who are rightly nostalgic about our Connacht Championship, now want to put the wheels in motion to disband the competition. The Provexiteers are in town and will be campaigning in the upcoming local and European elections.

Why? Is it really because of hurling, television, and Dublin?

Hurling is thriving and has become an even greater spectacle in the last number of years. They have revamped the provincial competitions, invested in coaching, and focused on allowing the skills and physicality to come to the fore.

Our national and international television broadcasters have decided to focus on the hurling, for the most part, in May and June.

Sky will televise Cavan v Monaghan on May 18. RTÉ will broadcast an Ulster Championship football game on June 8. Dublin footballers have dominated the Leinster Championship for the best part of a decade.

There is no real interest or appetite for the Leinster Championship.

Because of the above reasons, should we throw in the towel and disband the competitions where we all started out? Rural post offices and garda stations and now the provincial championships?

How are we supposed to coach, inspire, and encourage our future players if we have no proper championship?

Knockout championship.

Introduce as many tiers and layers as you want but if we don’t maintain our local competitions, then we lose our identity. I don’t recall anything about losing our identity in the recent ‘great white paper’, the GAA Manifesto.

The Connacht Championship is up and running. The five traditional counties are still intact after last weekend’s retreats.

Do Mayo still care about Connacht Championships or is their sole focus on the Sam Maguire? Can Galway retain the JJ Nestor Cup? Will Sligo turn from a dismal league team into a competitive championship team?

Mayo boss James Horan
Mayo boss James Horan

Are Roscommon hiding in the long grass again?

Will Leitrim be getting ready for a crack at Mayo after Sunday’s encounter in The Hyde?

Leitrim are an emerging young team quietly brimming with confidence. Scoring 16 points in Croke Park and having another 13 unsuccessful attempts at the posts will have given them great confidence in the last few weeks in preparation for their battle with Roscommon on Sunday.

And it will be a battle. Fergal McTague could possibly lock horns with Conor Cox to try and outmuscle the strong Kerryman. Leitrim will, no doubt, flood their defence in the early exchanges and look to play counter-attacking football with Raymond Mulvey, Shane Moran, Mark Plunkett, and Aidan Flynn tasked with carrying quality ball to their attack.

Forwards win games and for Leitrim to keep this game in the ‘melting pot’ they will need Jack Heslin, Cillian McGloin, Evan Sweeney, and Ryan O’Rourke to be scorching hot.

Ryan O’Rourke has been lighting up Sigerson games for NUI Maynooth over the past few seasons and will cause the Roscommon full-back-line plenty of problems on Sunday.

Roscommon haven’t yet nailed down a regular rearguard this season and on Sunday they will probably look to Sean Mullooly to play at number 3. Mullooly plays his best football at centre-back when Roscommon use their tactic of playing Niall Kilroy as a sweeper. I expect Niall Kilroy to continue in this role.

Roscommon have a lot of footballing — attacking defenders, which is what every player wants to do, attack. I feel they are lacking in ‘real defenders’ though and this could scupper their chances of winning the Connacht title this year.

I expect Roscommon to play with four big men across the middle against Leitrim, namely Tadgh O’Rourke, Enda Smith, Shane Killoran, and Cathal Cregg. They will supply the ammunition for the Rossie attackers.

Roscommon have always produced flamboyant, off-the-cuff forwards who just love to attack from every angle. Anthony Cunningham has found more: Aengus Lyons, Andrew Glennon, and a special one called Cathal Heneghan. He is ready to announce himself on the national stage.

Mayo will be desperate to get a crack at Galway in the Connacht final.

James Horan is back and has a championship record to maintain. Kevin Walsh has a record to maintain. It won’t be said publicly but there is no manager, in any sport in the world, who doesn’t want to maintain a record and get one over on your fiercest rival. Old Spice is best. What will Galway and Mayo bring to this year’s Connacht Championship?

Both counties have developed their panels throughout the league but in different circumstances.

Galway have been forced to blood new players due to injuries and the successful exploits of Corofin. Kevin Walsh has added fresh faces in brothers Antaine and Finnian O’Laoi, Cillian McDaid, John Daly, Jason Leonard, and Michael Farragher.

The perfect scenario for Galway could be as follows: Bernie Power and Rory Lavelle battle it out for the No. 1 jersey.

A possible full-back line of Eoghan Kerin, Sean Andy O’Ceallaigh, and Sean Kelly. The Galway management have a great opportunity of injecting youth, pace and power into their half-back-line with a possible combination of Kieran Molloy, Liam Silke, and Cillian McDaid.

Tom Flynn and Ciaran Duggan form a solid midfield partnership, while up front, a sextet of Peter Cooke, Shane Walsh, Johnny Heaney, Michael Daly, Ian Burke, and Damien Comer have to be respected as an attacking threat.

The reality is different though for Kevin Walsh and Galway. Injuries. He still has major concerns over Sean Kelly, Declan Kyne, Damien Comer, Paul Conroy, Peter Cooke, Cillian McDaid, Adrian Varley, and Ciaran Duggan.

That’s eight players who would almost certainly see game-time against Sligo if they were fit. If Galway can get over Sligo without them, they will have four weeks to get match fit for Mayo or Roscommon. But match fitness isn’t enough in a Connacht final. You need to be razor sharp to annex a JJ Nestor Cup.

Galway have reached an All-Ireland football final at least once in every decade since its inception almost 120 years ago. But in order to get motoring properly, Galway must first fire over a big score against Sligo.

Galway taking on Sligo last summer.
Galway taking on Sligo last summer.

Sligo scored an average of 13 points over their seven NFL games but they their ponderous build-up play let them down and they conceded an average of 20.

Can they raise their game? Yes. Will they raise their game? Undecided, but if they can’t raise their game playing at home under the tutorship of one of their greatest forwards, Paul Taylor, then it will be a very bleak afternoon for the Yeats men.

In contrast, Mayo used the league to experiment and give youth a fling. Young, ambitious players like Michael Plunkett, Fionn McDonagh, Cian Hanley, James McCormack, Matthew Ruane, Conor Diskin, and Ciaran Tracey were all introduced to the national gallery.

It was deemed a success because they won the NFL. Leaving aside the Yonkers game it will be interesting to see will James Horan stick with youth. Mayo are at home so he might give another opportunity to James McCormack, Evan Regan, Jason Doherty, Fergal Boland, Darragh Coen, and James Carr to impress.

The question for James Horan is, when the championship pressure comes on and games are there to be won will he turn to the old experienced reliables? If it doesn’t work out for these young players and Mayo still qualify for the Connacht final, Horan still has three weeks to integrate Diarmuid and Cillian O’Connor, Andy Moran, Seamus O’Shea, Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, and Donie Vaughan.

I predict Pearse Stadium on June 16 will be a Colosseum.

Super 8 Predictions:

Group 1:

Kerry, Mayo, Donegal & Meath;

Group 2:

Dublin, Cork, Galway, Tyrone

Connacht’s best 2019:

Ruairi Lavelle, Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Sean Kelly, Lee Keegan, Liam Silke, Paddy Durcan, Tom Flynn, Aidan O’Shea, Shane Walsh, Damien Comer, Enda Smith, Ryan O’Rourke, Conor Cox, Ian Burke.

Young players to watch:

Cathal Heneghan (Roscommon), Michael Plunkett (Mayo), John Daly (Galway).

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