Mayo will have to manage without their injured captain Diarmuid O’Connor for tomorrow evening’s do-or-die All-Ireland SFC Qualifier against Armagh in Castlebar, but the true cost of his absence may not be felt until later in the All-Ireland series.
That’s according to former Mayo and Armagh footballer, Billy Joe Padden, who feels that James Horan may be able to come up with a successful solution this weekend, but repeating the trick for potential upcoming games will be easier said than done.
O’Connor suffered a fracture to his wrist during a Mayo training session on Tuesday evening, underwent a procedure on Wednesday, and is expected to be sidelined for at least six weeks. That would rule the former Young Footballer of the Year out of action until the All-Ireland SFC semi-finals at the earliest, were Mayo to qualify for the last four of the competition.
“From Mayo’s perspective, in the long-term it could be quite a significant loss,” said Padden, who lined out with the Westerners for 10 seasons before transferring to Armagh for two years at the end of his inter-county career.
“But in terms of the Armagh game this weekend, James Horan has to deal with the more immediate issue of having to put together another midfield partnership, a third in four games.
“It also leaves him short a very experienced, proven campaigner against an Armagh midfield pairing who are inexperienced but talented. So he’s going to have to put together a combination that he’s not going to be certain about.
“O’Connor’s injury probably puts a bit more pressure on Aidan O’Shea as well because he’s now the most experienced man in that middle third, especially with Seamie O’Shea and Donie Vaughan only coming back from injury.
Mayo are lucky that Aidan O’Shea has been playing so well, but he’s going to have to maintain that level of performance now with Diarmuid injured.
“You can always get a decent performance out of a new player coming into a one-off game, whether it’s James Carr coming back into the full-forward line or Mikey Murray coming straight into midfield,” added Padden.
“But being able to get a string of big performances out of these young players across three or four games is a much tougher ask.
“So Mayo may be able to cover off the loss of O’Connor this weekend, but it may have a much bigger impact in the weeks ahead should they get over Armagh.”
The Mayo captain, who lifted the National League trophy at the end of March, was forced to sit out the start of the Connacht championship in New York after damaging his eye socket in a training ground collision.
He was selected at midfield for Mayo’s win over Down last weekend after Matthew Ruane broke his collarbone in a training session earlier this month, but this latest blow means O’Connor is facing another spell on the sidelines.
“You’d have to be really gutted for Diarmuid,” admitted Billy Joe Padden. “He struggled with injury for a lot of last year, he missed the start of this championship, and has struggled to find his best form over the last few games. But we know how good he’s been for Mayo in the past.
“He’s the sort of player who adapts well to the week on week grind of games, he’s a really, really tough, athletic competitor, and I’ve no doubt that he was going to get into form. I think we saw signs of that in the second half against Down.”