When I was composing that post yesterday morning about comings and goings on the panel I’d already heard that Alan Freeman had left. The word wasn’t, however, out then but it was soon after, with the Mayo News (here) breaking the story yesterday evening and there’s further coverage on it this morning – Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, RTÉ.
According to the Mayo News piece, Alan turns 29 today (happy birthday, by the way, big lad) and he lives and works up here in the capital. Players based up here make a phenomenal commitment to the cause, forever criss-crossing the country for training and matches, a schedule that must be very punishing to keep up, year after year after year. It’s a commitment that has to be fitted in with real world responsibilities too and when work obligations involve foreign travel – as is the case with Alan – it’s easy to see why something’s got to give.
Alan first broke into the senior county team in 2010 when he was still an U21 player. Eschewing the usual route of having a few run-outs first in the FBD, Alan was pitched in as a sub (the only one we introduced that day) against Galway in our opening League fixture at MacHale Park in February that year and then made his full debut the following Sunday against Tyrone up in Omagh.
Alan was a shining light for us in the dreadful summer that followed for us that year. He scored 1-4 in his championship debut against Sligo (including this gloriously converted penalty) and then notched five points (four from play) on that evening of infamy in Longford three weeks later.
Alan was a regular presence in the team under James Horan. Ever-present in the first fifteen for the 2011 championship, he was used more as a sub the following year and made an appearance off the bench for Jason Doherty in the 2012 All-Ireland final.
It was his own replacement early on by Mickey Conroy in the following year’s final against Dublin that still has many Mayo fans puzzled. Alan came into that final having produced a Man of the Match performance in the semi-final against Tyrone, where he nervelessly took over from the injured Cillian O’Connor as the team’s place-kicker, booming over this monstrous free just after Cillian went off and later on cracking home the decisive penalty goal. The reason for his early withdrawal in the final remains a mystery, one of the many what-might-have-been moments we’ve accumulated in all those final appearances down the years.
He’s been in and out of the team since then, sometimes making the first fifteen, other times coming off the bench. The last championship game he started for us was the Round 2B qualifier against Fermanagh in July last year and the most recent championship cameo off the bench was the Round 4B win over Westmeath at the end of that month.
It looked as if Stephen Rochford was going to give the Aghamore man more of a regular run this spring, starting him in the opening League match against Monaghan a few weeks back. He got a point from play in that game on what was a frustrating evening for many on the team, Alan included. He was an unused sub down at Tralee last Saturday evening.
I know this potted history of his inter-county appearances has the air of valediction about it so it’s only right to point out that Stephen Rochford said the following yesterday in relation to Alan’s departure from the panel:
… the panel remains open-ended and who knows what might happen in the future.
In Alan’s absence, it’s now the responsibility of others to step up and provide further options for us in the finishing department. I’m not alone, I’m sure, in concluding that we haven’t got the balance right in the team at the minute between forwards expected to be out-and-out workhorses and those tasked with the primary role of shooters. There’s a gap in the market there to be filled and an opportunity for those on the fringes of the team to do this in the weeks ahead.
It’s heartwarming to see all the good wishes in the comments to Alan on his departure from the panel. From one Aghamore man to another, then, I’d like to add mine to that list too. Best of luck, Alan, and thanks for your significant contribution to the cause.