Many aspects to the job of Mayo manager are, I’m sure, rather nice. Reducing the playing panel ahead of Championship isn’t one them.
The Connaught Telegraph reported yesterday (here) that a number of the spring panel, six in all, have been told that they’re not going to be involved for the summer. The six named in this context are Jason Gibbons, Conor O’Shea, Colm Moran, Cathal Horan, James Kelly and Ryan O’Donoghue.
It’s not easy for James Horan and his selectors to tell lads who have slogged through the winter and spring that they’re not required for the summer. It sure isn’t easy on the players to receive this unwelcome news either.
The bulk of them are, though, young men for whom further opportunities to play at this level will arise in the future, in some cases maybe sooner rather than later. The experience they’ll have got from being involved in the panel for such a positive League campaign will stand to them and make them better players, ones with the capability to come back into the reckoning stronger in the future.
I’d feel especially for Jason Gibbons – who featured for us off the bench in an All-Ireland final as long ago as 2012 – who is being omitted from the panel ahead of summer for the second successive year. Jason has been utterly luckless down the years with injuries, which have always seemed to occur just at the point where he was set to establish himself within the team.
Conor O’Shea has also been around for a while – he made his Championship debut as a substitute over in New York in 2014, the same day that current captain Diarmuid O’Connor did. Like Jason, Conor made it onto the pitch for us in an All-Ireland final – he replaced the injured Donal Vaughan in the 2016 replay – and he also scored the second goal for us that broke Tipperary’s resistance in that year’s semi-final.
Back at the start of this year when Rob and I chatted with Ciaran Murphy of Second Captains for the Mayo News football podcast League preview episode (here), I recall making the point that come summer we’d see a number of changes in key playing personnel within the team. I said then that it was impossible to speculate either about who’d be coming in or who was most likely to be dropping out but that change was, for sure, on the horizon in 2019.
Change has indeed come. It has done so by giving lads the opportunity to shine and by seeing who has been best able to grasp it. Some have done better than expected, others less so. A few well-established performers have seen their positions come under threat, others have shored up their places.
All this experimentation has been necessary. Now, eight hard League matches – and the trophy – later, and with the New York game facing us just over two weeks away, it’s time for James and his selectors to decide – based on what they’ve seen at close quarters in training and matches over the last number of months – on the lads they want to go into battle with over the coming months.
The squad reduction that results from this decision-making isn’t a pleasant process. But it’s a necessary step on the way to being ready for the Championship and it’s right that it’s being done sooner rather than later, well before the first shots are fired in what we all hope will be a long and productive summer campaign for us.