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Draw whets the appetite for 2017

Sean Rice

Seán Rice

IT may not have chased the gloom from their souls, but the Connacht draw will have re-directed Mayo’s focus on their championship destiny next season and the challenge that awaits them.
The provincial aspirations of Galway and Roscommon have been boosted, and both will revel in the chance to have another tilt at curtailing the romps of high-flying Mayo.
Roscommon couldn’t have asked for a more favourable bounce, going directly into the semi-finals against either Leitrim or London. In the meantime, the Connacht champions look set to be hosting Mayo at Pearse Stadium, intent on demonstrating that last season’s unexpected win over their old rivals was no quirk of fate.
It promises to be a season of excitement for Connacht sides, and while Mayo are the centre of attention, the rest have their own mountains to climb.
Leitrim make the trip to London for a quarter-final engagement, and while the Exiles are not blessed with the impressive talent that whisked them into a Connacht final three years ago, the visitors will not be taking them for granted.
Nor indeed ought Sligo treat New York with anything less that genuine respect. In their visit across the Atlantic, Roscommon almost paid dearly for their complacency, and had not fully recovered from the shock of a close shave when they lost to Galway in a replay subsequently.
The Yeats County men are unlikely to become similarly ensnared, and will use it as serious preparation for their quarter-final encounter with Mayo.
So it would seem that the big three will once again slug it out for provincial honours with every county (including the current Connacht champions) still eyeing Mayo enviously and striving to emulate their evolution.
So nothing changes ... not even the black card penalty system which has been at the root of so much disapproval and controversy throughout the championship. Not until the year 2020 according to the GAA president, Aogán Ó Fearghail, when it comes up for revision at Congress.
So much for a rule that few referees adjudicate with any real sense of self-reliance. Decisions will continue to result from uncertain knowledge about what constitutes a black-card offence, or on the calls of those players who get stuck in the referee’s face after the incident or, as in the case of Lee Keegan, referees who might be influenced (consciously or unconsciously) by outside forces.
An old mantra you will have come across many times in this column over the years is that some teams have to be good enough to beat not only their opposing 15 … but the referee as well. Mayo, more than most, have reason to prepare with that in mind.
So while the black card remains, high fielders at least will welcome a new dimension to Gaelic football next season with the introduction of the ‘mark’.
Beginning with the National League in February a player who catches the ball cleanly outside the 45­-metre line from a kick-out is entitled to call a mark and get a free kick.
That, if properly understood, ought to benefit the likes of Tom Parsons, one of the most accomplished fielders of a high ball, and Donal Vaughan and Aidan and Seamus O’Shea too.
‘Mullockers’ will always try to foil high fielders, but the free kick is an incentive for those thus talented ... and an effort by the authorities to nourish an elegant art that has suffered in the game’s revolution of recent years.

Durcan’s displays earn him deserved award

THE singular honour of GAA/GPA Player of the Month fits well with Paddy Durcan. The potential of his leadership qualities, long heralded in this column, are being realised earlier than we had anticipated.
Still only 22 years of age, still short of experience, the performance of the Castlebar Mitchels wing back in the All-Ireland final and replay, his first venture into the senior All-Ireland cauldron, has clearly made a deep impression on the award selectors,
On his young shoulders was thrust the responsibility of dealing with Dublin’s Kevin McManamon in the drawn game, and so efficiently did he erase whatever danger the goal poacher posed that McManamon was eventually replaced. In the replay, Durcan similarly shackled Paddy Andrews, and had the confidence to score two invaluable points during he course of the game.
The emergence of the Mitchels man is in many ways a tribute to Stephen Rochford’s belief in his young star, in providing to him the freedom to make full use of his talent, entrusting him with the responsibility that would have been a burden to many older and more mature players.
Durcan is well grounded, and one to whom many will look for whatever glory there is to come. He is intent on securing his place on the team aware that he will be pushed hard by young, eager, aspiring challengers. It is to be hoped he will be spared any setback to his progress, for Mayo needs him and more players of his qualities.
No such distinction was accorded Seamus O’Shea for All-Star nomination. It is not to take from any of those recommended to suggest that the Breaffy man deserves to be among the midfield nominees.
We humbly suggest that for all of the qualities that have won nominations for Brian Fenton, Peter Acheson, Matthew Donnelly, Gary Brennan, Paul Conroy and Colm Cavanagh, few will have matched the industry or the all-round contribution to their teams that Seamus O’Shea has made to Mayo’s journey to the All-Ireland final this season.

Semi-final thriller in store once more?
COUNTY senior championship progress has been efficient those past couple of weeks and the results much as expected with Breaffy, Knockmore, Castlebar Mitchels and Ballintubber qualifying for the semi-finals.
The only surprise was the collapse of Garrymore in their clash with Ballintubber. Kingpins for so long of South Mayo football and county senior champions on five occasions, the old Gary’ power has, sadly, waned, and against towering Ballintubber on Sunday they were a pale shadow of former glory.
The improved form of the Abbeymen has been the talking point of the quarter-finals, and makes their duel with county champions and favourites Castlebar Mitchels in the semi-final on Sunday a big attraction.
Some doubt surrounds the fitness of the Mitchels’ leading forward Neil Douglas, who picked up a leg injury in their game with Ballaghaderreen on Sunday. Joint managers Declan O’Reilly and Declan Shaw will be hoping that he week’s rest will benefit their injured full forward. His loss would present a setback to their hopes of reaching the final.
The accuracy of veteran Barry Regan posed some early problems for Castlebar in their quarter-final tussle. The full-forward reeled in a total of eight points, most of them from frees from all angles. It it was the performance of the other Barry, Moran, who came to life in the second half that helped steer the county champions into the semi-finals.


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