Joe Kernan: Talent shining through just at the right time
FORM can be temporary but class is regarded as permanent.
Yet class, personified by players with proven track records at inter-county level and indeed perhaps with a haul of medals to their credit, is not necessarily always readily available to team managers.
Practically every team in the country has its own quota of marquee players without whom the line-up is invariably viewed as incomplete. But team bosses can only employ the resources that are at their disposal and if this means incorporating new faces into a team, amending strategy to take cognisance of the absence of established performers or, in a worse case scenario, gambling on a player that may not be quite 100 per cent fit then so be it.
Yet from adversity can often emerge a message of hope for the future. Thus it is that several prominent team managers are this week engaged in taking stock of rather more promising options that have been unexpectedly offered to them because of injuries, fixture commitments or other reasons.
The satisfaction which Antrim manager Liam Bradley derived from his side’s opening league win over Sligo was enhanced because it was achieved without his St Gall’s contingent, Derry boss Damian Cassidy saw his team rack up 1-18 against Tyrone without the normally commanding presence of Paddy Bradley in his forward line and Cavan manager Tommy Carr was able to cock a snook at his critics after his side, without the considerable combined talents of Seanie Johnston and Ronan Flanagan, still hammered Roscommon out of sight with the virtual unknown Raymond Galligan helping himself to 10 points.
Add to this impressive triple Ulster coup the fact that Down overcame Kildare with rookie Calum King out-psyching the illustrious Dermot Earley at midfield and Armagh ran Meath desperately close at Navan with Gareth Swift deputising for the vastly experienced Ronan Clarke and it can be clearly seen that there is a small army of talent just itching to remain on active duty in what is the second most important competition in the fixtures calendar.
Antrim’s Michael Magill and Ciaran Close have now confirmed that they are ready for regular places in the side and, if anything, Derry have even more expansive options given that Caolan O’Boyle, Brian Og McAlary, Andrew McCartney and Charlie Kielt have put down emphatic markers for places against Dublin on Saturday. And if Galligan deservedly earned rave reviews for his spectacular score fest in Cavan’s colours, then his colleagues Eoin McGuigan and David Givney have left manager Carr in no doubt that they are ready for extended terms in the side.
The ongoing absence of some of Tyrone’s most decorated players has paved the way for others who may not even have been regarded as fringe contenders up until now to step up to the plate.
If Mickey Harte found the recent defeats to Donegal and Derry hard to take — he does not like to lose any game irrespective of its status — then the contribution of newcomer Eoin McCusker at Celtic Park will have gladdened his heart. McCusker is a nephew of Peter Canavan and by all accounts has inherited a little of his famous uncle’s skills but to state that he is Canavan Mark II would be somewhat premature. Come to think of it, will there ever be a Canavan Mark II?
A few months ago, too, a Down team taking the field without the familiar figure of Dan Gordon at midfield would have been deemed unthinkable. Yet look at the selection of goodies manager James McCartan now has for his two midfield berths — Ambrose Rodgers, Peter Fitzpatrick, Calum King, Stephen Kearney and Paul Greenan are all in the equation and given the fierce battle currently raging for starting places, they obviously fully intend to stay there.
Competition for various slots is even keener in Monaghan who will be visitors to Galway on Sunday and I’m looking forward to a reunion with my great friend and managerial rival Seamus McEnaney.
He will undoubtedly have taken considerable heart from the performances of newcomers Sean Gorman, Neil McAdam, Francis Caulfield, Dermot Malone and Martin McElroy against Cork last weekend when the Farney produced a strong second-half burst that took them within a whisker of victory.
No doubt these players and their colleagues will be up for the task of meeting Galway who, let’s be honest, were disappointing in going under to Mayo last Sunday.
However, in shaking hands with Mayo manager John O’Mahoney afterwards I reminded him that there is a long year ahead and those players who are now projecting themselves into the spotlight via the National League will surely agree with this as they bid to join the ranks of the household names come the autumn.