Sunday 4 December 2016

Parsons excels in his second coming

Mayo’s Tom Parsons glides past Sligo’s Niall Murphy in their one-sided Connacht
SFC final victory in July at Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon. Pic: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Tom Parsons glides past Sligo’s Niall Murphy in their one-sided Connacht SFC final victory in July at Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon. Pic: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

As the clock ticks down to the most anticipated football game of the year, a recurring theme has been the debate about Aidan O'Shea's reinvention as a full-forward force of nature and how Dublin must try and stop him.

A sometimes forgotten sub-plot of the O'Shea story involves one of his Mayo colleagues. The beast of Breaffy's target man transformation has been facilitated, to a large degree, by the second coming of Tom Parsons.

Remember him? The rising star who delivered such an impressive senior debut campaign in 2008 that he made Seán Boylan's International Rules squad that autumn.

The midfielder who became an ex-Mayo footballer in the spring of 2011, culled by James Horan.

The Charlestown clubman who, while still working in Cardiff, was recalled by Horan last season only to have his league and championship opportunities curtailed by injuries.

Restored to fitness, he came off the bench at half-time in both the drawn and replayed semi-finals with Kerry. Yet, whether indicative of his disrupted comeback campaign or even his forgotten man status, Parsons wasn't included in the 26 Mayo player profiles in either match programme.

Twelve months on, everyone remembers his name.

"He's in the best shape of his life. We're blessed to have him playing so well for us," enthuses joint-manager Noel Connelly.

Which begs the question: why has it taken until now, seven years after he hit the SFC ground running against Sligo, for Parsons to have a sustained summer impact?

You can cite a variety of reasons but John Casey - fellow Charlestown man and ex-Mayo forward - partially blames the former manager, saying he was "very, very surprised and shocked that James Horan decided he wasn't needed in the Mayo set-up".

He had started the last round of the 2011 league in Monaghan but failed to go well. Then, along with four others, he was cut adrift from the panel.

Casey recalls how Parsons' form dipped, "and obviously he was psychologically affected by it. Because when you're that age, and a fella he would have been compared to was Pearce Hanley, having a career in professional football with the Brisbane Lions. His peers, all cutting it at county level, and him kind of washed up here, playing club football for three years."

The flip side, though, is that Parsons had issues in his own game to address - a tendency to fade out in matches, plus concerns over his foot-passing, game-management and tackling.

Now back living in Dublin, the 27-year-old has re-emerged fitter, stronger and more mature.

"A superb fetcher, always was, but the problem was when he landed, he'd take the ball into tackles and end up losing it," Casey recalls.

"I watched him against Donegal in the quarter-final, on the Cusack side, and the old Tom Parsons would have shot and kicked it wide - but the new Tom Parsons turned and laid it on to set up a score. He is cleverer on the ball; doesn't waste possession; and his aggressiveness has increased tenfold."

Jet-Heeled

His athleticism was never in doubt - and this could be another key weapon against those jet-heeled Dubs.

The second half of the 2013 All-Ireland final exposed Mayo's relative lack of midfield mobility when they had two O'Sheas in the engine-room. According to John O'Mahony, Parsons can help to combat "an issue that became a huge problem for them in 2013. I said afterwards that Cluxton was the best midfielder on view in Croke Park ... he was dictating what was happening around the middle."

The former Mayo manager stresses the importance of Parsons as an option-provider, facilitating the relocation of Aidan O'Shea ... or allowing them to play a tactical game, a la Barry Moran's sweeper role against Donegal.

O'Mahony gave Parsons his first senior break. "I was mystified that he had faded off the scene altogether, and I was thrilled to see him going back last year," he concludes.

A view echoed by all of Mayo.

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