Where o where to begin?

IT sucks, doesn’t it. It really does. Same old story. A no-show when it mattered in Croke Park. Mayo ticked all the boxes that the country pidgeon hole us in and it is hard to argue with them.

This year looked different. We looked like we might have something about us. Nothing as fanciful as an All-Ireland, that would be stretching it. But we looked like we weren’t going to be found wanting for resolve. For leadership. For character. We referenced the league game against Galway. The league game against Donegal. The Tyrone league game. The late winner against Galway when, we told ourselves, previous Mayo teams would have wilted after losing a seven point lead.

This team had something about them. A bit of chutzpah. Sadly untrue. We can go on all we want about refereeing decisions going against us – and they did, have no doubt. But the fact remains that when all these decisions were made the teams were level and there was just under 20 minutes to go.

Time to shit or get off the pot. Mayo wilted, visibly, with the game there for the taking. That was the most disappointing part of it.

TIME TO PUSH HOME: Aidan O'Shea's goal put us four points up with twenty minutes to go but instead of closing the game out, we wilted.

TIME TO PUSH HOME: Aidan O'Shea's goal put us four points up with twenty minutes to go but instead of closing the game out, we wilted.

There’s much disappointment in the county and talk of when we are going to win the All-Ireland. First things first we need to stop that sort of talk. We need to look at improvement and see where that takes us. But talking of All-Irelands, whilst being the ultimate aim, is, in actuality, short-sighted. Because we’re just hoping this might happen on a year to year basis instead of putting better structures in place.

We’ll get to that in time but first we need to assess where this group of players are at. I have to admit that I’m fearful about a lot of them. They’ve been excellent servants but how many times can you go to Croke Park and suffer a disappointing loss, often because of a non-show on your behalf, and be able to change that around when you find yourself in a battle at HQ again?

Time and defeats take their toll. There was signs this year that things were different. We’d heard about the great work that the team’s psychologist Gerry Hussey has done. We heard leaders had been developed. That character was there. That this is the time of year that John O’Mahony comes into his own. He looks after all the fine details, keeps players focused etc.

All these proved false dawns. Do we blame Gerry Hussey or John O’Mahony? Or do we have to ask the hard questions about the players? You can have all the ancilliary features in the world but if the players cannot grab the game by the scruff of the neck on the home strait, in the last twenty minutes of an All-Ireland Quarter-Final in Croke Park, then you really do have to look at the players.

I’m not knocking the benefits of psychology. I’m actually a big fan of it. But it needs a certain base point with the subject in question. If, the Mayo players in this question, are vulnerable mentally then there is only so much papering over the cracks that can be done.

They might not always have been like this but heartbreak takes its toll. And despite what we might say about how anquished we feel after Mayo lose, there is no one that puts more into the effort and has as much to lose as the players. That accumulates and is hard to remove. If we are to look at the players who started on Sunday and also played in the 04 and 06 finals we see four players. David Heaney, Ronan McGarrity, Alan Dillon and Trevor Mortimer. Four men who should be leaders of this team.

Sadly only Alan Dillon stepped up to the plate. He was joined by Andy Moran, a sub both years, Aidan Kilcoyne, in his first full year starting, and Aidan O’Shea, who collects his Leaving Cert results in a few hours.

Things looked like they might have changed. We looked like we had a bit of gumption about us. But when the hard questions were asked on Sunday too many were found wanting. And that’s not easy for me to say and it is very easy to hide behind a keyboard and say this but I fear I am right on this one.

Until we discover leaders, and it is not a quality that can really be cultivated, I think it is either in you or not, then we will not be a threat in the latter stages of the championship.

In the mean time we will be competitive in Connacht and may easily win a Connacht title here and there but in the high oxegen setting of the knockout stages in Croker, we’ll be short of breath again. I am afraid I don’t see that changing in the next couple of years.

There are lots of things we need to do in Mayo football to reverse the cycle and I’ll look to examine what I feel might be some of the underlying factors in the coming weeks. For now I think it is fair to say that a lot has to change. And those who understand the dynamics of football in the county will, hopefully, concur.

We’ve been ad-libbing for too long. That needs to stop. More anon.


1 Response to “Where o where to begin?”

  1. 1 diehard August 12, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    I am a great fan of your writing and you usually have it spot on. I hope this is not one of those occasions.
    When you look at it 1-15 is not a bad score and would win a lot of games. However, we conceeded 2-15! I put this down to a very inexperienced and rather small backline and a makeshift midfield. It is expecting too much to ask David heaney to run Croke Park at this stage of his career.

    The experience thing will fix itself hopefully – but the size thing will not! I would bring Trevor Mortimer or Pat Harte back into centre half back. I would put Keith Higgins at half forward – playing a Dooher type role – he is a class act on the ball. I would look at Conroy as well.

    I think Parsons needs time in the middle of the field – so play him in FBD and the League (and to hell with Mayo players playing with colleges in this competition.)
    All in all it is not such a disaster – there wasnt much in it – bad officiating decisions – maybe a bit of complacency (how often have you seen a team that goes 4 points up against no score – relax a bit – get caught and then struggle. This happened twice to Mayo.
    Lessons to be learned certainly but patience and persistence will pay off in the end!

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