We must rescue something from this effort
First published September 1997 in Another View, Western People
Second consecutive All-Ireland defeat- We must rescue something from this effort
By Terry Reilly (c)
IT’S not easy to write on the heels of a cruel defeat. Especially this one! I’m as gutted as the management and players and the fans, and empathise with the gnawing ache of disappointment that will eat at them in every unoccupied moment for weeks.
Players are fit and strong and used to setbacks. But like you and I they will wake up in their beds at night and for a horrible moment wonder if they really lost or was it a nightmare.
For a player there is nothing worse than losing the one that counts, especially a game one feels one had the capability of winning. From a manager’s perspective it’s even worse when things go so dreadfully wrong…. the sacrifices, the hours away from family eat into armoury of even the toughest.
It has happened this band of proud Mayo men twice in two years. Last year rugged Meath spoiled the party as the table was being set. Twice. This time Kerry, the aristocrats of Gaelic football, did not have to live up to the form of previous Kingdom sides to collect an incredible 31 titles, and their first in an unusually dormant eleven.
But, as last year, we know deep down that this was a winnable Al-Ireland had we got it right on the day.
It gives me no satisfaction to write that we did not and that’s just not my view. The players and the management know it too, as did the respected GAA men from the county who buttonholed confidants after the game. They felt the hurt too because their innards told them what their conditioned eyes observed.
We got a lot wrong, but for the best intentions. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
No one can fault the effort or the commitment. No one could. This is a unique group of Mayo men in the annals of GAA lore. It has taken us to two All-Ireland finals under John Maughan’s campaigning and admirable stewardship. It has transported us to heights we did not think possible when we were labouring a couple of years ago in Division 3 and trying so desperately to refind our pride and our confidence after crushing defeats.
I was chided, good humouredly, when I suggested, in trying to dampen down expectations, eighteen months ago, that it would take three years before we would have a realistic chance of winning an All-Ireland. I was wrong though time may, ironically, prove me right. That said I have seen enough of life and football to know that one takes one’s chances when they arise because they may never present themselves again.
In the Burlington on Sunday night GAA President Joe McDonagh poured some balm on wounds when he reminded us that Cork of the modern era lost two All-Irelands before winning two in a row – a remarkable achievement but nevertheless one that gives answer to those who now wonder if there is a future for this Mayo team.
As optimists we grab at silver linings no matter how obscure because the alternative is to give up the ghost. The bottom line is that we must rescue something from these setbacks. To roll over meekly and surrender would be an
insult to the wit, drive and ambition of a band of young men who have a pride in their county that is nothing short of magnificent.
On Sunday night captain Noel Connelly gave a speech that was rousing, lucid and inspiring. It was not an easy thing to do to stand before almost 1,000 supporters and rally the foot soldiers. It was not an easy week for Noel
given the illness of his father, compounded by losing a game he and his colleagues had busted gut and muscle to win with an all-consuming passion. Yet, he stood erect, spoke from the heart as a man and a Mayo man and made the point that football is all-embracing and is the force that unites and drives us as a resilient people so accustomed to reversals. He pledged to keep on trying to realise the ambition and , coming from him, all gathered in the room knew it was a promise to which he would give nothing less than 100 per cent.
I don’t really know Noel. I met him once or twice but this column has more than once expressed the sentiment that he is more than an ordinary guy who has led with decorum and a sense of purpose. I believe he will realise his compelling desire to stand at the pinnacle in the Mayo colours. Ditto John Maughan, Tommy O’Malley and Peter Ford for whom I also have the highest regard.
As for the match itself, we never really got going. To start with, we did not have the balance to wrest the initiative from Kerry. With a well-posted weak attack Mayo needed to lead from the front and impose their will and their strength. We never looked like doing it and the writing was on the wall when we failed to open our account until the 23rd minute. By half-time we had registered only 3 points to Kerry’s 8, and worse still, all three were from Maurice Sheridan, two from frees. Almost everything we did in the opening half compounded the errors. Dermot Flanagan, in probably his last game at HQ., lasted five minutes until his troublesome hamstring went. The consequent repair work was far too complex and discommoded too many players.
Liam McHale, utterly predictably, was like a fish out of water at full-forward mainly because of a non supply of ball which isolated him: for McHale non-involvement from the start is like turning off the gas.
James Horan, who had come on for Flanagan, was improbably placed on the 40, not an inspired move given the crying need for pace down to centre, though let is be said Horan had a fine second half and swept over two capital
points from his more comfortable wing position which allows him the looping movement he needs to home in on the posts so spectacularly at times. At half time we lost Maurice Sheridan, a cruel and irrevocable blow that was always going to leave us struggling, given the management’s decision over the months not to give any worthwhile real time conditioning in this crucial discipline to other players. It’s not a case of being wise after the event, as readers of this column know we have already pointed out the high risk strategy of such a policy.
The second half was better: much better. We showed heart and got the bit between our teeth and fought back from six points down to a mere point behind after 51 minutes. Actually, we could have gone ahead had we the confidence to take our points, while at the same time we saw the vulnerability of the Kerry attack when the pressure was on.
But then Kerry had Maurice Fitzgerald, a class act who finally came good with a vengeance on the most demanding of occasions. He scored 9 points of his team’s 13 (6 from frees). Had Mayo Fitzgerald togged in the Green and Red we
would have won. Or had we Kevin Cahill, his effectiveness might have been negated. Another of those imponderables. We had, however, Peter Bourke between the posts and it is no harm reminding ourselves that the Knock lad made two brilliant saves which probably saved us from a pounding. And yet, and yet, we could have won had we taken simple chances, including two close in frees and several opportunities in front of the posts. And that was precisely where we fell down. Up front. Last year we scored enough in the game against Meath to have won many
an-All-Ireland. We needed to strengthen the attack, to add a bit of panache, devil and creativeness.
Whether it was the pressure to perform or a lack of confidence or originality we’ll never know. It was obvious enough that the Mayo game plan was to get the ball in behind the Kerry full-back line, but as chances were missed confidence leaked like a sieve, and it was very late in the game before Kerry’s frailties in the full-back line were really tested. Had we won midfield we might have seen a different pattern emerge.
* At the post-match banquet there was much speechifying about the local media sharpening its pen and turning in on the team. As a journalist of many years experience with no time for recriminations in defeat as distinct from constructive comments which in my case I deliberately give as Another View rather than The View, I thought it was not very relevant in the light of the obvious support the local media has given the team. Yet, I defend the right of people to say it if that is what they truly feel for I value a free and balanced press. That said I do not have a any time for an unquestioning press either. And again I draw the line in the sand between the negative stuff -usually, may I add, kicked up by county board members throughout the country after every championship reversal and well intentioned comment.
Personally speaking, my admiration for this Mayo team and their management is unqualified. As I read it the local media and the Mayo team are all in this together. It is time we laid any misconception aside and moved on. We have great and wonderful things to accomplish for this dearest of dear counties and we will do so by pulling together.
Anything else would be simply unthinkable.