FOUR months have come and gone since the Mayo minor football squad left Croke Park contemplating their three-point defeat to Tyrone after an incredible All-Ireland semi-final.
In the days and weeks that followed, it seems likely that Mayo manager Tony Duffy and his players would have concluded that this particular game of championship football was one that got away. In truth, they deserved more than words of consolation after a performance that sparkled with confidence and composure for three-quarters of an hour.
After all, it’s not every day that a Mayo team engineers a seven-point advantage with 20 minutes to go against the eventual All-Ireland champions. For large swathes of a cracking game, they passed and moved, chased and harried, and ran and worked.
Not to mention the outrageous scores they kicked for fun when they were in full flight.
At times that day, especially in the spell just before and after the break, Mayo were a joy to watch. The vast majority of them played with no fear and few inhibitions. They did what came naturally to them, took Tyrone on at every opportunity, and reminded all of us what days like this should be all about. Seizing the moment.
Unfortunately, in the end, it all counted for nought in terms of the result. Tyrone, the raging hot favourites to win the All-Ireland before a ball was kicked in anger at the beginning of the season, produced a barnstorming last quarter.
Mayo were blitzed by two well-taken goals and six points in the closing stages and were on the wrong end of a 3-10 to 0-16 final scoreline when the dust settled. However, there was more to their season than the dubious honour of being ‘beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists’. Much more.
During the course of a solid rather than spectacular season, Tony Duffy and his management team made huge progress with this group. They moulded them, prepared them, gave them some structure and a game-plan, and placed their trust in a core group of leaders.
From McHale Park to Markievicz Park and on to Croke Park, the likes of Danny Kirby, Michael Forde, Fergal Durkan, Jack McDonnell, Darren Coen and, of course, Cillian O’Connor didn’t let the side down.
They gave as good as they got in Connacht, taking out Roscommon, Leitrim and Galway to retain the provincial championship title, and earned their day out at Croke Park by virtue of a hard-fought win over Offaly in a low-key All-Ireland quarter-final.
In hindsight, they saved their best for last. Many were the sceptics who feared the worst when Mayo trotted out at HQ against the well-oiled and much-publicised Ulster champions. And few were the Mayo supporters who made the trip to Dublin on that balmy Sunday afternoon.
Those of us who did were treated to some scintillating football. The Mayo News report afterwards summed up their approach as being built on “hard work, a willingness to help each other out, and raw courage – good, old-fashioned principles that stood them in good stead.”
At a time when every aspect of Mayo football is under scrutiny as part of a Strategic Review, it is worth remembering that there are still some reasons to be optimistic.
The 2010 minor squad did their bit for the cause back in August.