Whatever happened to Mayo’s plan?
Forgotten project sums up malaise
FOUR days after Sligo dumped Mayo from the championship, I watched their juniors win the Connacht title in Ballyhaunis.
And all over them, too, the track of Kevin Walsh’s hand was obvious, as his charges came from behind with laudable conviction to edge out the Tribesmen in a final vibrating with excitement. The rising tide of Sligo football has lifted more than one boat.
In contrast, Mayo boats are sinking, it is claimed. Ardent supporters are again in sombre mood. Nothing has hurt so deeply as the manner in which their footballers so fecklessly surrendered their Connacht crown.
Moral fibre is questioned. The fundamentals on which the character of our footballers is forged are disputed. Where’s the steel, they ask.
As far back as the eighties, Liam O’Neill, the first of Mayo’s contemporary coaches, called on the County Board to establish structures so that young players with the ‘right stuff’ could be enticed and encouraged.
Twenty years farther back, Larry McGovern, then chairman of the County Board, opined that Mayo had too many ‘fancy-pants’ footballers, and too few of the big tough, no-nonsense young men who could tough it out with the best.
Decades on, nothing has changed. Coaching initiatives are in place, but heartless old football continues to roll off the assembly line. Suggestions for further introspection are met with a big shrug of indifference, it is claimed.
Five years ago Paddy Muldoon made a bold bid to reshape the minds of young potential stars with a promising coaching initiative. It was launched in Breaffy House with a great flourish of publicity.
A less polished plan had been drawn up a few years earlier, but died for want of backing from Mayo GAA Board. This was different. It came in the wake of Mayo’s collapse in the All-Ireland of 2004 when the need for some initiative had been widely urged.
Backed by the Mayo GAA supporters Club, Muldoon called together some of the county’s football gurus to discuss the alarming decline in standards and what could be done to restore the pride and commitment with which young Mayo men once bestrode the football fields of the country.
The group was made up of Paddy Muldoon (chairman) Martin Carney, Kevin McStay, Johnny Carey, Seamus Gallagher, Aiden Brennan (secretary), Cathal Hennelly, Eamon Clarke and John Prenty. This initiative won full commitment from Mayo GAA Board.
Neither time nor effort was spared over a nine-month period in planning a campaign of action to infuse a ‘winning Mayo style’ into a squad of young players throughout the county. Models from around the country were studied and eventually a programme similar to that run in Kilkenny for young aspiring hurlers was decided.
At the launch in Breaffy House, Kevin McStay outlined an impressive agenda commencing with 14-year-olds coached in a range of football and lifestyle skills. They would be tested, monitored, and mentored, and those whose progress was satisfactory would be promoted to the next level of Development Squad.
A distinguished panel of mentors comprising coaches, present and former county footballers, together with former Crossmolina star Stephen Rochford as co-ordinator, agreed to help out in what was seen as the first serious attempt to develop a football philosophy that would survive the challenges of the Kerrys and Corks and Tyrones in Croke Park.
Five years on, how has that initiative progressed? Well, let’s be frank, it hasn’t. It never got off the ground, through no fault of those who drew up the scheme or volunteered to help. Somewhere, a lack of will scuppered a fine initiative. The valuable time of a group of well-intentioned people was once again wasted . . . and we are all left chasing dreams.
My full-forward is late, great Ruane
IT wasn’t easy being full forward for Mayo in the sixties. Tom Langan’s angular shadow hung accusingly over heirs to the legacy he had left.
Chosen as leader of the attack on the team of the century, Langan held a special place in the hearts of those he thrilled during Mayo’s golden era. And long after he retired, aspiring full-forwards were judged by the standards the Ballycastle man had set.
It was no shame that his ability was not emulated. He was the best of all time. Leaders have come and gone in the decades since, but Langan’s is the most memorable footprint in the history of Mayo full forwards.
On the horizon in the meantime new faces have waxed and waned. Close on a hundred led the Mayo attack at some stage over the past fifty years, including John McAndrew who won All-Ireland medals with Mayo as a defender and midfielder more than a decade earlier. No Langan appeared among them, but there was no shortage of promise.
Mick Ruane, who died recently, was high on the list of worthy successors. His was the next generation. He was fully aware of the feats of Mayo’s greatest full-forward and conscious of the shoes he was asked to fill.
His early years were the most distinguished, and much of the promise he had shown as an All-Ireland medal winning midfielder for St Nathy’s was recaptured in the 44 occasions he represented Mayo.
Johnny Farragher spent a while getting to know the position. And while the four goals he scored against Kerry in the All-Ireland under 21 final replay of 1967 are etched in history, Willie McGee had also many golden moments in the county¹s senior jersey. The quality of his scores are comparable with any pulled off in this county over the past fifty years. In his 71 appearances he has to his credit a total of 27 goals and 35 points.
Memorable performances followed from JJ Cribben, Jim Fleming and John Gibbons. And those who remember him will have a warm spot for Joe McGrath in whom the hopes of a county, tired of Roscommon¹s leatherings in McHale Park in those dark and dismal days, were entrusted. In Mayo¹s two championship games of 1979, the Kilmaine scored 5-6. Of a total of 2-10 in the final against Roscommon, McGrath scored 2-5. His total for 44 games came to 25-61.
Padraig Brogan, Offaly’s Sean Lowry, Con Moynihan, Anthony Finnerty, James Horan, Alan Dillon , Billy Joe Padden, Ray Dempsey, who spent most of his 64 appearances in the full forward position, and Liam McHale briefly, flew the flag with honour.
But I have whittled the hundred or so names down to three, and I¹m finding it difficult to separate Mick Ruane, Willie McGee and Joe McGrath.
Each had a different style. No full-back found Ruane’s strength easy to handle, especially in his early years with Mayo when he had no peers. McGee had style and vision, and a lethal left foot. Joe McGrath, the quiet man of Mayo football, was grossly under-rated, but on losing teams he proved his greatness.
But to fill that position on my best Mayo team of the last fifty years I’m giving a hesitant nod to Ruane. And he completes a powerful and resilient backbone which I think would offer a serious challenge to the best any county in the country has to offer.
The team so far
1. Eugene Lavin; 2. Willie Casey, 3. Ray Prendergast, 4. Dermot Flanagan;
5. Ger Feeney, 6. John Morley,
7. James Nallen; 8. WJ Padden, 9. TJ Kilgallon;
10. Martin Carney, 11. Liam McHale, 12. Joe Corcoran; 13. Ciaran McDonald, 14. Mick Ruane.
Just a thought...
What a change a week makes! Five players on the injured list for Mayo’s championship match with Sligo turned out for their respective clubs a week later. All five - Barry Moran, Alan Dillon, Aidan Kilcoyne, Pat Harte and Trevor Howley - survived the test.