Mayo’s Donal Vaughan sees the Kerry game as “a massive opportunity”
NOT a lot of people know this, but Donal Vaughan spent half a decade living in Kerry.
Born in Cork, he moved from Kanturk to Castleisland aged two, and remembers roaring on the Rebels in Munster clashes with the Kingdom.
When Donal was seven, the Vaughan family moved to Mayo after his father John became manager of the Jennings Meats factory in Ballinrobe. It was 1996.
He recalls the streets being painted red and green. Trees and cars were daubed in the county colours. The absence of such Beatlemania-type scenes this time around don’t bother him.
“I suppose Mayo people are a bit cautious,” the defender suggested at last Tuesday’s press conference. “Maybe they don’t want to build themselves up again till it really happens … The last day, in the quarter-finals, there wasn’t a massive Mayo support up there [in Croke Park], but ... it was a massive atmosphere.”
Among those cheering him on were relations who would ordinarily be staunch Cork fans. “From the minute the draw was made,” he says, “I was getting a good few texts saying: ‘Family first – we’re all behind you’.” One suspects that having backed him against their own, those Corkonians (and many others) will have no qualms supporting Mayo against Kerry.
“It’s always my belief that on our day, if we can put up a performance, we can beat anyone in the country – whether that’s Cork, Kerry or whoever,” Vaughan explains. “I would have gone in this year thinking, if we can get our performance right, we can take anyone. I think we probably proved that the last day against Cork.”
He adds the converse caveat – “If we don’t perform, we can be beaten by anyone” – which, of course, almost came to pass in Ruislip. That London scare was his first competitive Mayo game of 2011, having been sidelined with a groin injury for eight months. But when asked whether he could have imagined then that he’d be preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final, he can honestly say yes.
“I was one of the players who spoke before extra time [against London], and I used the comparison with Cork last year,” he recalls. “I was watching that game in Newcastle in England. Limerick took Cork to extra time, and possibly could have beaten them. And they [Cork] went on to win an All-Ireland. One of the points I made there [was] ‘If we get over today, anything is possible’.”
Before each of the games since, one journalist notes, has been preceded by a Mayo-related comment from a pundit – David Brady, Liam Hayes or Joe Brolly. Vaughan doesn’t take the bait, and reclaims the victories over Galway, Roscommon and Cork for Team Mayo.
“I suppose what you’re talking about there is external motivation,” he begins. “We’ve a lot of internal motivation. I’m not going to reveal it here today, but there’s a lot of ... fellas in this panel who’ve experienced hurt over the last few years, and they don’t need to be reading this stuff in the Sunday papers on the morning of a game to get themselves motivated.”
Noel Connelly wrote in his Mayo News column of a corner being turned after the victory over Cork. The win came despite a very poor start which saw the underdogs drift to 18/1 in the betting at one point.
“Before the game, we had talked about every scenario,” says Vaughan. “The ideal scenario was something where we were going to come out and surprise Cork and go five or six points up! … that obviously didn’t happen.” In the event of a bad start, the advice was simple – “just keep playing, don’t panic … get a couple of scores … In any game, crazy things happen in championship.”
Though the result put a pep in Mayo people’s step across the globe, there was no craziness after the game. Players slapped backs and wore looks of quiet delight, but pandemonium didn’t ensue. “At the end of the day,” cautions the centre half-back, “there’s no medals handed out after quarter-finals.”
Which brings us back to Kerry, but the 22-year-old isn’t about to give any hostages to fortune ahead of the semi-final. Invited to rate this Kerry team compared to the Kingdom of two or three years ago, he responds: “It’s probably not for me to say … I suppose the end of the season will tell that”.
Vaughan, who can be found in the family shoe shop on Ballinrobe’s Main Street, is not on Twitter but “reluctantly” opened a Facebook account – “I had to open one for my 21st to get a bit of a crowd at it!” he jokes. “But if you look at my Facebook [page] … I don’t think I’ve ever made a controversial comment in the box where everyone can see.
“If I want to say something, I’ll say it in a message. I wouldn’t be comfortable with the whole thing. It’s great when you’re going well, but some of the lads will tell you, some of the things they got on Twitter after the London game, weren’t too nice.”
In September 2006, Vaughan was a teenager on Hill 16, surrounded by Kerry people for a one-sided All-Ireland final.
The game was “over after ten or 15 minutes – it was hard to watch”, he remembers. But his friend David Harney “just kept shouting and shouting and shouting … all these Kerry lads were giving him abuse, but he kept going”.
Three years later, Vaughan made his championship debut under John O’Mahony in New York and a Connacht title was secured. Last year was “tough”, he acknowledges … he had “a long summer … and over the winter” to ponder the defeats to Longford and Sligo.
“I think sometimes you have to feel a bit of pain,” he adds. “What’s the saying? You can’t appreciate success until you experience disappointment. I think that’s part of football.
“You’re always going to have more downs than ups – unless you’re from a county like Kerry ... We’re in the semi-final the next day. It’s a massive opportunity for us, so we’re going to grab it with both hands.”
Occupation: Family business
Championship appearances: 10
Did you know? He’s a former Connacht cross-country champion.
My Mayo Team mates
The Mayo defender, who lived in Kerry for five years until he was 7, brings us inside the Mayo dressing-room door.
Most skilful team-mate: Cillian O Connor, Equally good with his left of right.
Best trainer: Peader Gardner. The expression ‘you train the way you play’ sums him up. Serious athlete.
Worst trainer: Everyone puts it in at training, but I owe someone a dig, so Aidan O’Shea. Thanks for that picture on Facebook!
Best dresser: I’ll have to give this accolade to Robert Hennelly, simply for effort. He can often be spotted in the fashion department of Vaughan Shoes!
Worst dresser: Jimmy Kilcullen usually looks like he’s going to a funeral, but I’ll have to give it to Ger Caff. He really needs to get rid of those shoes.
Fastest: Keith Higgins: They don’t call him ‘Zippy’ for fun.
Slowest: Tom Cuniffe, If he was any slower he’d be going backwards.
Vainest: Alan Freeman. Loves the sun bed. admiring the guns!
Best with the media: Aidan Cambell, never gives much away.
Shyest: Seamie O’Shea. Especially around the ladies.
Best at other sports: Seamie O’Shea. He’s a very talented bowler!.
Best with gadgets: Peader Gardner, always has the iPhone out.
Best grubber: I’m going to take this one. Minimum of three Jennings steaks a day and that’s just for starters. Fair play to Mammy Vaughan.
Best car: Andy Moran/Jenny’s Mini Cooper. How many Mayo footballers can you fit in a mini? The answer is five plus a few gear bags and a suitcase! I didn’t think it was possible.
Most superstitious: Andy Moran wears lucky jocks for every championship game. He has had the same pair for years.
Longest in the shower: Jason Gibbons.