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Time to spot the differences

Kevin McStay
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Time to spot the differences

A WEEK or so has passed. The Ryder Cup took centre stage and we are thankful for that. Time really is a great healer. We returned to work just as the post-mortems got shorter. Days will turn into weeks and they in turn will make months. And by then this latest final will be but a memory. And we will rise to our full height again and face into the FBD and NFL campaign. But not just yet; we have some home thoughts from abroad to share with you. We are a cursed race. Last week was one for contemplation and an early theme to emerge concerned the similar nature of the 2004 and 2006 finals. So, to get a more definitive answer I engaged in some research for this week’s column. Sad man that I am, I took out the 2004 All Ireland final tape for a second viewing. Was it ‘the same old story’? My suspicion that the emerging consensus was a little rushed and perhaps a little lazy is backed up by the tape.
Indeed a consideration of the circumstances before and after each final reveals much also. This most recent loss cannot be so easily and neatly packaged and before we consign it to memory it is vital it is properly examined. He who dismisses the lessons of history and all that.
Back to the idea we are a cursed race for a minute. I am pretty sure this next few paragraphs constitute breaking news. You will recall the 2004 final opened at a frantic pace and for a time (especially after the early Alan Dillon goal) we were dreaming. Until The Gooch beat Pat Kelly to an in-coming ball, turned beautifully, sold a hop dummy and slid the ball past Peter Burke for one of the finest goals to ever grace a final.
But there was a problem. Colm Cooper hopped the ball twice in a row and the referee, Pat McEneaney (best ref in the country?), should have given a free out. I agree this news comes a little too late to change anything and it looks like we all missed it. Did anybody raise this matter in the days and weeks following the game? If they did I missed it and I bring it to you now. It might have changed the course of the game but then again, matters might well have panned out the way they did.
That was 2004 but another goal, the final nail in the 2006 coffin came from Eoin Brosnan. It should not have counted  but it certainly would have changed nothing. Darren O’Sullivan bounced the ball twice in the build up before soccer passing the ball to Brosnan who finished smartly. Small points, silly points, but I bring them to you as points of information.
Anyway, Mayo doesn’t beat Kerry in All Ireland finals very often. Not at senior (1932, 1997, 2004 and 2006) or minor (1933 and 1962) level. Four goal Willie and the under 21s of 1967 are the stand out squad when we look back at our All Ireland final history with the Kingdom but 1973 and 1995 reminds us they are difficult to crack in this grade too. People argue it is our style, too open, and thus suited to a footballing opposition but that is too easy an explanation.
Perhaps the psychology route offers firmer evidence. Is the sight of the Kerry team too much for the Mayo man? It appears so, certainly on All Ireland final day but there is some evidence that a semi-final appearance is not so daunting. We have all winter to figure it out. If it can be figured out.
I want to return to the opening summary from many observers who quickly jumped to the conclusion that this year’s hammering was just a continuation from the 2004 debacle. Same team? Same set up? Same non-performance? Same result?
The column has examined both tapes this week and while there are many similarities it is not good enough to use the available crutch of non-progress. The facts are the facts; consider the following:
The team was under new management. Mickey Moran replaced John Maughan and brought with him a new and dynamic team. We all know Kieran Gallagher and the solid job he does but our interest concerned John Morrison and the new style of coaching/training he brought to the table.
Out went the more physical type of old style work favoured by John Maughan and Co. to be replaced with the more modern, inclusive style of instruction. More ownership (what does that mean?) for the squad and a fresher touch all round.
We heard about ‘The Nut’ for the first time, high intensity drills and a range of one liner mantras few might equal. Massive trials and a countywide search for the players we needed to make things different this time. Big change then no matter what way you view matters.
For the first time in many, many years Mayo management could select from all the players entitled to play for the county. Personality clashes, fits of pique, disinterest and the hundreds of other reasons used when players go walkabout, were parked to allow us put our best foot forward.
There was a change at county board level with James Waldron replacing Paddy Naughton. A new PRO too and the continuity of the Secretary to guide all officers. A new broom? Certainly.
THE 2006 team that played two Sundays ago included seven changes from the team John Maughan sent out to do battle. In came David Clarke, Keith Higgins, Aidan Higgins, Pat Harte, BJ Padden, Ger Brady and Kevin O’Neill. They replaced Peter Burke, Gary Ruane, Pat Kelly, Fergal Kelly, Trevor Mortimer, Brian Maloney and James Gill.
So, almost half the team was different inside a two-year period and of those that started in 2004 only four started in their same positions for the 2006 decider.
We boasted of at least three forwards playing at full capacity, odds on for All Stars and in one case, Player of The Year as this final came into focus.
The absence of hype was a noticeable feature of this years build to the final. For those with an inclination to ratchet up the buzz via print, new songs, painted cars or worse, painted animals, a shoot to kill policy existed for the three weeks between semi and final. No planes, no Knock and no beach wear. 2006 was different.
It is reasonable to suggest the circumstances surrounding the two finals are totally at odds with the cosy ‘More of the same’ conclusion and yet one is tempted to ask if any of the new departures made any difference at all. Despite the trials and the search only one ‘new’ player was unearthed and Kevin O’Neill hardly needed an introduction to followers of Mayo football.
The similarities? Massive attendances at both games witnessed half-time situations few could have predicted. In 2004 we were down and out at the break as we trailed by eight points. We lost by that same margin. Two years later we went to the short whistle with the game over again, down by six points this time but facing a 13 point defeat in the end.

Both games had, to quote one of my e-mailers, a ‘shock and awe’ element-hit big, hit early, hit often and score big, score early and score often. Our breaking story this week informs us The Gooch goal of 2004, one that pointed his team for home, was illegal and should not have counted. Kerry would still have won – comfortably!
Is there any conclusion to hang this final on? It is not an area I am expert in and thus am slow to enter this world. But having examined all the other aspects of the building blocks used and the build up itself we conclude the capitulation was founded on a mental fragility whose presence can only be explained by the players themselves and the sports psychologist urgently needed to sort it out.

Comments to kevinmcstay@mayonews.ie