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Mayo back in the headlines

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INSIDE THE CAMP Last weekend’s interview gave us a rare insight into the Mayo senior football team dressing-room.? Pic: Sportsfile

Mike Finnerty


I’M sure there have been worse and more disappointing weekends for Mayo GAA but, with the exception of the recent All-Ireland Final replay defeat, it’s hard to think of too many after the events of the last few days.
Our senior footballers and their former managers are the talk of the GAA world again, and social media is ablaze with claims, counter-claims, rumour, speculation and more vitriol and spite than is surely healthy.
People are queuing up to tell the Mayo players what they think of them (much of it below the belt, wide of the mark, and extremely insulting), while there are no shortage of experts either shouting the odds about Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes. Again, a lot of it is hugely unfair.
One Sunday newspaper, which has taken a real liking to hammering the Mayo footballers every other week since the All-Ireland Final, also weighed in with a very nasty piece of work. So much for it being the season of goodwill!
There is so much white noise, amateur psychology, and barstool revisionism going on that it’s more like a Civil War than Christmas week. And most people with an opinion are convinced that ‘their side’ is right.
If only it was that simple.
I have known Noel and Pat for many years, meeting them initially back in the early 1990s when they were Hollymount and Castlebar Mitchels footballers respectively.
And I have worked with both of them at various times with both The Mayo News and on Mid West Radio.
I have always found them to be honest and decent men, good company in a social setting, and passionate and knowledgeable when it comes to football.
They were both also great servants to Mayo football and were never found wanting when the going got tough during their playing days.
Noel wrote a column for The Mayo News for a couple of few years before being appointed as Mayo joint manager at the end of 2014.
I spent many hours sitting in his kitchen, and he in mine, talking football and working on his column.
His passion for Mayo and instinctive knowledge of Gaelic football always shone through. He called it as he saw it.
Pat Holmes has also featured often on the pages of this newspaper over the years as a player and a manager.
An hour in his company before Castlebar’s All-Ireland club final appearance in 2013 stands out in my memory, as we discussed the experiences that had shaped him as a footballer and a manager on his journey from Moygownagh to becoming an All Star with Mayo.
The way he spoke about what playing for Mayo meant to him would make the hair stand on the back of your neck.
The same goes for Noel Connelly; he loves Mayo, and he only ever wanted the county to either win or die trying.
I can only imagine what the last fourteen months have been like for the two of them, their families, and all of those close to them.
The hurt, anger and sense of betrayal they have felt since they were forced to step down last year was certainly palpable in their interview last weekend.
Obviously they felt they had no other option but to sit down and tell their side of the story to a national newspaper — regardless of the consequences.
They were more than entitled to do so, of course, and maybe putting their version of events into the public domain will help them to move on with their lives.
The way they were forced to leave their posts with Mayo last year was not the way they want to be remembered and, in fairness, it won’t be.
Most Mayo GAA people with long memories know that.
But it has to be acknowledged that some of the accusations levelled at members of the Mayo senior football squad in last weekend’s interview seemed very unfair.
Whatever the players’ exact reasons and motives were for doing what they did last September, and the public and brutal nature of Noel and Pat’s departure, you don’t win five Connacht championships in a row and make it to three All-Ireland Finals in five seasons, with ‘egos that need to be checked’ while being distracted by ‘outside influences’.
It certainly doesn’t sound like too many of the Mayo footballers I know. Does it sound like men like Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Seamus O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor or Alan Dillon to you?
Last Saturday night anybody watching RTÉ would have seen the Dublin players and Jim Gavin on TV, receiving their All-Ireland medals and looking ahead to 2017.
At the same time, a proud GAA county like Mayo were having their senior football team and former managers mocked, abused, pitied and jeered.
And all the while Mayo fans continue to argue the toss and bicker with each other, on social media and in bars, over the rights and wrongs as they see it.
The events of the last few days should also serve to remind us of the role played by some senior Mayo GAA Board officers who presided over a shambolic managerial appointment process in 2014.
Their mistakes and actions put Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly in a difficult and awkward position from the very start, and those individuals must shoulder some of the blame for the sorry mess that subsequently unfolded.
But it’s time now to move on.
Mayo winning on the football field is all that matters now.
That much, surely, we can all agree on.

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