UP IN THE AIR Dublin’s Niall Scully leaps highest to scores his side’s second goal despite the efforts of Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly and Kevin McLoughlin last Saturday night in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo are in a sticky spot, creatively speaking, at this stage of the season
JEAN Claude Izzo is responsible for a collection of crime novels known as the Marseilles
Trilogy. If you like binge reading about corrupt cops, Mediterranean food, and Lagavulin scotch; you should read them. If you want to read about a place tortured by unfulfilled potential and the ever-burdensome underdog tag; you should read them.
Hell, if you’re an old romantic from Mayo – read them.
The novels’ protagonist, Fabio Montale, is a typical anti-hero. Troubled, loveable and passionately pursuing justice around every corner and at the bottom of every glass, lamenting the city’s wayward soul he says of those fellow Marsaillais who frequent his favourite watering hole; We had nothing to lose. We had already lost everything.
Guaranteed his mother was from Mayo.
MacHale Park on a dank February night is a long way from Marseilles, and Dublin’s odyssey west this weekend was as welcome to Stephen Rochford as one of the goons who regularly came to rough the aforementioned Montale up. Every hotel room within twenty miles of Castlebar was booked – and that was just for Dublin’s back room team. The All-Ireland champions needed a win like you and I needed that blue-cheese board last Friday night. Mayo needed it like oxygen. Just as one swallow does not a summer make, three consecutive league losses does not a year condemn. But, Mayo are in a sticky spot, creatively speaking. An early start to the league and a late end to the holiday season have triggered a difficult opening to a hugely important league campaign for the country’s second best/eighth worst team.
I say eighth worst because for much of this team’s existence under Stephen Rochford they have been a heartbeat away from that dubious moniker.
To consider why is to contemplate the recent history of this Mayo squad and the evolution, or otherwise, of the entire set-up, from manager to maor uisce.
In late 2006, John O’Mahony inherited a Mayo that had just reached an All-Ireland final. Instead of building on the brittle but brilliant foundations established by Mickey Moran and John Morrison, Mayo endured a confusing period akin to a once successful band taking some time out to find themselves. Those late noughties were the footballing equivalent of Dylan Goes Electric. Unbeknownst to everybody, including perhaps O’Mahony himself, he did Mayo some service as his tenure served as a deep-clean of some of Mayo’s most beloved stars. It was cruel but necessary. But enough of that.
Enter James Horan — young and ambitious, he capitalised on the blank canvas and gambled on youth, enabling a new legion of Mayo footballers to be bold as well as beautiful. He inspired standards and attention to detail that led players to believe, and a county board to weep at balance sheets. He almost did it. Twice. Those of us in the cheap seats remember the failings at the death but Christ, we were close, and close because of him.
HORAN did what few like him ever do, and left either just at the right time, or maybe even a tad early. Cue the Holmes and Connelly debacle. Holmes and Connelly sounds less like a management duo and more like a top five Dublin accountancy firm, the type your college buddies would have sold their grannies to work for. Unlike any accountancy firm (ever), you may now have some sympathy for Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly for attempting, in their own way, to meet the exacting high standards the recently enabled stevedores had set themselves. They didn’t, apparently and the evolution turned to revolution. To their credit, they went quickly. Right or wrong, there was no other way to go.
And so we came to Rochford. A safe port in stormy seas.
You must hand it to him: a rookie inter-county manager coming in to take charge of a crew that had just deposed of a management team with the casual indifference of a toddler swatting aside an ice cream. From the outside looking in, his management has been a lesson in, well, management. This is a Mayo team brimming with personality. Horan had no choice but to trust new talent. Rochford has had no choice but to placate it.
But what of evolution? Mayo went from losing narrowly to Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final under Horan, to losing narrowly to Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final under Holmes and Connelly to losing narrowly to Dublin in an All-Ireland final under Rochford. Progress, right? Facetiousness aside, it does highlight the predicament Mayo are in: how to obliterate the paradigm and win just once.
Mayo took a four-point hammering from Dublin on Saturday, and it seems we learned nothing. Truth is it feels like it really doesn’t matter unless it’s an Adam Gallagher, a Brian Reape or a Peter Naughton who’s out there doing the losing.
A bible worth has
been written about this Mayo team – and much of it in the extreme. They are feted as heroes on one page and dismissed as bluffers on the other. The morsels of truth, as ever, are someplace in between.
Mayo’s problem is that nothing is quite broke enough, and so they are afraid to fix it.
There’s a Carl Jung quote on the wall of a toilet I often must sit on that reads: “who looks outside dreams, who looks inward awakes”.
Sameness kills. It’s time for Mayo to be bold, to reflect and evolve.
In six months, it might make all the difference.