STOPPED IN HIS TRACKS Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea is tackled by Kildare’s Niall Kelly during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC clash in Newbridge. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
ONE of the main objectives of this column is to look at Gaelic football matches from a tactical perspective. To try and analyse how games have unfolded and why, and to try and explain why Mayo did what they did on big days.
To do that this week would require us to examine why this Mayo team, and so many individuals, came up short against a Kildare outfit that they should be beating based on what they’ve done over the last eight years.
But 24 hours after watching Mayo lose to Kildare, I just don’t have the heart to do that.
And, frankly, I don’t think the time is right to be critical of players who have given so much, and done so much, for the Mayo jersey.
They’ve performed so well, we’ve almost come to take it for granted. Take Diarmuid O’Connor and Paddy Durcan on Saturday night, for example.
They were heroic.
And we’ve seen heroic, herculean performances like that from the vast majority of that Mayo team over the years.
Just think of some of the things we’ve seen guys like Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Andy Moran do in a Mayo jersey when their county needed them?
It’s three years now since I wrote on these pages about the end being around the corner for this group of Mayo players. Of course they went on to play in two All-Ireland Finals and a replay since!
Their ability to produce performances again and again, defied the march of time.
But this group wasn’t going to go on forever, the end comes for all players and teams.
The mileage, the injuries and all the battles they’ve fought finally caught up with them on Saturday.
They went to the well once too often.
We knew this day was going to come, and I can imagine how the players feel this week. They’ll be devastated, and some of them probably know already that they’ll never play for Mayo again.
A part of me also thinks that at the back of their minds there’ll be an element of relief.
Bear with me, but I suspect that some of them would probably tell you that when they look back on this in the cold light of day, there was something different about this whole year.
That for some reason, they just weren’t able to collectively reach the same level that they had reached in previous years; I don’t think they had the confidence deep down that they could reach that level either as the weeks were going by.
Mayo supporters too seemed to be waiting for the end this year. I felt the atmosphere around the team was different, that while the big crowds were still coming out, there wasn’t the same noise or unbridled enthusiasm you’d have seen and heard in previous seasons.
I don’t think that unshakeable belief among the supporters was there, probably since last year’s All-Ireland Final defeat to Dublin, and maybe that got through to the players on the field too.
This week I’d prefer to focus on acknowledging what these Mayo footballers have done over the last eight seasons.
Primarily, they’ve changed the culture and the mindset of Mayo football. They’ve added a physical edge that Mayo teams in the past haven’t had consistently.
Each and every day these lads went out, they brought that physicality and that competitive spirit. That was evident again on Saturday evening as they raged against the dying of the light.
People should remember that this Mayo team, under three different managements, have given us some great days, won some huge battles at Croke Park, and made us all feel proud.
It didn’t all go to plan, of course, and there are things that could and should have been done differently. But that’s life.
And life certainly wouldn’t have been the same for Mayo people without this team around over the last seven years.
High standards must be maintained
IN some quarters the ‘success’ of this Mayo team will be measured in All-Ireland medals; so they will be labelled by those people as ‘failures’.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
As a former Mayo player, I would argue that so much of what this Mayo team has done over the last eight seasons has been at the highest level of sporting performance and excellence.
That will be one of the lasting legacies of this particular group of players.
They have been the second best team in the country consistently since 2012.
What they have done has gone beyond any level previously reached by Mayo football teams.
James Horan built this team, and showed them the level that they had to get to in order to compete for All-Ireland titles.
And every Mayo team in the future that aspires to win an All-Ireland — because that’s what players will always aim for — will know that they will have to meet and surpass the standards of this Mayo group if they’re to have any chance of achieving that goal.
I’d hope that players and management don’t make any rash decisions in relation to retirements or stepping down.
I think it’s important that every decision that’s made this Autumn and Winter revolves around making Mayo football better.
It’s a critical period because so much good work has been done over the last eight years that we can’t afford to let it slip.
It may be difficult for Mayo to come back next year and have a really competitive team right away.
The reality is that the Mayo team may look and feel very different in 2019, a lot of experienced players may decide to call it a day.
But it’s imperative that we look to build on what they’ve done over the last eight years. And it’s important that everyone pulls together to achieve that.
In the meantime, enjoy the break lads. We couldn’t have asked for anymore over the last seven years.