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From the sublime to the ridiculous

Sport

Seán Rice

AS the column closes for the season we look back on a year that promised so much and ends with every loyal follower of Mayo football struggling to separate the chaff from the seed, struggling to make sense of it all.
The bitter sweet change of management had stirred conflicting emotions as the year began. Stephen Rochford’s tenure ending in controversy; James Horan’s return rekindling old embers of excitement.
It climaxed early with Diarmuid O’Connor holding the National League trophy aloft in the Hogan Stand after Mayo defeated Kerry, their old nemesis, in a nail-biting final.
But who remembers that now?
The football highlights of the year just ending has been submerged in a morass of county board high jinks these last few months. The gloss of achievement wiped clean.
The world looked on aghast as Mayo focus shifted, farcically, from the field of dreams to the theatre of the absurd.
When Ciaran Treacy clinched the league final in March with a goal that confidently despatched the kingdom, it excited hopes of a return to what had become familiar territory . . . visiting the final stages of the championship.
But the road to the top became rockstrewn when, having dismissed New York – where the seeds of the present county board controversy were sown – they lost their Connacht semi-final on home ground to Roscommon.
Not even an invigorating win over old rivals Galway on their way to the play-offs quite erased the shadow of their loss to Roscommon.
Age had become a niggling factor. Old stars were slowing, and a bout of qualifiers had begun to leaden legs that once were so fast their feet hardly touched the ground.
One score in that game against Galway encapsulated Mayo’s dominance. It came from James Carr, the youngest man on the field burgeoning with potential. He had been drafted in from the start in place of Ciaran Treacy, and was seen as a new recruit in James Horan’s plan to reinvent his old Mayo.
Galway will not forget their first experience of James Carr. They watched benumbed as the young Ardagh man, set up by Paddy Durcan, tore down the right wing, veered to his left, slipped two defenders, and rifled a rising shot into their net. It was a goal that brought the Mayo crowd to their feet and won a huge internet audience.
That, mind you, was his second goal. Earlier, his vigilance was noteworthy when the Galway goalkeeper spilled the ball and Carr was on the spot to finish it to the net.
Alerted to his talents, defences clamped down on the young man’s space and he was not allowed the same freedom in subsequent games. But that one performance was enough surely to convince James Horan of his potential.
Mayo went on to contest another All-Ireland semi-final . . . unconvincingly. Each game in the lead-in had taken its toll especially the heavy defeat to Kerry, their league final victims.
If not already plain that the end was near, Mayo’s loss to Dublin confirmed what everyone sensed, but few were reluctant to believe, that the break-up of a side dear to Mayo people everywhere was imminent. 
For Andy Moran, Ger Cafferkey and David Drake it was the end game. All within a short space of time announced their retirement from inter-county football. All having come so close to ending that interminable gap in Mayo’s All-Ireland story.
But all bowing to the relentless march of time.
Favourite moments were trotted out in waves of nostalgia.
Andy’s long, distinguished career beginning in New York in 2004 and capped with a couple of memorable goals.
His emergence in the semi-final of 2006, when Mayo occupied the favourite warm-up spot of the Dubs and refused to bow to partisan privilege. Andy, sprung from the bench by Mickey Moran, released the shot that inspired Mayo’s victory.
Another cracker in the semi-final of 2017, lit up Croke Park. Taking a return pass from Cillian O’Connor he bundled himself, a Kerryman and the ball into the back of the Kerry net.
Nothing so exceptional distinguished Ger Cafferkey’s career. The art of stopping scores does not carry the excitement that comes with scoring them. But strong, dependable, and clever the Ballina Stephenites man had few peers. 
David Drake was less lucky in not having pinned down a permanent place on the first team, but was still an essential piece in the Mayo jigsaw as a whole. Whenever he was called on he measured up adequately.
Some others remain, confined perhaps to imparting their collective experiences to new recruits in training and in games . . . so far as their legs hold out. 
In a matter of weeks the FBD League kicks off the new year with some new faces in their line-up helping to shoulder the Mayo dream. And then it’s off to Donegal for the first league game, the first of what will be a long and tough campaign.
Before all that commences a new county board will have been put in place. Most likely with most of the same faces back at the helm. Unbothered about the shenanigans that have gone before, and claiming no doubt to have been vindicated at their meeting with Croke Park in headquarters last Friday.
The real power, though, lies in the hands of the clubs whose representatives are licensed to make changes, to speak up when the occasion demands, when the egotism of some officers is unleashed; to call order when there are breaches of ethics and principles, and to demand from the executive what plans they are pursuing.
It’s the least Mayo fans, who foot the bills, deserve to know.
Absence of communication has led to the recent boardroom capers. That will not change until clubs take charge, until clubs instruct their representatives on the board to speak up and demand answers.
Until then, the good name of Mayo football will continue under a cloud with the GAA world awaiting the next gaffe from the executive which, if recent decades are the yardstick, will recur as surely as day follows night.

Correction
A PHOTOGRAPH accompanying one of my columns a few weeks back and captioned ‘Back in the Day’ included Enda Kenny, Martin Carney and a priest we named Fr Leo Morahan, the former chairman of Mayo GAA Board.
Michael Campbell from New Park, Swinford, has alerted us to the fact that the priest in the picture was not Fr Leo Morahan. It was in fact the late Fr Chris Finan, principal of St Patrick’s College, Swinford where Martin Carney was teaching at the time.
Thanks Michael for being so perceptive. The error has been noted and the caption corrected.

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