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Time runs out for John O’Mahony

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Time runs out for O’Mahony

Mayo football is now looking for a leader

Seán Rice

HE came in a blaze of glory, and ravenously we grasped the hope he engendered. When he departed last Saturday, after Mayo¹s humiliating defeat by Longford, no vuvuselas sounded for John O¹Mahony. For the wind had left his sails . . . and Mayo football had slumped deeper into the shadows.
To have been dumped from the championship by a team with only two league victories to their credit  — over London and Kilkenny — was a chastening experience for a man whose definitive qualities were flagged in leading Galway twice to the top of the mountain.
No bright memory has been left in his wake in Mayo. The impetus he brought to Galway had spent itself before he took the helm in his native county. It wasn’t the same O’Mahony on the Mayo sideline. The jizz was gone, the ability to motivate, the infallibility.
He played hard to get for a while after finishing with the Tribesmen. He spelt out why in an article five years ago: “The state of football,” he said, “was no better in 2005 than it was forty years earlier. And if one went by the body language of the team and management after the Connacht final they were unlikely to go much farther.”
“Most Mayo supporters feel as far away as ever from winning the Sam Maguire and the longer it goes on the bigger the millstone around the neck.”
When eventually he did take over in 2007 only a few months had passed since Mickey Moran in his one season with them had led Mayo to an All-Ireland final.  O’Mahony’s decision was influenced by the promise of some County Board officials to support his candidacy for the Dail. What better way to strengthen his ties with Mayo football. He was everyone’s hope, and we had begun to chase a new dream.
But we discovered soon enough that the jobs were not compatible. The 24/7 demands of his constituency duties left little room for work on the bolts and nuts of any real plan for Mayo football. Politics took up all his spare time. It’s not the will that went missing; it was the lack of time to give to execute it. Compared to his efforts in Galway, what Mayo received from him was largely superficial.
As a consequence, Mayo football has suffered. Last Saturday’s match was the first in fifty years that one of Mayo’s most ardent followers missed. “I know when I’ve been codded,” he told me. Hundreds of others also stayed at home.
A reluctance to deal with urgent problems as they arose during play was a constant criticism. Why, for instance was Ronan McGarrity left on the sideline last Saturday when Mayo needed to win primary possession around the middle of the field?
You got the impression that O’Mahony wanted out, that he would be happy to be rid of the Mayo manacle. Poorly prepared teams were turned out, and bad decisions made on the sideline. Morale plunged, and precipitated a slide in standards to a level worse than when he arrived on the scene. The millstone got bigger still.
For the few weeks of the National League last spring a false sense of hope suffused supporters as Mayo went about their league business with efficiency not equalled for years. Remember that first game against Galway? But Cork soon jerked us back to reality. In Sligo and Longford our vulnerabilities were verified.
The players have not been blameless in the equation. Ambitious young men will motivate themselves . . . like Dooher of Tyrone, O’Hara of Sligo, and Cooper of Kerry. A good manager is there to encourage, to inspire, to get players to believe in themselves.
O’Mahony’s resignation took the focus off the players’ performance on Saturday. Paradoxically, the team did put in the effort, more so than in Sligo or Croke Park. But there was no shape to their game . . . no obvious plan.
With the wind in the first half they went on innocuous solos when the ball should have peppered the full forward line. Nor did they know how to stop the spirited drives of a mediocre, fourth division, Longford side.
Mayo had two stars . . . Alan Freeman and Alan Dillon. There was no lack of effort either by Barry Moran. But Seamus O’Shea needed McGarrity alongside him.
So now we go looking for a new leader. Freeman, and other younger members will adjust. It’s tough on the likes of Dillon, though, who has given so much for so long with so little reward.

My memories of Dermot Earley R.I.P.
Togged out, chatting to a friend before a match in Charlestown, Dermot Earley is approached by a young mother.
He goes straight to the carrier in which her young, sick boy is sitting.
He lifts the little lad in his arms, exchanges words and smiles with him, and you know by his eyes that a boy’s dream is realised.

Writing about his friend John Morley, the Roscommon star, born in Castlebar, spoke of their clash with Mayo in McHale Park: “… the tension was fierce and at some time in the first half John Morley and I tripped over together.

My laces were entangled in his studs.
“Sitting for a few seconds beside one another in the middle of the park… play at the other end… boots freed… a laugh… a pat on the back… back into the fray.”

Being carried shoulder high from the pitch in Hyde Park by winning captain Henry Gavin and other Mayo players at the end of his last game for Roscommon in 1985.

Little vignettes of the calibre of the great man they buried on Saturday.

Just a thought …
Castlebar Mitchels will be cheering on Sligo in their replay with Galway at
the weekend. If the Yeats County win, the Connacht final will be played at
McHale Park, which will be good news for local coffers.

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