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New solution needed to Mayo’s old football problems

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

New solution needed to old problems

Sean Rice

“WHAT’S at stake is the whole future of the game. There is a need for a full-time coach in Mayo to have young players ready to join a senior panel in their early twenties, to have them mentally and physically ready.”
“People ask what has happened to the excellent minors produced by the county; why is it that of the All-Ireland winning Mayo minor side of 1985 only one player has made it at senior level. Why?”
“Improvements will not happen without getting the base right. There will have to be a five-year plan based on nurturing minors through a professional coaching policy.”
DOES all that sound familiar?   Good, because those quotes come from an interview as far back as 1991 with a former Mayo senior manager.
While coaching Mayo in the mid eighties, Liam O’Neill pleaded with the County Board to establish new structures without which, he said, Mayo football would never prosper. His pleas fell on deaf ears.
Three years after quitting the post he renewed his call in an interview conducted with this writer . . . all of nineteen years ago.
What he sought was a professional coach to guide footballers fresh from the minor ranks, someone to imbue in them the fundamental requirements for senior success . . . attitude, skill and knowledge.
A full-time coach was imperative, he said. An amateur coach who had a full-time job could not give his whole attention to it. It must be a full-time, competent coach. The raw material was in the county, he claimed, but it needed guidance.
O’Neill was the first coach to adopt professional methods in Mayo. He was insightful and innovative. On the losing All-Ireland side three times with Galway, he was anxious to create a winning culture in the county of his adoption. He is credited with hauling Mayo football out of the nether regions of despair — opening the way for John O’Mahony’s trek to the final in 1989.
O’Neill argued passionately about the need to start at minor ranks rather than senior. “It is getting the cart before the horse,” he said. “It has been tried for forty years and has not succeeded. Is it not time to try a new way?”
He said the start would have to be made by the chairman of the County Board. Some chairmen came into office looking for almost instant good results from the senior team.
“I have discussed this point with chairmen of the county board and many others, including trainers and managers and all agree with my argument,” said O’Neill. “But nothing has happened. Why”?
He said many people were invited to a special meeting organised by the County Board the previous year (1990) to give their views on what was wrong with Mayo football, and what was needed to be done. He gave his candid views, but when the meeting was re-convened he was not asked back.
A recommendation was made, he said, that there would be liaison between former and current senior team managers, so that the new man would be made more aware of what the others had learnt and would not fall into any of the traps that befell them.
That did not happen either.
He did not see the financing of a full time professional coach as a problem. The generosity of the Mayo people would finance it, he said. “When we decided to go to the Canaries some years back, we were able to raise some £20,000 in over five weeks. I am convinced that same generosity will surface if a proper, practicable plan is put before the people.”
And if the plan is properly drawn up and a proper coach appointed it would work, he said. “Young fellows are still impressionable at minor age. They have open minds and if proper goals are put in front of them at that stage they will be more easily directed.
“Of course, not all minors will be ready to listen or to learn. But if only three were got next year and three or four were got for the following three or four years, you have almost the makings of a team.”
“If nothing is done, Mayo football will never rise above the mediocre,” O’Neill concluded.
Final prophetic words of an interview as relevant today as it was nineteen years ago. What hope then for a systematic change in any proposed new review?

Minors keep flag flying for county

IN the light of the chastening experiences of their respective senior players, Mayo and Galway look to their minors on Sunday to take some crumb of comfort from a crumbling season.
Mayo, who have won 36 Connacht titles, are chasing their third in a row. Galway, whose 25th and last title was captured three years ago, went on to win the Tom Markham Trophy, an achievement that has eluded Mayo since 1985.
The 25-year-wide gulf is the biggest divide between All-Ireland minor titles won by Mayo since they captured the first back in 1935. And with each passing year since Mick Burke led them to the summit concern intensifies for a grade on which Mayo hopes have been kept afloat.
Ray Dempsey was unlucky not to have led his young men to the summit, and new manager Tony Duffy picks up the threads in his attempt to emulate Burke’s success.
Having missed their victories over Roscommon and Leitrim leading to Sunday’s final at McHale Park, I am in no position to give an opinion on the quality of the present representatives.  But their performances would seem to indicate that as a unit their standard compares favourably with that of the provincial winners of the past two years.
Galway is a crucial test, of course. Even though Roscommon have been offering serious competition at minor level of late, Galway rarely fails to produce highly rated, confident sides.
There never is much between them in this competition, but the home venue might be enough to swing it for Mayo on this occasion.

My Mayo team prompts reaction

SOME interesting feedback from readers re: My Best Mayo team since 1960.
“Enjoyed your articles and selection. Hard to disagree with it but my squad would differ in places. Margins separate so many great players and in fairness you would have seen them more often than me. I went for Rooney; Ken Mortimer, Prendergast, Dermot Flanagan; Noone, Morley, Earley; Fallon, Brady; Corcoran, McDonald, Horan; Gibbons, McGee, McStay.
“I went for Mortimer instead of Casey. Willie to me was more a 1950s man. I felt that WJ and Feeney wasted a lot of their potential. Mick O’Toole, had he stuck at it, was as good as Feeney.
“McHale was a man who lumbered too long. He had a great season in 1996 but sulked through 1997 when we needed a leader. That’s just my opinion, I suppose we are lucky to have such great footballers. We never mentioned O’Neill and a host of others.
“Dark days ahead though. The talent seems to have slipped from us and deep down we have a lack of belief in the psychological division. When you lose to the 31st rated county the signs are not good. But we are quick healers...maybe too quick for our own good. God Bless, John Cuffe.”
Pat O’Malley’s selection also differs in some areas. “I agree with your selection, Sean, with the exception of centre-field, where I would have Colm McManamon partnering Willie Joe Padden, John Gibbons at centre half-forward, and Willie McGee, one of the best full forwards in the country.”
And from Green and Red in Galway. whose name is enclosed but wishes not to have it disclosed:  “Rooney; Cahill, Prendergast (R) Feeney (M); Noone, Morley Nallen; Willie Joe and Kilgallon; O’Neill, McDonald, Corcoran; McStay, McGee and Ruane.”
“Pick a better one,” he concludes.

Just a thought …
The mayhem following the Leinster final on Sunday would have been avoided if the two umpires had taken correct action. No perceived injustice, however, excuses the attacks on the referee. Perpetrators must be identified and banned.

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