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Be careful what you wish for, Seán Rice warns Mayo GAA fans

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Be very careful what you wish for

ONE common wish unites Mayo football fans. It is that the new manager those who sit down to select next week will have the inspirational qualities to lead Mayo back among genuine contenders for All-Ireland success.
Of those given the task of making the recommendation is also demanded a sense of imagination and good judgment, and for them the big question is whether they can find within the borders of Mayo, a manager with the right stuff.
The Mayo GAA Board has already been asked not to extend the search beyond the borders of the county, but chairman James Waldron told The Mayo News last week that in seeking the right person nothing can be ruled in or out.
Thus, the mind goes into overdrive. All sorts of personalities flit across the imagination when it comes to an outsider. The qualities of Mick O’Dwyer, Paidí Ó Sé and former Dublin boss Tommy Lyons (a native of Louisburgh) are now being hotly-debated wherever the subject is raised.
And until he scotched it last week on our website, the rumour that former Tyrone star Peter Canavan had put himself into the frame brought an uplifting sense of expectation to the debate. A general feeling that a man of his proven qualities on the football field was what Mayo needed was discernible.
Similar sentiments flooded the county when Jack O’Shea was appointed manager in October 1992. Mayo en masse was agog with excitement. The board had received nominations from within the county for the post, some without the consent of the nominees.
But the board had only one man in mind. They sped to Mullingar to consult with Jack O’Shea who was then domiciled in Leixlip, and came away with his agreeing to take over.  His appointment was seen as a masterstroke. A new day had dawned for Mayo football.  Dreams were being reshaped.
No football boss in the country had Jack’s credentials. Seven All-Ireland medals, four times footballer of the year, captain of the Ireland team that beat Australia etc, he was rightly regarded as the best midfielder of all time.
In training sessions, O’Shea, still only 34 years of age, was head and shoulders in terms of fitness and ability above the members of the squad he was coaching, and it was with those standards he had hoped to imbue Mayo football.
Two years later he was gone. After guiding Mayo to a Connacht title in 1993, he watched them collapse to Cork in the semi-final . . . by twenty points. Things got worse the following year when Mayo were beaten by Leitrim in the Connacht final.
Once more Mayo had retreated into the darkness, and widespread discontent culminated in Jack’s departure. Bitter experience was a salutary lesson, and he has never since toyed with coaching a county.
The advent of Joe Kernan to Galway had similar reverberations. Rapturously received in Tuam Stadium, his appointment seemed certain to boost Galway’s flagging fortunes. In less than twelve months Joe, too, had departed the scene, disillusioned perhaps but a lot more enlightened.
All that is not to say that an outsider ought not to be touched. It is merely to advise that the most accomplished players do not necessarily make good managers. And, as in the case of John O’Mahony, Mayo football will test to the full the qualities of managers with proven records in other counties.
Celebrity figures are a big attraction. If Mick O’Dwyer made it known that he was interested in taking over Mayo, a clamour for his appointment would ensue. Like no other, O’Dwyer excites the curiosity.  But so did Jack O’Shea.

Minors must show no fear
ULSTER teams are the bane of Mayo minors. Armagh denied them an All-Ireland last year by three points. Tyrone edged them out in a replay at Longford the previous year.
On Sunday they lock horns again with Tyrone, this time in the semi-final at Croker. And the northern champions come with a reputation burnished by easy victories over Armagh in the Ulster final, and Kerry in the quarter-final.
Tyrone are already clear favourites to reach the final, and the swagger in their performances has guaranteed Mickey Harte a reliable resource for future senior success.
Mayo’s trek to the semi-final is less illustrious. They have been steady without being exceptional, doing enough to get over the hump, but less convincing than the route taken by Sunday’s challengers.
Their occasional flashes of excellence tells you there is more to Mayo that they have produced so far. To find that extra intensity is their task on Sunday. As Cillian O’Connor, their captain, admitted after the quarter-final: “We know we have an awful lot of work to do if we’re going to have any chance in the semi-final.”
That’s a feature of their approach and it has stood them well on the campaign trail. Sensible regard for the strengths of opponents had them well prepared to rattle out a three-point win over Roscommon, their closest rivals in Connacht over the past three years. No complacency, no arrogance.
Leitrim were to have offered the stiffest of opposition, but didn’t. Weakened Galway might have been the snake in the long grass, but Mayo eluded the trap in a five-point win that was not as convincing as the margin would seem to indicate.
Cool goals by Danny Kirby and Darren Coen turned the game just when Galway seemed to have been inching ahead. The two, together with Cillian O’Connor, Fergal Durkan and sub Jack O’Donnell had the benefit of last year’s All-Ireland experience, an advantage that served them well.
After a poor first half Kirby found space against Galway after the break, and his work-rate in the quarter-final had a big bearing on the eventual outcome. Coen performed better in the Connacht final than against Offaly. O’Connor was key in both games. And therein lies Mayo’s problem next Sunday.
Tyrone will have been watching. They will have learned from Offaly that the gifted O’Connor saved Mayo, that he has been key to their success and that above all he must be reined in. With the captain subdued the ship could sink.
They are unlikely, however, to have seen how well Coen did against Galway, and may underestimate his true ability. And if Durkan, Sean Kelly and Cian Costello measure up, they as a unit could upset whatever strategy Tyrone employ to counteract O’Connor’s influence.
Goals by Harry Óg Conlon and Michael Donaghy in the first half had Kerry killed off at half-time. Against a powerful Tyrone attack Mayo’s Niall Freeman, Brendan Harrison and Conor Walsh need no warning about the danger Ronan O’Neill, Tierney and Tom Canavan also pose.
Kirby’s work-rate against Offaly was immense and Sean McGarry has added strength to midfield. They’ll have their hands full against Conlon and Grugan, the font of much of Tyrone’s chest of scores.
Kirby is an old hand at this stage and has grown in stature. If he and McGarry get suitable support, especially from wing-backs Ryan Quirke and Conor Horan they could create important routes to the Mayo front line. For how O’Connor and company are supplied will determine the result.

Just a thought…
Our weekly GAA podcasts on The Mayo News website have been getting a great reaction. This week we look ahead to the All-Ireland minor semi-final.