Hard not to look back in anger
DO Mayo footballers get angry anymore? The question is prompted by the performance of Pierce O’Neill in Cork¹s victory over Kerry in the Munster final.
Remember how he led Cork to victory? Needled by some incident that has escaped me, O’Neill became so fired up in the second half that a stone wall would not have resisted his charges.
In that state of emotion players sometimes lose their heads. The plot gets lost and common sense goes out the door.
But O’Neill kept his, and won ball after ball when moved to midfield as if each were to be his last.
It was a powerful performance of aggression and passion and it inspired Cork to victory over their old rivals.
Although a mainstay of the team, the intensity of his football on that occasion was rare. In Cork’s victory over Kildare on Sunday, he was comparatively quiet.
In the Munster final, however, the dander was up. Something angered him. Somebody touched a nerve.
I find it difficult to recall a performance of that nature from a Mayo man in recent years. There have been some fine individual performances but none as inspirational as to risk life and limb, which O¹Neill did, in that memorable performance in the Munster final.
There were times during their most recent games when I wished that whatever riled the Corkman might be repeated and take effect on one or two of Mayo’s footballers, something that would prod them out of their ordinariness, their predictability.
You would think at times that they had become unreceptive to motivating processes. Maybe, like the game itself, old stimuli have lost their power.
Do managers tack cut-out articles of criticism to the back of dressing-room doors anymore, the offensive passages highlighted to ensure his team takes the field snorting fire? Maybe they do. Maybe defeat is becoming so acceptable as not to hurt anymore.
Passion was certainly the absent component in the first half of each of their last two performances. And even when they did take control of the game for fifteen minutes of the second half against Tyrone, it was more a gentle swell than a seismic explosion of aggression. The ground did not tremble. Conviction was not detectable.
It was at that stage that a smoking gun was needed to put the game beyond reach, someone to kill it off, a performance to spur a stampede. In short a leader. Mayo didn¹t have one.
Tyrone had Sean Cavanagh who streaked through the defence in the second half in gusts of devastating energy.
Conor Mortimer might have steered the game in Mayo’s favour if that second goal came his way, or James Nallen if he had taken a point while thundering through the centre. Each did his best to consolidate Mayo’s lead and each deserves credit for his contribution.
But there was no one inspirational performer, no one that played out of his skin like O’Neill did that day for Cork.
Trevor Mortimer has smouldered for a long time, but incessant injury has given him no real chance to ignite. Sometimes Billy Joe Padden gives the impression that he could be that player. Keith Higgins and Tom Cunniffe have similar potential.
Ronan McGarrity’s high fielding can lift the heart and Alan Dillon plays like poetry.
But that one major influence is missing, someone with the fire and conviction and character to rise above Mayo’s self-doubt and lead them across the chasm that has separated them for too long from the ultimate goal.
Wexford teach us all a valuable lesson
IF there was a lesson in the weekend activities, Wexford provided it. It was a take-heart message for the disconsolate, the no-hopers, the defeatists. Out of the debris of their destruction by Dublin in the Leinster final, the Wexford phoenix famously rose on Saturday and counties in despair will dare to dream again.
“What chance do you give Wexford?” asked the television anchorman of his two analysts before the game. “None and slim” came the sardonic reply.By match end they were struggling to find words to defend their prediction, but nothing they said did justice to the strength of mind Wexford displayed in reaching the All-Ireland semi-final against all the odds.The margin of victory suggests it was no fluke win.
They played with a confidence that belied their inexperience, and if they never reach the final they have already struck a blow for the minnows.
As ever Mattie Forde was at the heart of their victory. But he is no longer a one-man show.All round the field Wexford played with skill and confidence.
A gnawing hamstring forced the selectors to slot the 6ft 3in star in the left corner forward position, and his tally of 1-5 is proof that good big footballers can adjust to any position. Some of his scores from the most acute of angles were quite extraordinary.
In the deluge at Croke Park Galway went under, but not before a titanic struggle to survive.
And while it may bring little comfort to him to realise that his charges contributed hugely to one of the best exhibitions of the series Liam Sammon will know that he has a team in place with the potential to make it to the top.
No one did more to win it for the Connacht champions than Michael Meehan (pictured).
With a haul of ten points, the full-forward caused all sorts of problems for Kerry, and well deserved the man of the match award.His performance reflects well on Mayo’s Kieran Conroy who confined him to three points in their league meeting at Castlebar, and to Keith Higgins against whom Meehan managed only one point from play of his total of three in the Connacht final.
Padraig Joyce may not have been in the devastating form he showed against Mayo, but his passing was as ever sublime. Joe Bergin’s introduction was timely and his goal sparked a period of Galway dominance that threatened to upset Kerry¹s quest for another third consecutive title.In facing the reality of that threat however, Kerry produced power that no team in the country could resist. From the bench they plucked players we had never heard of, instant stars, that lit up the scene. It was Kerry at their formidable best. Who is left to beat them?
Former Mayo minor captain passes away
THE death of Tom Rochford will revive memories among those who remember Mayo’s efforts to emulate the heroics of the men who won the All-Irelands of the early fifties.
Almost all of the players of that great era had disappeared by the time Tom Rochford captained the Mayo minor team that reached the All-Ireland final of 1958.
He led them convincingly through the Connacht campaign and against Kerry in the semi-final before failing to Dublin in the final.
He was a big, strong, talented midfielder, and won a county junior medal with his native Ballinrobe that same year when junior football was no place for the faint-hearted.
Tom held all the promise of a senior star of the future and he continued to progress and impress at county senior level for some time.
His ability was never in doubt.But it was a fallow period in Mayo football in the aftermath of the glorious fifties, and when Mayo were unable to put together a side strong enough to repeat that success, great players like Tom Rochford faded from the scene.
Tom was a retired garda sergeant in Newport and contributed to many aspects of community life until his untimely death. To his wife Celine and family we tender our deepest sympathy.