MYTHS are never far from the Mayo narrative. Plant one and it spreads like a contagion.
The curse is the most resilient of those tall stories. A supernatural jinx called down on Mayo football for some cooked up story of dishonour perpetrated during the All-Ireland celebrations of the last century.
It’s a load of baloney, but it thrives so long as a senior All-Ireland title eludes us.
Bad luck was the curse attributed to another inexplicable phenomenon . . . that tails back also to the occasion of Mayo’s last All-Ireland win. It is that for the 46 years from 1951, Mayo failed to win a senior championship game at Tuam.
Only in 1997 on their way to their second successive All-Ireland final did they finally break that hoodoo when, coached by John Maughan, they had four points to spare over Galway.
It seemed in those years that Mayo despaired of ever winning in Tuam, that a championship fixture against their old rivals at that venue presaged certain defeat.
Followers were fraught at the regularity of this failure. It was as if no end was ever in sight, that they felt helpless to scrub from their minds the sinking feeling of what faced them in the Galway venue. A phantom that could not be floored!
The vibes finally got to the players. And nothing they did on that pitch could erase their fears. The psychological pressure became greater than the purpose of the game. It took root in their heads and gave confidence to their opponents.
Conventional wisdom suggests that defeatism holds no place in the minds of most modern mature footballers. If it were the case in Mayo they would not have contested seven consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals.
But having lost two home league games last season and all three in the league just completed there is a growing awareness among supporters that Elvery’s MacHale Park holds no magic for our senior footballers.
Negativity flourishes when defeat persists, and we cling to any old excuse however preposterous it may seem. Still, a hardening contention is emerging that before an over critical home audience, Mayo’s concentration in MacHale Park is not what it is in away games. It suggests rightly or wrongly that instead of being inspired on their home pitch, broadsides from the stand for minor mistakes have the opposite effect.
Whatever it is, Mayo’s performances against Kerry, Dublin and Tyrone especially, were worse than any of their league games in recent years. And it is to be hoped this home ground negativity has not got into their heads.
In a few weeks time they meet the improving league finalists and having lost to them at the same venue two years ago, thus breathing life into the Tribesmen’s re-emergence as a football power, their home record is not something they must be allowed dwell on before that big clash on May 13.
In the white heat of battle essential preparation entails a clear head firmly fixed on the job in hand. In the coming weeks management must ensure that Elvery’s MacHale Park is what it ought to be for Mayo teams: a chance to produce a performance in keeping with their Croke Park standard of recent years.
Vaughan makes his Mitchels bow
THE good news for Mayo fans is that Donal Vaughan has returned from injury. The bad news for other aspiring county senior champions is that Vaughan will stiffen the resistance of Castlebar Mitchels against any side intent on de-railing their four-in-a-row ambitions.
Vaughan emerged from his initiation with the county champions on Saturday evening with a bounce in his step. The former Ballinrobe player was introduced as a sub in the second half of the Mitchels’ opening defence of their title against Ballina Stephenites and looked in good shape.
But Ger McDonagh, who was released from the Mayo panel last week, was forced to retire with a leg injury that will keep him out for some time. Paddy Durcan, in customary fine form, was replaced late in the second half as a precautionary measure.
On the foot of some promising performances, Mayo manager Stephen Rochford has called Durcan’s twin brother, James, into the panel, which will undergo some special training at Carton House next weekend.
In defeating old rivals Ballina, the Mitchels looked sharp and determined, but they will realise that their fifteen-points win reflected only the depths to which Ballina, for so long a Mayo football power, have fallen.
Not even the return of Evan Regan could bring the Stephenites any source of consolation. Back from injury, the corner forward did what he could. But the Castlebar defence were not for moving.
James Horan is shaping Westport into a hard-working cohesive unit. There is, however, stiffer opposition ahead than Crossmolina provided on their home pitch.
Entering the game, the players would have been feeling the loss of Rice College at Croke Park the previous day. Still, the effort of his men in this, their first serious test, will have pleased their new coach. When, after a few uneasy opening minutes, they settled into the whims of a strange pitch they were pacey and impressive.
Shane Scott launched their offensive with a powerful midfield performance. After that the rest fell into place, the diligent front line of Colm Moran, Paul Lambert and Lewis Cawley forcing the tempo.
A tight defence, marshalled by Kevin Keane and Brian McDermott until injured, half-forwards Phillip Keegan, Fionn McDonagh and sub Oisin McLaughlin all provided the framework for a solid performance celebrating their return to senior football.
Whatever hopes Crossmolina held were centred on their Mayo star Conor Loftus. But it was too much to ask of a player even with his gifts. He did what he could. But, like neighbours Ballina, they too are feeling the pinch.
Rice College lose nothing in defeat
IT won’t ease the pain of their one-point defeat to know that Rice College shared equally in one of the best secondary school finals played at Croke Park.
In edge of the seat stuff the two battled it out courageously, the lead changing hands dramatically on several occasions. In the end the Lurgan school had a single point to spare, despite valiant efforts by the Westport students in the final moments to re-take the lead.
The old adage that it is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that’s important may sound a bit hollow in the corridors of Rice College today as they recall what-might-have-been.
But their performance, and that of every game throughout the championship told a story of character, sportsmanship and potential that brought pride not only to their school but also to their coaches, their families and their football clubs.
Best wishes to Dr Mickey loftus
WE send our good wishes to Crossmolina’s distinguished sportsman, Dr Mick Loftus, former president of the GAA, who has not been too well of late. May the genial doctor have a speedy recovery back to good health.