THEY have made steady progress since that day in Pearse Stadium when Aidan Walsh plucked a point from nowhere to force a draw with Roscommon.
Mayo’s minors were odds-on favourites to retain their Connacht title — something they had not achieved in the previous eight years — following the impressive win they had chiselled out against Galway in Sligo.
But things went awry in Pearse Stadium. Mayo lost the plot. Shaken by Roscommon’s exuberance they struggled to survive and were rescued only by Walsh’s late, late free kick.
No sign of the indifference that gripped them in Galway marked the replay, however. Out on the field they were organised and self-assured and skated to victory unblemished by whatever doubts assailed them the previous week.
Inevitably, comparisons are now being drawn with their counterparts of last season who made such a gallant effort to close that yawning gap since the county’s last All-Ireland success in 1985. And it’s a fatuous exercise.
For one thing, this is a different side. Only three of those who competed last season are in the starting fifteen this summer. Drawing on last year’s experience, Aidan Walsh, the captain, Alex Corduff and Ciaran Charlton are setting the pace and leading by example.
The remainder of the team is new to Croke Park and to the excitement it creates. And as the performances of Mayo and Roscommon indicated in Connacht, minor footballers are not a paragon of consistency.
In running Kerry to a narrow win in extra time of their All-Ireland quarter-final, Roscommon refuted their replay form against Mayo. A bit more luck and they might have been in Croke Park last week.
So time alone will tell whether the present Mayo side is better than last year year’s finalists.
They weren’t troubled by Tipperary in the quarter-final. But although they had eight points to spare, manager Ray Dempsey said their performance was not good enough to get them to the final. Still, allowing for one sleep-walking incident, the success of the defence — built around Keith Rogers and Shane McDermott — is mirrored in the fact that Tipperary scored only once from play.
Danny Kirby is a midfielder built for the job, and the flexibility of Corduff and Walsh in swapping midfield and full-forward roles has been a notable feature of their progress. Cillian O’Connor has been incisive in the corner, and the hard-working Andrew Farrell and Darren Coen are also prominent workers in the front line. But it must be said that team effort is the essential feature of the side.
We have not seen Down in action, but in beating hot favourites Dublin with a deflected goal by Niall McParland in they dying minutes, they have laid just claim to a place in the last four.
All of their six forwards scored. Midfielder McParland and two members of their defence also figured on the score sheet, an indication of their strong, free-flowing football and flexible positional sense.
The counties are no strangers in this competition. In the final of 2005 they made history in that each had lost their provincial finals and the All-Ireland was thus the first decider between two counties beaten earlier in the campaign.
Down won that final by ten points, and between that and Mayo’s win over them in 1966, the Mourne minors had another win or two. The quality of the present side is said to be on par with anything they have produced. So Mayo have a mountain to climb.
One thing is certain, they’ll face determined competition from Mayo. That was the only comforting aspect of the Pearse Stadium result. By refusing to let go against the odds the showed character that was to stand to them in their subsequent games.
In a recent club senior championship match, Walsh’s gutsy performance for Castlebar was not lost on observers.
So, let’s wish them well. They’re underdogs, but they are fighters . . . and in the words of the old maxim, fortune assists the brave.
JOHN MCANDREW, A LIVING LEGEND
WE mentioned him briefly last week, and we do so again because John McAndrew, who is to be honoured by the Mayo Emigrant Liaison Committee, was one of a distinguished group of Mayo men who blazed a trail of glory throughout the football fields of Ireland some sixty years ago.
Their feats are seared into the consciousness of the dwindling numbers of people who remember them. Call those icons to mind and McAndrew’s is not the first to pop up, possibly because he emigrated after qualifying as a general practitioner.
But scroll through the team and ask those who saw him in action and you become aware how integral a part he was, and how significant a part he played in those halcyon years. McAndrew was no less dispensable than Flanagan or Prendergast or Mongey or Langan.
The Bangor man was the youngest of a family of six children. His older brother Pat played for Mayo in the formative years of the great team of the fifties and was a member of the side that beat Kerry in the all-Ireland semi-final of 1948, which was regarded as a magnificent achievement at the time.
“Pat was a huge man and a wonderful footballer,” said John. “He helped lay the foundation for the rest of us and sadly when success came he was not part of the team. He had emigrated to the US in 1950 and continued to play football at the highest level in New York.”
John is 6ft 3” and was born in Kiltane. He pays tribute to his schoolmaster Mick Mulderrig, a prominent member of Mayo teams in the 1920s and 30s.
As his teacher, Mick Mulderrig gave him all the encouragement he needed. “He was the one man who sowed the seeds of success. He was also father of Sean and Mick who went on to win All-Irelands in 1950 and ‘51.”
In addition to winning two all-Ireland medals, McAndrew also won a National League title in 1954.
At medical school in Dublin he and fellow students travelled around the city on bicycles. His brother Pat preceded him at the college and also qualified as a doctor, practising first in America and later in Perth in Western Australia.
After winning in 1950 the team was given a great welcome home. “It was a long time to wait as Mayo last won the title in 1936. There were great scenes at the end of the game and I remember old men with tears in their eyes. We had a wonderful time travelling around Mayo with the cup.”
He said their success over Meath the following year tasted even sweeter. “The victory over Meath has to be my greatest memory. Football fever had swept the county and we won by five points.”
He set up practice in Birmingham on completing his medical training in 1959. “I had retired from the county scene by this time but continued to play the game. I joined the Birmingham John Mitchells Club and remember the former Down star Joe Lennon playing with us prior to Down winning in the early sixties.”
McAndrew later became county board chairman in Warwickshire.
Asked to single out one man among that constellation of the fifties, he chose Tom Langan who, he said, possessed a talent without equal in any county.
“You had those fine footballers, Purcell and Stockwell, both of whom I rate very highly and, of course, I was influenced by my older brother Pat. But the greatest player was our own Tom Langan from nearby Ballycastle. God bless his soul.
“He was tall and lanky and had everything. He could field a ball and score - there were so many memorable goals. Padraig Carney and Eamonn Mongey were the other great Mayo players at the time.”
Dr McAndrew is being honoured for his outstanding contribution to Irish exiles in the British Midlands.
The award will be presented by former Kerry star Mick O’Connell at a function in the Welcome Inn Hotel, Castlebar on Friday, September 11. Further information can be had at 087 2055914.