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The truth hurts for Mayo football … once more

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

The truth hurts... once more

Mayo are an average side

Sean Rice

THE curtain falls limply on Mayo’s league campaign . . . and on our hopes. Confusion is legible on every Mayo face emerging from Croke Park as football again underscores its inconsistencies. Is there no end to the Croke Park syndrome?
You search for positives, but in the shifting sands of Mayo football, positives are hard to find. At no stage in this drearily one-sided league final were Cork seriously threatened. All the old Mayo failings were once again on show.
What happened to the passion that had carried Mayo to the final, the way they tackled, the drive and confidence they took to Tyrone and Kerry and Derry? Why has Croke Park once again paralysed their initiative? Imponderables . . . even for the psychologists!
Mayo have engaged the services of a psychologist, but the evidence from their latest visits to headquarters would suggest that the players are not responding to such subtle promptings. Time perhaps to revert to the old barnstorming speeches of the dressing room?
It’s tough on players on whom this agony has been revisited so often . . .Clarke, Dillon, O’Malley and the Mortimers especially. They have shown in other stadia their true form. Croke Park for some inexplicable reason has been their hamstring.
Even in the opening minutes when Mayo were on the offensive there was no conviction in their football.  The ball was not used with the belief shown in other games. There was no leader, no influential individual. While Cork were the essence of composure, Mayo looked a bundle of nerves.
Between the 7th and the 23rd minutes Cork laid the foundation for victory. In that period Mayo were held scoreless while the southerners pulled in five points from all angles. The ease with which they were allowed score left us squirming on our seats. After that, their football oozed with confidence while Mayo stuttered on immethodically.
If Tom Parsons had not been so easily dispossessed, — allowing Paul Kerrigan the easiest of points — if a shot by Alan Dillon had not fallen short, if an Aidan O’Shea attempt had found the net rather than the crossbar, if Mark Ronaldson had not hastily wasted an opportunity he had himself created, if Trevor Mortimer had not planted a great goal chance . . . if all those things had worked in Mayo’s favour, maybe the apparent swagger in Cork’s superiority would have been challenged.
The misses served merely to emphasise the gulf between them in attitudes, however. Cork had the edge in every position, and no one was missed more from the Mayo defence than Keith Higgins.
In his absence Daniel Goulding had a field day. The Cork man lured more than one Mayo defender out of position, creating gaps on which Donnacha O’Connor and midfielders Alan O’Connor and Adrian Walsh thrived.
No inspiration emanated from midfield for Mayo and with half-back Noel O’Leary enjoying oceans of freedom from Andy Moran, Mayo’s scattered forces creaked under pressure.
Only Kevin McLoughlin showed any signs of initiative, and his deep running worried Cork, especially in the first half. Chris Barrett’s mettle was admirable, Donal Vaughan opened brightly, and for all the criticism of him, Ger Cafferkey refused to submit to the threats of Ciaran Sheehan.
In the absence of any other obvious strategy, Mayo’s best option was the high ball to Aidan O’Shea. The young man was fairly buffeted in the front line, but was still Mayo’s biggest asset if thought was put into means of supply.
Unfortunately, originality is not a quality with which Mayo is over endowed. The hallmark of their league campaign was speed and a welcome emphasis on assertiveness.  But the scars of past drubbings run deep.
The real verdict: Mayo are no more than an average side. An All-Ireland title is way beyond their reach. What’s new?

High or low it had to be Willie Joe

MIDFIELD teems with talent. Glance through the files and you are met with a host of former greats whose names once echoed around the pitches of this country, wistful reminders of sterling performances ...and unfilled hope.
How on earth the hilltop eluded men like Willie Joe Padden, Liam McHale, Joe Langan, TJ Kilgallon, Colm McManamon, Pat Fallon, PJ Loftus and Padraig Brogan is hard to understand.
Over the past fifty years 92 players were chosen to operate at midfield. John Morley was among them, and farther back Brendan McLoughlin and Bill Shannon towered there.
Mick Connaughton of Claremorris, Jimmy Langan, Willie Nally, Sean O’Grady, Sean Kilbride, who later lined out with Roscommon, Danny Dolan, Des McGrath, Anthony Egan, Kieran Kenny, Jimmy Lyons, Sean Maher, James Nallen, David Heaney, right down to present-day doers, Ronan McGarrity, Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea, are among those who also featured.
To be part of a reinvented Mayo was, and is, their great hope, and each has brought his own intrinsic style to midfield play. But while Mayo remained stubbornly resistant to the final push for glory, the horizons of all, except those still in harness, quickly faded.
Among the constellation is one man whose name is indelibly etched on the mind of every football follower across the country. Those who had not the pleasure of witnessing him in action will have heard of him. Those who were there when at times he seemed suspended in mid-air will treasure the memories.
Willie Joe Padden has the folk-hero image that is preserved only for the truly gifted. Ultimate honours may have evaded him, but his skill illumined many a dreary football match around the country. “Will Galway bate Mayo? Not if they have Willie Joe” went the song penned by the Sawdoctors.
As midfielders go he was small. But his style, the grace with which he reached higher than most for a ball is captured in one memorable photograph in which he is seen head and shoulders above Dublin’s Brian Mullins.
It was taken in the replay of the 1985 All-Ireland semi-final and — like one of Paddy Prendergast jumping high in the ‘51 final — is the definitive depiction of the Belmullet man’s prowess.
Nor will many forget the original headgear with which he returned to the pitch in the All-Ireland semi-final of 1989 against Tyrone covering a number of stitches inserted in a head wound a few minutes earlier.
Once, on the eve of a match between Mayo and Kildare in Castlebar, a few followers of the Leinster side spoke, almost reverentially, of the great Mayo man who had just walked into a local hostelry. Is that the great Willie Joe, they wanted to know, as they studied closely the man who made such an impact across the length and breadth of the country.
He played minor football for Mayo in 1976 and the following year captained the side that lost to Down in the All-Ireland final.
He donned the senior jersey for the first time in the league of 1977/78 against Cavan, and played his final match for the county against Galway in 1992.
In between, he won five Connacht championship medals and two All-Star Awards, in 1985 and ‘89.
Willie Joe was a treasure in football terms. He is up there among the best in the country. Conclusively, he has earned his place as one of Mayo’s best over the past five decades.


Just a thought…
For the record, my ‘Best Mayo team since 1960’ so far is: Eugene Lavin; Willie Casey, Ray Prendergast, Dermot Flanagan; Ger Feeney, John Morley (RIP), James Nallen and WJ Padden.

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