The Strategic Review decision was a big blow to Mayo GAA
IT was a golden opportunity to change the face of Mayo football . . . and the County Board missed it. They thumbed their nose at the collective wisdom of the best football brains in the county for a slapdash ragbag of aspirations.
Now we’re back to the pipe dreams.
Sixty years ago this season Mayo won their last All-Ireland senior football title. This writer is old enough to remember the names of Carney and Langan and Mongey and Flanagan echo off the walls of the only house in the village where a radio brought news of our footballers’ exploits.
As kids we tried to imitate them. We took to the fields with whatever kind of ball we could find. We organised five-a-sides with those from a neighbouring village. We trained and argued and called our own fouls, and made our own selections.
Football was our obsession and transcended all other interests. We couldn’t wait for another summer to arrive when Mayo would continue to rule, and the voice of O’Hehir boom at the blaze of another Langan nugget.
But Roscommon spoiled the party. Crestfallen, we watched full-forward Brendan Lynch tear down our idols in McHale Park . . . and our football world has never been the same since.
Season after season we have set out with renewed hope, believing always the next would be better, that the fading grandeur of the fifties would give way to a new bright era.
It never did. Decades passed. The Green & Red flags of our minors and U-21s — even of our women - flew high in victory at Croke Park . . . a prescription for renewed optimism for our seniors. It had no effect; in Croke Park our senior flags have flown only at half-mast.
Even our showcase minors, who won two All-Irelands in the seventies — one of the dullest decades in Mayo’s senior football history — and the last in 1985, have gone into hiding. That gap is now 26 years wide.
And people ask why.
Our team bosses do their best. They, too, set out each January, their outlook midway between reality and dreams, determined to make a difference, to whip enough bodies into shape, to claw back some respect and with a bit of luck to reach Croke Park.
But they’re swimming against the tide. Every year of failure leaves a greater mental dent, and is now rooted in apathy. When Mayo crashed out to Longford last year there were calls on the county board to resign. Some clubs representatives joined in the call, which has now become an annual dirge.
But when an effort to change the system was drawn up by a knowledgeable group of people those same clubs refused to budge. In a debate two weeks ago, when the county board’s own plan was ratified, nearly a score of clubs failed to make an appearance
The county is drifting in a sea of lethargy. The absence of so many clubs that night is an indication that their interest is only in the present. The true spirit of volunteerism is not what motivates some of their officials.
It is a self-serving exercise. They are reluctant to see five years ahead for fear someone else will reap what they have sown.
I make no apology for returning, again, to the board’s failure to implement a plan drawn up five years ago by equally committed people for the preparation of teenagers for county teams. That 5-year plan could have closed the minor gap. Liam Horan’s group’s strategy could have changed the face of Mayo football.
It’s dead in the water now, and no one again will attempt a similar exercise.
Officialdom will excuse failure by criticising the lack of will in our players. It is not the system, they’ll say, it is the material at their disposal. But as the old adage goes: if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.
This is not being written in any sense of anger; it is more a feeling of profound sadness that no one was prepared to grasp an opportunity that would have wrenched Mayo football free from a tired old structure that has wedded it to failure for sixty years.
Our young talent deserve more from their masters.