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Result is paramount for Mayo

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Result is paramount for Mayo

THE intimidating nature of the Dubs in Croke Park is sometimes counterbalanced by the understandable ambition of the opposition to play on its hallowed surface.
The arena where All-Ireland champions are crowned is where every footballer in Ireland would want to play… and win.
Mayo are no strangers to its allure. Last season alone the Old Lady echoed to the clamour of the Mayo thousands on three occasions. Once, in the All-Ireland semi-final, they shared in the joy of the team’s success.
On Saturday they are back for the first time this season to mix it under lights with the Dubs over whom they had that sole success. The victory had its origins in Mayo’s springtime trashing of the champions in the league at Castlebar. The residual ravages of Dublin¹s All-Ireland celebrations may also have been a factor.
On Saturday the objective is a mite more modest… but infinitely significant for Mayo. League points are precious, and in the wake of a spiritless defeat to Tyrone, the All-Ireland finalists are in need of a face-saving performance.
They’ll find a largely changed Dublin on this occasion if the selections of their new manager in his first two outings are any yardstick. Jim Gavin has promoted a lot of new eager talent, and over Cork and Kerry the young tyros triumphed with little difficulty.
A win on Saturday will set them nicely on the road to divisional honours.
So far, only eight of last season’s regulars have seen action. Among those left out for the moment are Philip McMahon, James McCarthy, Kevin Nolan, Eamon Fennell, Denis Bastic and Bryan Cullen.
Cian O’Sullivan has been moved from defence to midfield, teaming up with Michael Darragh MacAuley. Jonny Cooper, Darren Daly, Jack McCaffrey and Kevin O’Brien are the new support beams for Rory O’Carroll and Ger Brennan in the centres of defence.
McCaffrey, according to reports, is the find of the season so far, his attacking flair reaping rich rewards, while Paddy Andrews in the forward line has reeled in eight points from the two games from play.
Some doubt surrounds the fitness of MacAuley and Diarmuid Connolly who picked up an ankle injury against Kerry. But Denis Bastic will be eligible for selection after suspension and provides Gavin with a midfield choice.
Only when they come face to face with them will Mayo find out how good this new Dublin really are. Inevitably, being Dubs on their home ground, they’ll not want for more than a little arrogance . . . and you would dismiss them at your peril.
The growing strength of the game in the capital is evident in their underage success. Last week they beat Carlow by 37 points in the under 21 championship.
Mayo are much less prosperous at underage level. There is no abundance of resources from which James Horan can choose. He must make do with what he has. But what he has is capable of better football than was reflected in their performance against Tyrone.
Having reached the All-Ireland semi-final and final in consecutive seasons, Mayo are not short of experience. But if the momentum they have gathered from those past two years stalls, a slide back into the quicksand may be irreversible.
Had Mayo wrested that game from Tyrone, James Horan could then experiment in the remaining rounds with an easy mind. Somewhere along the way two further points to ensure safety would have been picked up.
Now, you cannot be too sure. There are big games ahead, and Mayo have to be at their best to win, at their most imaginative, and assertive.
The team can’t afford to ignore the example that Keith Higgins and Ger Cafferkey set, or waste the type of advantage that Aidan O’Shea provided at midfield two week ago.
Their strength is in working together to plot a way out of trouble, in countering the strategies of their opponents, showing more variety in their own play, more responsibility in front of the posts… all of the strands pulling together.
Dublin in their last couple of games have yielded to Mayo, but that is no base for complacency. Not only for the league points, but for other higher goals, a Mayo win is crucial.

Hospital trip for three lads
Memory lane
HE was the defensive anchor man of the Castlebar Mitchels team that won five consecutive Mayo senior championships from 1950 to 1954 and a total of seven titles in that decade.
In fact Patsy Horkan’s collection of senior medals extends to ten… nine of them won on the field of play with his native club.
Was it any wonder then that the prowess of the Mitchels resonated in far-flung corners of the country, and that the services of the great man from that high-flying team would have been sought to swell the pride of some junior team in some forgotten part of Limerick?
The illegal nature of the request from the junior club in Hospital, Co Limerick, tickled the fancy of the Mitchels’ full-back.
Like Seán Flanagan attending an international soccer match in disguise because of the iniquitous GAA Ban, Patsy and two colleagues, John Durkan and Mick Flynn, saw their call as a bit of an adventure worth risking suspension.
Sixty years ago communication was much less sophisticated. There were no computers then, and no mobile phones. Detection in a game tucked away in the corner of Limerick was highly unlikely. Whatever the risk, they were chuffed to have been asked.
Jimmy Prendergast, a member of the staff of St Mary’s Hospital, Castlebar, drove them to the grounds where they were shepherded into the team . . . Horkan playing under the name of Michael John Davouren.
As footballers they were a class above the rest. At half-time as they mixed with other team members eating oranges in the middle of the field, a shout from the sideline blew their anonymity.
‘How’ya Flynn,” came the yell. Stunned, Mick Flynn sought sanctuary among the other players. But again, Flynn’s name rang out from the terrace:
Well, they won the match, and Hospital were crowned junior champions, and as the three Mitchels men walked from the pitch the ‘voice’ confronted them. “You’re a long way from home,” he said.
The man, a native of the area, had worked in Garavan’s corner shop in Castlebar. “I won’t tell anyone because you were playing for my team,” he said.
Feted and recompensed, the three men returned home satisfied with their achievement. But their cover was truly blown, and while they got away scot-free, the newly crowned county junior champions lost their title and served a suspension.
John Durkan and the colourful Mick Flynn have since gone to their graves. But Patsy Horkan, who also played minor, junior and senior football for Mayo, is in his 83rd year and sufficiently active to play golf several times a week.

Mayo duo shine in Sigerson Cup
TWO Mayo men played significant roles in bringing the Sigerson Cup to Dublin Institute of Technology on Saturday for the first time. Not only on Saturday, but in every game of the competition, Aidan O’Shea and Jason Doherty have been majestic.
The competition sheds new light on the potential of Doherty and may explain why James Horan has persisted with him even when his contribution seemed less than commendable.
For DIT the Burrishoole man has been no less than scintillating, bagging a bundle of scores in every game. On Saturday he crowned a run of fine performances with one of their three goals, and contributed largely to another.
Doherty has not shown such form for Mayo since scoring a couple of fine goals against Galway in the National League two years ago. But there is no denying his potential.

Just a thought …
THE promotion hopes of Galway manager Alan Mulholland took a bit of a dip on Saturday when his footballers lost to Louth. But the county’s hurlers hit a brighter note in their win over Kilkenny.