Countdown on to derby day
WHERE now stands Mayo? Where lies their true form? Somewhere between that wishy-washy performance against Dublin and their heart-stopping rescue operation in Cork would seem to be a realistic assessment of their progress.
But based on that form can we confidently predict another Connacht title? Will they go even further and finally shrug off the phantom of past failures that has haunted Mayo football for what seems an eternity?
On the eve of the championship I sought a perspective on Mayo through Galway eyes.
MJ Reddington is a Dunmore man living in Mayo for thirty years. He played minor, U-21, and senior football for Galway, Sigerson with UCG, won county minor and senior medals with Dunmore the same year, and added two further county senior medals to his collection.
He is quintessential Galway who has been observing Mayo for the past two decades comparing the styles and attitudes and philosophies of both counties.
And nothing stands out more starkly than the swagger of self-belief that Galway always possessed. Even when they play badly they have a ‘cockiness’ that he has never seen in Mayo.
“I have seen some individuals in Mayo with it, but only some. Down have it, Kerry have it, Dublin have it. Maybe Mayo people do not like cockiness. But I think the players have to have it especially in the forward line if they want to win.”
He said some of that ‘cockiness’ was nurtured in St Jarlath’s College, the first educational institution in his opinion that began to look at football in a scientific way.
An academy of football, he called it. Seán Purcell, Frank Stockwell, Barry Brennan, right through to Michael Donnellan and Padraic Joyce developed their football there. All those who played for Jarlath’s, including Mayo players had that swagger.
Something else carved into the Galway psyche in the sixties and seventies was an assertion by trainer Tull Dunne that a Galway man was always better than a Mayo man.
“He had that driven into his teams. I don’t know why he disliked Mayo but he would go back in history talking about how many times Mayo had failed. He had his teams convinced that Galway men were better than Mayo.”
Reddington said he never heard anything of that nature from the likes of Mattie McDonagh or Enda Colleran or the others, but they may have had that belief in them.
In the current climate, Galway have not won a single match in Croke Park since 2001 when they captured their last All-Ireland.
“If Mayo look at that record they ought surely believe they are better than Galway. Right now you would expect Mayo to regard themselves as superior to Galway. Not just saying it, but also believing it.”
Growing up in Dunmore on the Mayo border the football was all about Mayo and Galway, he said. And a lot of it was positive. When Galway were beaten they followed Mayo and could not understand why Mayo did not succeed.
“And I cannot understand why.”
MJ Reddington came to work in Baxter in Castlebar in 1983 and left three years later to establish his own management consultancy company. Having settled in Breaffy he got involved with the local club and served terms as chairman.
Since then he has been following Mayo and has become an ardent supporter of the county’s footballers.
It always seemed to him that when Galway had a bad team their supporters knew they had a bad team. And vice versa with a good team.
He attended Mayo’s survival game in Cork, and the whole thing was crazy. It was mostly Mayo support. Cork people did not come out. If it were Galway in a similar situation ten people would not have travelled from the county. They will follow only a good team.
Sometimes he wondered could Mayo supporters differentiate between a bad Mayo team and a good Mayo team. And he believes supporters generally find it difficult to differentiate between a good and a bad footballer.
PAST Mayo players talked to him about the extraordinary expectations of their supporters, a fact he attributed to Mayo’s failure to win an All-Ireland since 1951. “It puts an extraordinary burden on Mayo football which is not evident in Galway.”
He commended club football in Mayo. But although it was better than in Galway there seemed to be a dearth of good forwards in the county.
Great forwards relied on what he calls ‘space management’ for success. Why did backs find it so hard to mark the likes of Purcell and Padraic Joyce? … because they could make space for themselves.
“Apart from Ciaran McDonald I have rarely seen a Mayo player who could say I made space. It is an innate skill, and it is not about movement; it is about when you move.”
He said there had been tremendous football games down the years between Mayo and Galway. Their championship clash of 1998 was one of those. Ciaran McDonald got two goals and should have got a third. Galway won it… and went on to win the All-Ireland.
But he was not sure if Mayo won they would they have gone on to win the All-Ireland. It was his belief that when Mayo win one, they’ll win a lot more.
But to win it they will have to develop a ruthlessness in their play, a total focus on winning, an approach in which there is not even one percent of doubt. That kind of competitiveness is what it takes to win. Every player will have to do what it takes to get there. Mayo have not reached that level yet.
Outside of football there was a fierce competitiveness in past Galway teams. In whatever they were competing, any kind of tiddlywinks game, there was an obsession to win it. And he remembered star of the past John Keenan embodying that spirit in a free-taking contest at a festival in Dunmore when he lost his temper because one of the competitors was not taking it seriously.
“There was not a player on the Galway team that was not obsessive about what had to be done to win.
“I’m not questioning Mayo’s past or present ability. Some players have that competitive edge and some have not. You don’t need fifteen good players. What you need are fifteen dedicated players.”
Leadership was a quality, he said, that had to be cultivated. Great teams like the Munster rugby side were extraordinarily focused and their manager also extraordinarily focused. You will find in those teams not just one leader but five.
They were also very self-critical.
He thinks there are leaders and coming leaders on the present Mayo team. Men of that quality have got to be ‘obsessively self critical’. You have got to have players to take charge on the field, to lead, to scold when scolding is necessary, to praise when praise is necessary.
“I think they have made a lot of progress these past two years. I think James Horan has done a good job in getting them to do what he wants them to do. I cannot see who else should be on the panel.
“He has got players into a certain style and certain behaviour. In the last two years they have physically developed well.”
He is not too worried about their league form. The only thing that matters is the championship and he thinks they will get at least to August. “This year will define where they are at. I give them a good chance… if everybody is back. If they get the bit of luck they will give it a crack.”
He said there may be shortage of pace in the team. “Most of the pace Mayo have at the moment is in the backline. I think sometimes their pace is in the wrong place. They need the guy coming through the centre at pace.
“I would expect them to beat Galway if their heads are right. And I think their heads will be right.”
Just a thought …
Whatever about their seniors, Galway underage football is flourishing. On the way to another All-Ireland U-21 final they accounted for Mayo. When is the Mayo Board going to get serious about underage football?