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Onwards and upwards again for Mayo

Sean Rice

 Sean Rice

Onwards and upwards again

THERE’S a certain element in the Dublin press, mainly, who like to think that we who follow Mayo football live in a perpetual state of despondency.
Invariably, you’ll find a sadistic nuance punctuating their remarks about the seven All-Ireland final defeats that distinguish us for all the wrong reasons. They talk about our teams choking on the day, our timidity, our lack of a killer instinct and how we look to every Mayo team in Croke Park to take us out of our misery.
You get the impression they enjoy ventilating our feelings, as if ‘gratifying that secret feeling of satisfaction, at witnessing distress from which no man is free though it may be accompanied by the most sincere feelings of pity and commiseration.’
The thing is we are not cloaked in misery. We are disappointed, sometimes saddened, sometimes frustrated each time our teams fall short in Croke Park. Our regular visits to the press box at headquarters are sometimes greeted with smiles that betray a certain admiration for our stoicism.
We endure because our footballers inspire hope. We are pleased each time they get to Croke Park, and know their right to be there cannot be contested. We criticise them and agonise with them when they lose, and at every goal they concede. We wax lyrical when they win.
We realise the sacrifices they make, the gruelling preparation, and their herculean efforts.
Some day the captain of a Mayo senior team will climb the steps of the Hogan Stand, as surely and unexpectedly as minor captain Stephen Coen did last autumn after 28 years in the doldrums.
Some day it will happen. And Nicola Walsh will put pen to paper again in The Mayo News to encapsulate the feelings of Mayo people abroad as articulately as her piece in the Mitchels preview supplement.
Yes, the struggle goes on ... unremitting, heroic, magnificent. And as ever we, Mayo people, will be there. Because, as Nicola wrote, ‘there is nothing else like the GAA, nothing at all, anywhere.’

Holmes leaves big shoes to fill
THE departure of manager Pat Holmes will do little to ease the disappointment of the team he guided to the All-Ireland final on St Patrick’s Day.
From a side riddled with self-doubt, he refashioned Castlebar Mitchels into one of the best club sides in the country. He restored pride and security to the club. He got the players believing in their own talents, got them ­ with maybe one exception­ to measure up to more established opponents.
Some serious consideration is necessary now in choosing a successor. Someone with the vision and perception of Pat Holmes is not easily found. Someone capable of reigniting the flame that burned so brightly throughout the last season.
The Mitchels will have learned from Diarmuid Connolly’s tour de force that put an end to their dreams. Perhaps too much thought went into eclipsing Tomas Quinn who had been exceptional all year for St Vincent’s and too little into the danger that Connolly posed.
Quinn was anonymous, but no amount of juggling with the defence would have reined in Connolly. His assortment of skills was awesome.
Richie Feeney will have felt the Mitchels’ loss more than his mates. It was a cruel twist of fate that forced him out of the game within four minutes. The power of the team as a whole was diminished somewhat by his absence.
He is not a Diarmuid Connolly, but a full hour of Feeney’s muscle would have made a greater dent on St Vincent’s defence. It was tough on him, but having watched the replay, it was a correct decision. A body check is forbidden under the black card rules.
It’s an opportune time to familiarise ourselves with the black card rules:
(1) Deliberately pulling down an opponent;
(2) Deliberating tripping an opponent;
(3) Body-checking or tackling an opponent after he has played the ball in order to take him out of a movement;
(4) Threatening or provocative language towards an opponent or team-mate;
(5) Remonstrating in an aggressive manner with the referee;
(6) Substitutions allowed for first three black card offences. No substitution for fourth black card. Black card dismissals count in extra time.
At senior county level three black cards or three double yellow cards incur a one-game suspension. At all other levels two double yellows within 48 weeks or two yellows and a black card will incur a two-week ban. Yellow and black card equivalent to red. Players have a right to a hearing after picking up a black card.

All roads lead back to Croker
NOW that the Mitchels campaign has come to an end, James Horan will have a wider choice of selection for Mayo’s journey back to the capital to renew hostilities with the All-Ireland champions on Saturday evening.
It’s an attractive duel, one side striving to reaffirm their All-Ireland form of last September, the other anxious to argue themselves out of the suspicion that they were not just good enough on the day.
For each the outcome is psychologically significant, so most of the All-Ireland artillery will be wheeled into action for this one. Dublin will be anxious to atone for their loss to Derry last time out, a defeat that supports the contention that outside Croke Park they are not an all-conquering force.
Having weathered their early league storm with losses to Kildare and Tyrone, Mayo’s performances have stabilised and with six points gathered they are level in the table with Dublin. So the outcome of Saturday’s game is important.
Whether Horan will restore Tom Cunniffe, Barry Moran and Richie Feeney to the team is uncertain. Corner backs Brendan Harrison and Shane McHale may be under pressure, but in the absence of Cunniffe and Keith Higgins, the two have been growing steadily into defensive positions, and for the experience alone, the manager may be content to field the side that has raked in the points.
Connolly presents the greatest threat in Dublin’s fast-moving forward line. His magnificence against Castlebar is a reminder of his power. Like quicksilver, he pops up everywhere, and it is to be hoped that the defence will not be caught foolishly conceding another overhead flick from him or Brogan or any other forward into the net.
Midfield surely will not be disturbed. Jason Gibbons touched on his potential against Cork with a massive show of conviction and, with Aidan O’Shea also in powerful form, that vital zone will be worth watching.
Nor, bar injury, is the forward line likely to be disturbed. The return of Cillian O’Connor after injury has brought more balance to the front line, Jason Doherty at centre forward against Cork repaid handsomely James Horan’s faith in him, and for more than half an hour Mikie Sweeney tormented the defence.
All of that and more is demanded if Dublin’s advantage over Mayo is not to be restated.

Just a thought …
INJURY has stalled Michael Meehan’s football career yet again. As one of the country’s outstanding forwards, he was to Galway what Colm Cooper is to Kerry. His gifts will be sorely missed from fields farther away than his native county.