EVEN months and nine wins out of 13 competitive games later, here we are. At the start of Mayo’s championship odyssey on Connacht soil. The pulse quickens.
London and all that it promised, nay threatened, has been consigned to memory. Now it’s just Mayo and Leitrim, standing and waiting to be let loose on each other next Sunday afternoon.
Nobody is quite sure which way to turn. A National League campaign that rattled along at a hectic pace ended abruptly. Then Mayo disappeared before re-emerging to gut London without ever breaking second gear. And now Leitrim. The possibilities are endless.
Mayo News columnist Kevin McStay reflects on the past six months and wonders what he makes of it all. He decides that, apart from one or two disappointments, it’s all good.
“You can’t deny that the management team have given fellas a shot,” he begins. “The only disappointment is that only one player, Kevin O’Neill, was ‘discovered’. But I think that may yet turn out to be a significant discovery.
“The FBD League was used as a trial, and rightly so. The National League, I believe, was a success. We won matches, retained our Division 1 status, and did everything but win the competition. Unfortunately, it did end with a sour taste as we were comprehensively beaten by Galway.
“That match also probably showed us the first wobble on the part of the management when comments were made about Galway and their physicality. At the time I felt they were silly comments for an experienced management to be making but, possibly, they were made to put down a marker for future matches between the teams. The GAA are sure to appoint a strict referee if the teams meet this summer so it may have been forward thinking on Mickey Moran’s part.
“By all accounts training has gone well since then, the vibes are good. We’re not world-beaters but nobody says we are. There’s been no row in the camp as far as I am aware. And, all in all, Mayo are sailing along, nice and steady, as you’d expect from an experienced management team. I believe we should make a Connacht Final nice and quietly.”
Martin Carney is refusing to look past Leitrim. His work with RTE television has brought him all around the country and while he feels there are no ‘world-beaters’ out there, he believes that Mayo have room for improvement tactically.
“One thing I felt we did was to over-play the short game. I felt there was far too much attacking done on the part of defenders. This left the ‘stay-at-home’ backs far too exposed and they were left with acres of space to guard. I have no issue with defenders attacking on occasion but I felt that we did it all the time. We managed to get big scores ourselves but we also conceded a lot in matches. The attacking by defenders needs to be more disciplined.
“Now, I would have to say that Peadar Gardiner’s was very constructive and very beneficial. He is now a very important weapon in our armoury. But there has to be a greater awareness that forwards want quick ball into space. The mindset of a forward is very delicate. If there are 15 or 20 minutes gone in a game, and a forward hasn’t got on the ball, despite making run after run, he can go off his game.”
ONE enduring features of the Mickey Moran regime thus far has been his willingness to take a look at new faces. 46 different players saw action in the FBD Connacht League and many appeared again in the earlier rounds of the NFL.
Unfortunately, a the vast majority of them are no longer making the trip to Ballyvary for county training and were absent when the team flew to the Algarve recently for a training camp. The reason? They just didn’t have what it took according to Kevin McStay.
“My biggest disappointment is that so many players were used and yet not one was unearthed,” he admits. “I’m not pointing the finger of blame at anyone because I’ve yet to meet a manager who found a good player and didn’t use him.
“I’m both surprised and amazed that players didn’t come through. Mickey Moran promised a search of the county and he delivered that. It just shows you that most of the club players just aren’t good enough to play inter-county football.
“The fact that Mayo haven’t discovered anybody new means that this group have been around the block a long time. They have plenty of experience, they’ve played a lot of football, and they have to step up. I’m thinking of the likes of Alan Dillon, James Gill and Conor Mortimer ...Conor has to dominate a Connacht Final this year or an All-Ireland quarter-final.”
Mention of the Shrule/Glencorrib forward and his name pops up again in conversation with Martin Carney. The boy has become a man these last few years and Carney believes it’s time for his him to make his mark.
“Conor is 24 now and this is his fifth championship season. He was badly missed when he was suspended and his game has improved a lot since he has started in DCU. This is a massive year for him. He needs to become a James Nallen or a David Heaney. They’ve been around a long time now and need some of the younger guys to come along and revitalise them.”
AND . Des Dolan Snr has welded together a solid squad that took down Sligo in ‘Carrick’ last summer and lost only three of their seven games in Division 2 of the NFL.
Both McStay and Carney travelled into Pairc Sean MacDiarmada as Mayo players and managers. And both admit they were often lucky to leave with the spoils of victory.
“In terms of preparation, Leitrim have been going fairly well for the last two years,” says McStay. “They’re a solid Division 2 outfit, they’re formidable opposition, and they’re playing in a ground where they traditionally perform. They also have a very good manager in Dessie Dolan Snr and they’ll fancy their chances. The big problem for any Mayo team that goes down there is that they’ll take their eye off the ball. I would have a really big fear of this fixture.”
“Carrick-on-Shannon is a difficult venue to perform in,” offers Martin Carney. “I know myself it’s a difficult place for Mayo to go to and win. Leitrim respond well to playing there, especially against Mayo, and the sight of the tanned legs coming, after the trip to Portugal, will be like grist to the mill for Leitrim.”
And his long-term forecast for Mayo? “I believe they will have a very good championship run. I’ve seen a lot of matches around the country, and on that evidence, it’s a wide open All-Ireland. The team that beats Kerry will win it.”
Taking one glance at next weekend, Kevin McStay has this to say. “The reality is that we have done nothing in the last two years to give us serious expectations. We have done nothing of note since September 2004. Would it be the biggest shock of all time if Mayo were beaten? No, but it would be a serious setback.”
Let the game begin.
Mayo manager Mickey Moran, his assistant John Morrison and selector Kieran Gallagher.