Minors must learn from experience
THERE is a throwaway line about Kerry football never producing poor teams. It’s a load of rubbish, a lazy generalisation based perhaps on the way things used to be. It means that sides to emerge from the Kingdom very often attract a rating that is simply not in keeping with their abilities. Of course they produce plenty of high quality sides but I strongly suspect this year’s Kerry minor team is not such an outfit.
But the overstated and overrated attributes of some Kerry teams can often suffocate and spook a lesser team in the build-up to a big game. So, it was marvellous to see a Mayo minor team, vastly superior to their opponents, go out on the pitch and tear into Kerry. And prove their superiority.
The truth is Mayo had the game wrapped up by half-time as all the faults displayed a week earlier had been ironed out and a mixture of accurate, deadly finishing and improved support play meant there was never a chance this game might be left behind.
And the result laughs in the face of another lazy generalisation: the underdog never gets a second chance in a replay. As pointed out in this column a few weeks ago, Roscommon won the 2006 title after a replay!
But sport is just not fair. We sat back in the nice warm comfort of reaching an All-Ireland final and considered our chances. After beating Kerry sure we have to be up there with the best. Right? And then you see Tyrone play and you realise you had better forget about the semi-final and get sorted for the final.
No doubt Mayo minor management had a few observers at Sunday’s All-Ireland minor semi-final between Tyrone and Meath. The journey home to the Sweet Plains will have concentrated on the quality of opposition Tyrone will provide. They destroyed Meath and so will start as favourites.
But here’s a little secret I’ll let the current Mayo minors in on: the Tyrone observers left Limerick totally focussed on the skill, drive and complete performance Mayo produced. No point in getting screwed up about the opposition then.
Over the years I have often wondered what a Mayo team, well able to win more than enough primary ball, might do if the forwards actually clicked and played to the type of standard you are supposed to. In other words, reach your potential and put over the chances you should put over, convert the frees you should convert and cut out the horrible wides that so often undermine the confidence of an entire Mayo team.
Last Saturday we got our answer as Ray Dempsey’s boys went out and executed the type of skills and play we expect from teams at this elite level. I have no intention of ‘God-ing’ up young Mayo footballers and indeed will add a few lines of caution shortly. But praise is important when it is deserved and if we expect young players to learn from constructive criticism it is equally important their good days are recognised.
The vibes coming from this squad and this management are good and the word from informed sources tell of a group that is living in the everyday world of football reality.
I hope that is so; yet I was a little disappointed to see posed photographs in my Sunday newspaper of Mayo minors celebrating with clenched fists and Mayo minors still out on the pitch mingling with supporters well after the final whistle. We should make no big deal of taking out an average Kerry team.
Ray Dempsey won’t stand for that auld shaping and will doubtless call a few to attention this week to get their minds set on the Tyrone challenge. It will be an extremely formidable challenge but one I feel Mayo are well fit for.
But last Saturday was magnificent and it was just great to see new hope spring to life, to see young footballers that are sure to have a say in the future of the county’s fortunes.
In 1983 we hammered a Kerry team at the semi-final stage of an All-Ireland under-21 championship and yet many felt we would not be good enough to beat Derry in the final. We made no big deal about winning that semi but instead got ready for the final. You know what? We won it too.
The reasons these big days go your way are generally based around ability, belief, a good attitude and a selfish focus on getting yourself and your team spot-on for the challenge of playing the biggest game of your football career to date. And after all those bits are in place remember a bit of good luck (or indeed bad luck) might be all that separates the winner from the loser. Because at this stage of the championship, it’s the two best teams in the category that are playing for the prize.
On September 21 the Kerry seniors will be chasing the three-in-a-row, Tyrone will be thinking of a senior-minor double. And lovely old Mayo? The one-in-a-row for this year’s minor crop would be just grand and confirm Connacht as the force in underage football. Roscommon in 2006, Galway last year and no reason to think Mayo won’t go up the steps this year. All to play for.
BUSY WEEKEND THROWS UP TALKING POINTS
IT was a very busy weekend of football with the two senior semi-finals and of course the ladies equivalent. The Mayo ladies bowed out at the penultimate hurdle and perhaps that defeat brings the curtain down on what will be remembered as their golden era. But time passes so quickly and the Cork Rebelettes have established a new hegemony. Monaghan confirmed the Mayo ladies are facing renewal if the glory days are to return. I hope to have an in-depth look at the ladies game next week.
Now that Tyrone are in the All-Ireland final I am bumping into irate Mayo men who mutter their dismay at what they believe was a lost opportunity. It’s true we looked the one team that could match and handle the resurgent northerners but football is not a game of straight lines. If it was, Wexford would not have bothered turning up for their semi.
But Tyrone are building towards a crescendo. Each outing since the Mayo game underlines the new-found confidence that is coursing through their play. It promises to be the game of the decade and the winner will have the bragging rights.
Paul Galvin and Darragh Ó Sé will return and how difficult will it be for the GAA to hand over the Sam Maguire Cup to the Kerry captain after the controversy of the summer? If it comes to pass, it will make for a fair bit of discomfort.
Tyrone will be the best organised but Kerry will have the greater number of footballing aces and that is why they will win and complete the three-in-a-row. In fairness, if you factor in the close defeats in the early and mid part of this decade at All-Ireland level, this Kerry team would be in a very strong position to rival the teams for all ages that Micko produced.
But it will be two serious games in three weeks time, a full house and the Green and Red well represented. C’mon Mayo!