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Time for Mayo to learn some lessons

Kevin McStay
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Image of Mayo's Keith HigginsTime to learn some lessons


Kevin McStayKevin McStay

WE made the short journey from Ballina town to the village of Knockmore to witness the latest episode of this recent enough rivalry last weekend.
For all intents and purposes it was a repeat performance of the match in Croke Park that has so occupied Mayo supporters these past few days. Knockmore play the game in much the same way Meath do: well-organised, tough in the tackle, and depending on a few key players to get them over the line. Ballina are easier on the eye and their brand of football has a winning feel about it. But ultimately the townies faded and failed to get the job done.
It was a desperately poor championship match with Knockmore the deserving winners because they wanted this win more than their opponents. It seems such a basic reason to win a game but very often that is all that separates teams. And for me, it was disappointing to see your own team back off when the final few minutes demanded a full-on approach.
And if that was disappointing, two other aspects saddened: first up, the number of cheap shots county players and ex-county players decided to dish out to their ‘colleagues’ following a summer spent sharing a dressing-room showed a distinct lack of respect for reach other.
And secondly, the appalling performance of referee Michael Daly as he continually blew up both sides for fouls that never occurred but did not bother with persistent fouling. He allowed a Knockmore midfielder aggressively foul on 13 occasions while his Ballina counterpart rowed in with 8 similar offences. Both players stayed on the field … no problem whatsoever.
And so the club football scene fails to lighten the dark mood that has descended on the county post the Meath defeat. I had the holiday break to consider the bigger picture and attempt to establish absolutes but that is a tricky department. Some of the opening questions that need examining and answers might include:

   Do we screw up in major games?
>    In the three years that John O’Mahony has been at the helm, has progress been made?
>    What are we to do with under-performing players that we know must form part of the future?
   Is this a team rebuilding, in transition or in decline?
   Have we any leaders?


THE notion that Mayo chokes when the games are in the balance is no doubt a legacy of our failure to win finals. So, let’s look at this empirically and use the introduction of the Qualifiers in 2001 as our base year.
Teams now have to negotiate an All-Ireland quarter final as part of the requirement to get their hands on Sam and thus, in any given year, a team might play in four ‘major fixtures’ — the provincial final and the three games that constitute the All Ireland series. Recall also that the latest management is in place since 2007.

Mayo’s record is as follows
2001: P1/L1; 2002: P1/L1; 2003: P1/L1; 2004: P5/W3/D1/L1; 2005: P2/L2; 2006: P5/W3/D1/L1; 2007: P0; 2008: P1/L1; 2009: P2/W1/L1
Overall: Played 18/Won 7/Drew 2 and Lost 9. The John O’Mahony led squad have Played 3/Won 1/Lost 2.
This record refutes the idea that Mayo are unable to win major games in Croke Park; indeed the opponents’ argument is extremely weak if you consider Tyrone, Dublin, Galway and Laois are among the teams we have defeated.
The current side has a less convincing record as the single win in four major encounters indicates. The teams beaten in championship football include Galway, Roscommon, Sligo, London, New York and Cavan, which is not exactly earth- shattering. But this was during a supposed rebuilding phase; more of that anon.
In summary, the current squad have won a Connacht title and reached a NFL final and that represents progress for the current squad that JOM is shaping. It’s not at the pace we might have wanted but progress nonetheless.
There are a few players in the current squad that really are good enough to be starting players. In particular, I mention Conor Mortimer, Tom Parsons and David Clarke.
I understand this is a very subjective area but it is widely accepted JOM is as good as is out there when it comes to man-management and getting the best out of players at his disposal.
How then has a situation arisen whereby our consistently top scorer in league and championship football is rated our number eight starter for the forward division (number nine if Barry Moran had been fit enough to start v Meath)?
Put aside the showmanship and the misses, the hair and the tattoos for a moment and judge him on football alone. I should state here and now that the use of the Shrule attacker realised scores and other assists this championship year — thus management are fully vindicated by their actions.
But the question remains: why has he tumbled down the rankings and can management, working with the player, not turn this situation around?
Tom Parsons is another player that really should be bursting on to the scene. Plenty of other counties have their young players making the breakthrough and this guy should be to the forefront of our midfield plans this year and into the future.
And if he was selected out of position against Meath how did he fail to contest high ball in the opening 20 minutes and make it stick inside? If a player of his size and ability is properly focused on doing his bit, there is just no way a man four or five inches smaller and much lighter should emerge with the ball. But that assumes you are really going flat out for the ball.
David Clarke is the best goalkeeper in the county by a mile. End of. Yes, he has been out injured and is only recently back in business. But he’s the best, so get him in between the sticks. Today.

Look at the match programme for our quarter-final: I counted more than half the team associated with the Maughan/Moran regimes. They included Higgins, Gardiner, Moran, McGarrity, Heaney, Harte, T Mortimer and Dillon.
There is nothing wrong with that, there must be a link with previous teams as debutants need the experienced players to help to bed them into championship life. But don’t call it re-building — it is obviously transition and more of the same will arise in 2010.
The most important question for me is the one of leadership and surely leaders should come from those that know the ropes?
In my time you had Carney and Noone, Kilgallon and Padden, Burke and Lowry up front to keep everybody breathing when things got tight. Later, McHale, Nallen and Connelly would emerge to help ease the tension of the 90s. But who is driving on the team these days? Who is leading by example? Alan Dillon? Anybody else lads?
The critical periods in our quarter-final defeat to Meath were flagged by a total lack of leadership when Mayo really needed players to stand up and get the win.
They went missing, played from behind, and somehow managed to hide without being spotted. And, when the final whistle came, jogged into the comfort of the dressing room where it appears nobody takes these guys on.
I read recently that the Dublin management decided to dispense with a debrief of the defeat to Tyrone in 2008 and decided a whitewash of that game was best for all concerned. Twelve months later they repeated the shambles with bells on.
Modern management has two mechanisms for review: ‘Lessons Identified’ and ‘Lessons Learned’.
Why the two? You can identify all the lessons you want from all the various campaigns you want, and God knows this column and many others like it have been doing that over the years. But if you fail to learn those lessons, then I guess you are destined to repeat the mistakes. The Mayo ‘Lessons Identified’ section is jammed with after-action reviews, it’s the ‘Lessons Learned’ file I’m interested in.