IT remains a truism that Mayo teams find it impossible to win games they shouldn’t and this latest defeat in a minor final adds to the legend. On a day when our opponents Armagh, the hottest of favourites, failed to get near their undoubted potential, Mayo also produced a no-show.
But before we sift through the ashes it is only right to acknowledge that Armagh are the best minor team in the country. They possibly played their poorest game of the year last Sunday, but when it really mattered, they kicked on for home and their last three points, the winning points, were well set-up and finished.
At a time when Armagh are finding it very difficult to keep their GAA family from splintering because of the shenanigans surrounding the appointment of a senior manager, this result will be very much welcomed. Of more importance it adds nicely to their recent under 21 win, which was chiselled out against a gallant Mayo side back in 2004.
I read a preview, which suggests this particular set of players was expected to have a big say in minor matters in 2009. A result of the underage academy up north, their potential was flagged early and this final win was their 18th victory on the trot against all-comers this season. They have a handful of players who look like they will make the step up to the next level rather easily, but after minor wins we often rush to conclusions in that regard.
Will many emerge to play for Mayo from this team? Again, who knows? But a few had carved reputations which were deservedly acknowledged and yet have it all to do once again after this latest disappointment. We will touch on this aspect by the close of the column.
The scoreline is the best indication of the type of performance both teams produced on the day and the final Mayo tally of seven points is just not near good enough to win any match. The record books will show we have dipped below this total in All-Ireland finals before; there can be little expectation of victory as a result.
Both sets of players appeared to be unnerved by the occasion and, of course, this often happens. The history of the venue, the trappings of All-Ireland final day, perhaps the 125 celebrations, the size of the crowd and the live television were contributing factors in a standard that was very mediocre indeed.
The match was littered with errors, many of them basic, and wides were a constant feature on the menu served up. Both teams had a defensive look to them in terms of formation and positioning and I suppose that was only playing to their strengths for the scoring department just did not function.
In the end, the Mayo perspective is one we are indeed familiar with. Yet another defeat, a really poor attacking display, and the usual demoralising wides. If you read the football supplement that accompanied last week’s preview in this newspaper, you will know this team was very well prepared for action.
We all witnessed the superb accuracy of our free-taker and captain Aidan Walsh in the semi-final win over Down. Did he miss a single free that day? His kicking coach is the former Mayo star Maurice Sheridan who must have been extremely proud of the composure young Walsh displayed last time out.
Yet, inexplicably, the opening free in this final was taken out of his hands, and sent wide. That free was 20 metres from goal and more or less in front of the sticks. A horrible wide. It set a tone.
I have listened to all the debates about the best way to take these opportunities and will listen no more: from the ground is the proven, most reliable method. All our county managers should insist on such a routine with no compromise allowed.
DESPITE the nerves and the errors I suspect Mayo management must have felt the team was perfectly positioned at just about all times of this game bar the closing credits. The half-time break was reached with a comfortable feeling about the score.
Four points each was mighty fine even if Mayo were not playing well. We touched on the missed free and could toss in the chance of a goal that Shane McDermott’s smashing run created. Missed opportunities for sure but still breathing.
With ten minutes remaining we were in pole position, a point to the good and looking like we might win this tightest of contests. A wide followed and another goal chance was spurned and we failed to pad out the lead. That was the beginning of the end as the winners rattled off four points in the closing six minutes to fall over the line.
In summary, this group of players and mentors must be congratulated for getting to a second final. Ray Dempsey is absolutely right when he says he knows where he’d like to be each September — the alternative is an early exit. We continue to reach finals, which is a requirement if we are eventually going to win one, but the good news seems to end abruptly when only two teams remain.
What about any possible dividend for Mayo football into the future? Judged over a season, I liked the attitude and standards set by Micheál Schlingermann, Keith Rogers and David Gavin. Shane McDermott and Fergal Durkan are prospects, and both Aidan Walsh and Cillian O’Connor will surely rise again. None on this list is likely to make an early breakthrough into John O’Mahony’s squad so the immediate dividend, senior team wise, is zero.
But we now have the 2008 and 2009 minor squads, well-coached and hungry for success after their heartbreaking defeats. I have no doubt Pat Holmes, Noel Connelly and their team can mould a very decent under-21 side from them.
That’s the story then, another day another defeat. A familiar story that prompts bigger questions and suggests major issues, which must be confronted in our county if this losing streak is to be arrested. The winning of major championship finals in Croke Park is not easy but our modern record tells us it’s nearly impossible.
I suggested on The Sunday Game that this was our 18th major final (minor, under-21 and senior) including replays since we last won the minor title in 1985. And all we have to show for it is a single under-21 win a few years back. It is a horrible statistic and remember the win was accomplished in Cusack Park, Ennis.
Alas, Croke Park remains a cemetery to us on All-Ireland final day.