IF you were in any doubt about how Mayo’s footballers regard the National Football League then the final whistle last Sunday was a valuable case study.
They were gutted. Some sank to their knees, drained by their exertions over the previous seventy-seven minutes, and others jogged down the tunnel immediately, ashen-faced and disappointed.
The management and players quickly disappeared into their dressing-room and almost thirty minutes had elapsed when they reappeared.
Most slipped out the side-door, flung their gear-bags into the belly of the team bus, and headed inside, away from the spitting rain. Seven hours had elapsed since the bus had rolled out of Mayo and everybody just wanted to get home.
John O’Mahony didn’t have to meet the small knot of reporters that were loitering outside Mayo’s dressing-room but he did. Patient and polite, as always, despite the defeat and its manner.
“It’s disappointing,” he conceded. “It was always going to be a tough game. At half-time I felt we had fought back well because they could have over-run us in the first ten or fifteen minutes. In the second half we gave them the run on us again but we got back level, and I suppose we had a couple of chances after that. It’s disappointing that we didn’t finish them off.
“The game transpired as I had read it beforehand but now that it’s over I do feel we could have won it. They were a little vulnerable after we got the goal and we didn’t expose that well enough. That is something we’re going to have to learn at the year progresses.”
Mayo will reappear next Saturday evening to face Clare in a challenge game in Ballinrobe but their next competitive fixture is at home to Limerick on Sunday, February 25.
Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s team will not be as physically capable or as talented as Donegal but they are dangerous opponents nonetheless. Another Mayo defeat is unthinkable, however. This team doesn’t like to lose.
“We should have driven on,” said O’Mahony. “Second halves always come to the juncture when you need to kick on and the team that succeeds in doing so win. Donegal did it and we didn’t and we’ve got to learn how to put teams away when on top.
“League points are vital and we have four away games this year. We did feel this was a game to target to get something out of on the road. I would have been happy enough with a draw here at the end but we are disappointed because we are putting a huge effort in. We were always going to have setbacks in 2007 and this is one.”
Away days in February tell teams a lot about themselves. How they respond to adversity and how they react to defeats like this are hugely informative ahead of the bright, summer Sundays. With that in mind, the statistic that four of the starting six forwards were replaced before the end is illuminating.
“I suppose we just don’t have a rhythm in the forwards as yet but also it about seeing players,” explained O’Mahony. “We’ve seen 23 or 24 players now and it’s a learning curve, for management too. We want to see guys as things move on. Fellas who show something in trials and training dictate the pecking order and it does change from game to game.
“Aidan Campbell came in there and he’s one, for example, who will have to get a longer game to express himself. In a game like that you hope something will happen for you in a ten or fifteen minute spell because for 50 minutes I suppose it hasn’t happened as much as we’d have liked.
“We won most of the midfield battle to be honest and very little would have changed in strategy but there are a few things tactically that didn’t work as well as they should have and everyone has to look at themselves. We (management) have to look at the overall performance, players have to look at what they did and didn’t do and how they can improve for the next day. We have to move on and upwards hopefully.”