Reality check for Mayo GAA as U-21 defeat raises issues
Tony Duffy has learned a lot from his first year as Mayo U-21 manager
MAYO U-21 football manager Tony Duffy believes that the County Board need to take a ‘long-term approach’ and clarify their intentions about the grade in light of the recent disappointing Connacht Championship defeat to Galway.
Speaking exclusively to The Mayo News, Duffy confirmed that he was only appointed to the U-21 post on a one-year term last November and outlined his ‘frustration’ at Mayo’s failure to win their opening game in the competition.
The 0-9 to 0-7 defeat to Galway last month means that Mayo have failed to win a provincial U-21 title since 2009 and Duffy is adamant that things need to change if Mayo are to realise their potential at the grade in the years to come.
Among the Ballintubber coach’s suggestions are: the need to appoint next year’s manager before the start of the Mayo club championship next month; the possibility of a member of the Mayo senior team management taking charge of the U-21 side; and a definite statement from the Mayo GAA Board hierarchy in relation to their ambition for, and approach to, the U-21 football squad.
During the course of a wide-ranging interview, Tony Duffy also said that he believed the U-21 championship needed to be ‘given more respect’ as a development grade for senior footballers of the future.
He began his conversation with The Mayo News discussing the finer details of his team’s reversal to Galway.
MF: How do you feel about the defeat to Galway now that you’ve had three weeks to think about it?
TD: In terms of the game itself, the overwhelming emotion was frustration. We kicked 12 wides, they kicked six, and that was a huge factor in us losing the game.
We had oceans of ball to win it, but weren’t able to score.
If I was told before the match that we’d hold Galway to nine points, I’d have felt we were going to win it with the forwards we had.
The conditions played a part in the low-scoring for both teams. Defensively, I felt we were very good. Galway had hit 1-20 against Sligo and put up 1-17 against Roscommon. They have a good forwardline but we held them to nine scores.
MF: What areas in particular disappointed you about the performance? What were the decisive factors?
TD: I felt we lacked composure in the last ten minutes. Our decision-making on the ball in the final third of the field was questionable.
I’m not blaming the players, you’ll have days like that, people get anxious.
There was a great desire within the team to do well. We were aware of the challenge that Galway presented but, when things looked difficult in the last ten minutes, we got anxious.
Lads pulled the trigger when it wasn’t on and forced things. Why that happened, I don’t know. The lads were in bits after the game.
Another factor was that the game came a week too early for Cillian [O’Connor]. He hadn’t got the game-time in his legs.
It was a savagely physical game, very hard on the legs, and that probably affected his free-taking too.
That was Cillian’s first game in six months.
MF: Were there any comparisons or similarities with previous defeats you were involved in with the Mayo minors?
TD: It reminded me of the Connacht Minor Final last year. That was a very similar experience. We went on to score 0-19 though after that against the reigning All-Ireland champions [Tipperary]. It’s difficult to compare minors and U-21s though.
MF: How has the result affected you in the last few weeks? How would you reflect on the whole experience?
TD: It took me a while to get over it. My whole experience with the U-21s this year has obviously been coloured by what happened in Tuam and it’s hard to know where the U-21 is going.
You can’t realistically prepare a team for championship with lads that have so much other footballing stuff going on.
Okay, it’s the same for everybody, and people will probably say that the best team will end up winning the All-Ireland, but I believe it’s not working.
As a development grade for senior football, it needs to be paid more respect.
MF: How difficult is it to prepare a group of players, many of whom are also involved in colleges and senior squads?
TD: All the different managers have agendas, and that’s fine. I feel for it to work in a county like Mayo, it probably requires somebody from within the senior management to run the U-21s.
That cuts out a layer of management and communication and makes training and challenge games easier to organise.
MF: Was the role anything like you expected?
TD: It’s frustrating. It’s great to have a run of games where you can develop players and work on things as you go along. You can’t really do that with U-21s.
I’ve been involved with county teams for the last four years and worked very hard. If you ask of the U-21s from this year, we did so much good, hard work in terms of tactics, coaching and training. Everything that was within our control was done.
MF: Will you be in charge of the Mayo U-21s next year?
TD: I only committed to one year. I’m undecided at the moment and I’m going to take some time to think about it. I’m back doing some work with Peter Ford in Ballintubber at the moment.
If I was going to go back in, a decision needs to be made by the County Board about how they want to approach U-21.
MF: What do you feel needs to change?
TD: Preparatory work needs to be done by the U-21 management so they need to be in place by the start of the club championship, at the end of May.
They need to know where they stand, where the U-21 team fits in with the County Board in terms of their ambitions and plans for Mayo football.
That needs to be teased out and made clear to everybody.
I believe that a long-term approach needs to be taken.