EARLY February, Mayo beat Kerry and Maurice Deegan’s final whistle sparks a pretty major pitch invasion. The willingness of Mayo supporters to be forever optimistic is clearly apparent. September, for many present, would seem to have been a world away.
Davids Heaney and Brady are well used to the treatment table after games, as they walk off on Sunday the only treatment they’ll be likely to need is that for writer’s cramp. Both spend close to 20 minutes signing hundreds of jerseys and programmes as excitable kids and, often, just as excitable parents, swarm the field.
John O’Mahony is a busy man too. First he is escorted to the TG4 cameras positioned, somewhat cruelly for him, pretty much as far from the tunnel to the dressing rooms as is possible on the McHale Park pitch.
Handshakes, back-slaps and signatures galore later, he finally pleads to be let past the last few eager autograph hunters and into the confines of the tunnel. “The rest of ye will have to come around the dressing rooms afterwards, the players will be gone if I don’t hurry up.”
As he made his way up the tunnel, people around the ground were, in jest, mentioning the All-Ireland. However, O’Mahony is keen to concentrate on the relativity of the victory.
“We all know the passion in the support. But I think the main message to get out of this is that this doesn’t eradicate anything that happened in the All-Ireland final. Anyone who thinks differently would be foolish really. There’s an awful lot of hard work ahead of us and an awful lot of things that we have to solve,” he stressed as he made his way back to the dressing rooms.
Still, this time of year is about progress – not huge amounts, necessarily, but some tangible progress all the same. O’Mahony points to the hunger shown by Mayo as one positive.
“I felt that the team who had the stomach for it in the second half was always going to win it. We showed that stomach. I felt that we were a little tentative in the first half and that we didn’t take the game to them as much as we would have liked.
”Our lads have worked very hard over the last number of weeks. In fairness, and all due respects to Kerry, it would be very hard for them, where they’ve come from, to be as ready. Fair dues to our lads, they did the business in the second half and the goal killed off the game,” added O’Mahony.
The substitution of Austin O’Malley after 41 minutes raised a few eyebrows around the ground but the manager was keen to point out the logic behind it.
“With this new zero tolerance with the referees we had to be very careful today and even Austin O’Malley’s substitution, the word was that he was going to be sent off if he committed another foul. So that’s why we made the change there. It’s about getting the balance right (with refereeing). We have to get our tackling right, the GAA has to get the refereeing right and hopefully somewhere along the way we will get it right,” explained O’Mahony.
Mayo sent out a relatively strong starting 15 and was reasonably happy with how some of the players tried out in new positions in the FBD League managed the step up to National League standard.
“There’ll be lots more of experiments. Some of the things that we tried today didn’t work as well as we would have liked and some others did. Billy Joe (Padden) has done well and James Kilcullen has worked very hard and hopefully, as the league goes on, we’ll be able to try one or two more things as well. As the weeks and months go on some fellas will get stronger in training, others will have dips in form so who’s to say what the strength of the first 15 for the championship will be.”
Championship is what matters after all.