No retreat, no surrender
YOU could almost hear the collective groan of resignation escaping from every corner of the county at the news that Mayo were drawn to meet Cork in the quarter-finals of the championship. Anyone but Cork, it suggested.
It is to be hoped no similar sentiment seeped through the ranks of the men who will be facing the All-Ireland champions at the weekend.
General belief throughout the country is that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Based not only on current form but also on the overall results of their championship meetings with Mayo down the years, Cork are seen as clear favourites to renew their rivalry with Kerry in the semi-final . . . and Mayo doomed to further failure outside the province.
But it does not have to be like that, and if Mayo footballers adopt a similar attitude they are beaten before they take the field. The game is there to be won, and if Mayo play with the same spirit with which they entered the Connacht final they will make Cork sweat.
There are those who decry Mayo¹s credentials, who have written them off as a team of failures when they leave the province. It is as if they are not worthy Connacht champions, that in some peculiar way they are not entitled to mix in such distinguished company as the All-Ireland champions; in short, they are out of their depth.
One so-called ‘analyst’, well known for his intemperate language, has already stated that Cork will wipe the floor with Mayo.
There is, however, more to this Mayo than the woeful conditions Hyde Park revealed. Good football was impossible on that day of high wind and rolling mists. Similar conditions greeted them in the semi-final against Galway at McHale Park. On a dry sod they will be a better side.
To be sure, little enough hope was flagged for Mayo within their own county after the Ruislip fiasco. But through the debris of that performance a nugget of leadership was detected. When it looked as if they would fail to shrug off London’s obstructive tentacles, Andy Moran and Alan Dillon showed the way.
Against Galway and Roscommon the captain and vice-captain also demonstrated those leadership qualities, and they will be called on again to lift Mayo’s standing in general estimation when they trot onto Croke Park at the weekend.
In their league joust last April they beat Cork by two points, a victory that preserved their Division 1 status. But you can’t read too much into it, and the Munster men will be a different kettle of fish on this occasion.
They have not met in the championship since 2002, which was also at the quarter-final stage. Cork won then by three points, but apart from Nicholas Murphy and Graham Canty, who occupy the fringes of the present side, there is little resemblance between then and now.
What has not changed in Cork is their pursuit of big men. They have strong mobile players in every sector.
Mayo’s only connection with the side of 2002 is their manager James Horan who lined out on that occasion at corner forward. But most of the present side will have experienced Cork’s power in their league clash three months ago.
In many positions Mayo will equal them on Sunday, and especially at midfield where Aidan and Seamus O’Shea are a match for any pair, and in the forward line where Dillon and Moran will lead with confidence, but will expect a greater input from Alan Freeman, Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin . . . and snappier swoops for the breaking ball.
The backs will find the probing and long ball accuracy of Goulding (if fit), O’Neill and Donnacha O’Connor difficult to contain. Against Down they were devastating.
It is essential that the Feeneys, Tom Cunniffe, Keith Higgins and Donal Vaughan and Trevor Mortimer hold their heads as the Cork men probe for weaknesses, especially in the opening minutes, with the cocky confidence that being favourites begets.
What Mayo people want of their team is a performance of which they will be proud, with no dropping of heads and no thought of surrender. They want a team with a bit of passion, working themselves to the bone, each Mayo man challenging every ball with the confidence that he is no less talented than the man opposing him. That’s all James Horan wants from his men . . . and he is entitled to expect it.
DOWN MEMORY LANE
1950: THE YEAR SAM MAGUIRE CAME HOME
A GREAT great brotherhood was how Tom Acton, a member of the panel, described the atmosphere in the training camp for the blossoming of Mayo in 1950.
Gerald Courell and Jackie Carney, uncle of former Mayo star Martin Carney, conducted the training in Ballina and Castlebar, but they had no input into team selections.
In Ballina the players stayed in Mrs Gormons. “We started out each morning with Mass at which Tom Langan would usually make a big yawn,” said Tom Acton.
“Afterwards we went for a big walk around Beleek, followed by some training, a couple of hours rest and more training where the six backs would play the six forwards. We did short sprints, a few laps of the field, leap-frogs, push-ups. And we had plenty of poker sessions and ‘25’.
There was no weight training. “No need for it, everyone was fit that time and in good shape,“ said Joe Staunton.
Television had yet to arrive, publicity was low key, and there were no pre-match press nights.
All were in bed at 11pm.
After beating Roscommon by six points in Connacht, Mayo accounted for Armagh in the semi-final by 3-9 to 0-6, a match distinguished by the brilliance of Padraig Carney.
“When Carney really opened out and began to play football, nobody could live with him,” said Eamonn Mongey. This was one of his great performances.
Louth, who had beaten Kerry in the other semi-final, provided the opposition on All-Ireland day on a wet and greasy pitch and with a sodden leather ball.
No visible sign of uncertainty shadowed a Mayo face in the pre-match parade picture; no betrayal of what psychological damage another All-Ireland final defeat might inflict.
Heads high and all in step behind Flanagan, march Carney, Mongey, Quinn etc, a compelling picture of composure and self-assurance.
Mongey said the best ten minutes football ever seen from any defender on All-Ireland day, was played by Sean Flanagan that day.
They were leading 1-3 to 0-1 when brilliant centre-forward Billy Kenny broke a leg. While being removed by stretcher, Kenny waved an arm in what Flanagan called a gesture of courage, and shouted . . . ‘don’t give in lads’.
But Mayo struggled to regain their rhythm. “Nothing could compensate for his loss,” said Flanagan . . . “and we did not score again for thirty-five minutes.”
In the end a brilliant goal by Mick Flanagan tipped the balance . . . the move plotted earlier by him and Tom Langan.
Langan won possession out near the ‘forty’. At the same time Flanagan sprinted forward, collected Langan’s lob and in a blur of speed left defenders in his wake before punching the ball to the net . . . his momentum carrying him over the goal line.
It was widely believed that Flanagan over carried the ball. Commenting on the disappointment of 1948, Eamonn Mongey said that “considering all the swings and roundabouts it has to be admitted that Mick Flanagan took more than three steps scoring Mayo’s goal in 1950.”
Who cared? Sam was back in Mayo.