HARD TO WATCH Roscommon manager John Maughan and selector Gerry Fitzmaurice, right, show their dejection in the final minutes of last Sunday's Connacht SFC semi-final at Dr Hyde Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Maughan back to drawing board
JOHN MAUGHAN will have woken up these past few mornings with that old sinking feeling from which he never entirely freed himself while in charge in Mayo.
His Roscommon charges appeared to be well on their way to victory at Hyde Park on Sunday when they enjoyed a six-point lead in the second half.
But once more the Mayo man relived the nightmare of 1996 when Mayo lost a six-point advantage to Meath in the All-Ireland final … as he watched helplessly a similar lead diminish in Hyde Park, and Sligo bounce back to surprise the favourites with a late flourish.
Like Mayo, all Maughan’s championship hopes are now pinned rather insecurely on the qualifiers, and in such company as Donegal, Meath and Armagh there can only be slim hopes of survival.
While Sligo played with conviction and determination, they are unlikely to have Galway over worried about regaining the provincial title, an honour which Sligo last won 32 years ago.
The other shock result was Donegal’s capitulation to Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final at Clones. Favoured by many for the All-Ireland crown, Donegal found the strangling grip of Tyrone’s hunting pack too much for their more plodding style.
Physical strength is no asset when players are not allowed the space in which to operate properly. Tyrone’s tackling units of four and five players stifled every Donegal effort. Successful in the past with similar spoiling tactics, Mickey Harte’s men have re-employed that tackling procedure and look sharp and hungry once more.
In Croke Park, Dublin consigned Meath to the qualifiers in a quality replay. Much more open than the Ulster semi-final, and with flare and commitment, the two made it a hugely enjoyable struggle with Dublin having at last wrung from their play that soul destroying tendency to quit half way through.
So now Mayo are faced with the possibility of facing down one of those defeated sides in unsuitable circumstances. It is a huge handicap to have been without a competitive game since the end of May when they lost to Galway. To maintain the level of fitness they had reached following their league campaign is almost impossible.
Add in the difficulty management is experiencing in having a settled team, their experiments in playing Trevor Mortimer at centre half-back and Ger Brady as wing back and you come to the conclusion that they are fighting a lost cause.
Their difficulties are further compounded by the news that Keith Higgins sustained a broken bone in his wrist while hurling for Mayo at the weekend. One of the county’s most enterprising defenders, the loss of the Ballyhaunis man is likely to force the selectors to forego their present experiments with the defence in order to find a suitable replacement for Higgins, who is almost irreplaceable.
WESTPORT will not recover quickly from that crushing 18-point defeat suffered on their home ground on Sunday. But if they want to prevent similar embarrassment in the future, if they want to compete at the top level, they have got to get serious, and pay greater attention to preparation. Having competed courageously against Charlestown the previous week, their collapse on Sunday was disappointing.
It was not entirely a lack of physical fitness that dragged them to the depths of despair against Crossmolina … although the gulf in fitness was evident throughout the first half. It was their lack of cohesion and their inability to execute simple passes accurately.
They had the right ideas, but not the ability to carry them through. They were too ponderous, too sluggish, and lacked the perception of their opponents. To be fair, they did improve in the second half, but they could not have been worse in the first half.
They have some nice talent, but need encouragement and commitment. Of interest was their introduction of Paddy Hoban in the second half, grandnephew of Tommy Hoban, a member of Mayo’s All-Ireland winning team of 1936.
Crossmolina would have preferred a greater challenge. Big wins might make them look better than they really are, and no team wishes to enter a championship game with the tag of invincibility.
THE spontaneous gesture of Limerick’s manager Richie Bennis in embracing Babs Keating following that pulsating drawn hurling replay at Semple Stadium on Saturday evening seemed to have caught his Tipperary counterpart by surprise.
But it fully reflected the intrinsic values of our national games when opposing managers can display such high-minded sportsmanship after their teams had battled themselves to a standstill for the second time.
Bloodied, but unbowed, the managers exemplified all that is good in great sporting occasions, and even though it is customary for them to exchange congratulations and commiserations in dressing rooms after the important matches, there was something grand and principled in Saturday’s gesture.
It happens all too often in the glare of television cameras perhaps because managers are fearful of giving the wrong impression to their team supporters. Surely, no similar greeting attended the recent Cork/Clare encounter when the players went to war before the match had begun.
Clare manager Tony Considine took on the chin the punishment correctly meted out to his suspended players for their part in that ugly spectacle, and he castigated his county chairman for intimating that Clare might pull out of the championship over the way the players were treated. Not in so many words Considine told the chairman they would take their medicine and get on with it.
Not so, Cork, where every effort was made to have the suspensions lifted and the players exonerated in the face of such damning evidence. Nothing but the full rigours of the rules ought to be applied for those scenes irrespective of the high profile names involved.
The two incidents serve to confirm that managers are no more exempt from the pressures of the big-match day than the players involved. They share equally in the glory, and in the pain of failure. Only the few reach the summit of their ambitions.
One man, a colleague, has had more than his share of time in the sporting shadows. When his hurling ambitions were not fulfilled on the field, John McIntyre – a native of Tipperary, and sports editor of the Connacht Tribune – turned to refereeing.
A couple of years back he penned his thoughts following the defeat of Galway club Clarinbridge whom he had coached.
McIntyre wrote: “Sitting beside an equally glum Mark Kerins on the journey home from Thurles, he was bemoaning his deplorable record in All-Ireland finals. Six appearances – between minor, U21, senior and club – and six defeats.
“Kerins was entitled to despair but his coach, while understanding, was not handing out any sympathy.
“When you have lost four North Tipperary senior finals, a county semi-final, and two Munster finals as a player, three Galway semi-finals, a county final, an All-Ireland Club semi-final, an All-Ireland club final, not forgetting a Leinster semi-final with Offaly, as coach, you become somewhat immune to other tales of hurling heartbreak.”
Years later, he still persists, the indomitable spirit of the man driving him on. McIntyre is the current manager of the Offaly hurling team … still yearning for the break through, still seeking his day in the sun.