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Mayo must get off to good start

Sean Rice
Mayo’s longest-serving footballer, James Nallen, is pictured in action against New York in the Connacht Championship five years ago.

Mayo must get off to good start

Sean RiceSean Rice

IS this journey ever to be fulfilled?  Is Mayo football forever destined to languish in the half-light of the mediocre; out there on the cliff of a dream, hanging on, but never quite able to lug itself over the top.
For more than half a lifetime those questions have bothered more than this writer on the eve of championship. Will they do it, you ask yourself? And you know that, realistically, nothing they have produced in the run-up suggests that they will, that this time next year it will be any different.
Yet, deep down, some sort of rogue rationale tends to resist all this pessimism. You see new faces and you look to the positives, the minors and the under 21s . . . the future. Maybe this time it will be different. A new captain is appointed. Maybe Trevor Mortimer is the man to guide Mayo up that winding road to the top.
That’s the dream, the aspiration. Reality commences on Sunday in New York when Mayo cross the Atlantic to take on the ex-pats in the opening round of the Connacht campaign.
Nobody expects Mayo to lose and, like Mayo’s quest for Sam, a welter of dreamers in the Big Apple look to that day when some Connacht team will come and falter in Gaelic Park, and all their work and the work of those who have gone before them will have been realised.
Allowing for whatever adversity might befall them, we can say with some confidence that Mayo will pull through this one. While they are to a degree venturing into the unknown they are most unlikely to stumble on foreign soil. No other county has. Mayo should be no different.
Respect for the opposition is of course an imperative. Mayo can’t afford to be cavalier. New York will be treated as any other opposition, as if they were Kerry or Tyrone or Galway . . . seriously and with regard for the magnificent work of the Gaels in the Big Apple. Whatever standard Mayo set will scarcely become a yardstick for the games ahead. But here, no more than any other game, no room exists for complacency.
Five years ago New York hosted the same county, and Mayo made the journey with gnawing reservations about their chances. They came away with a big win to which Conor Mortimer contributed 1-12. That same year they reached the All-Ireland final.
A determined effort is being made by the ex-pats to prevent a defeat of that extent on this occasion. Rigorous preparations commenced in February, and Donegal’s Martin McHugh was drafted in to put a bit of side on the players.
A relentless practitioner in his playing days, McHugh was player of the year for 1992. His practice included a hundred frees a day. Before every important game the Donegal man would take a bag of balls to a field in the morning and kick from every angle. He trained and managed his club team, Kilcar, to two county championships and managed Cavan for two years.
His advice will not be lost on New York, and having attended Mayo’s league match with Donegal at Letterkenny, McHugh won¹t be shy in apprising them of Mayo¹s weaknesses.
There are four Mayo players on the New York side — Robert Moran of Moy Davitts, Dermot Keane of Knockmore, Declan Reilly who once togged out with Castlebar, and John McNicholas of Kiltimagh. Three of those who lined out with London last year will also be included in the team.
John O’Mahony and his team fly out on Thursday and attend a banquet on Friday night from which his charges will have plenty of time to recover before taking the first step in another championship.
The manager will be hoping for a better start than Mayo provided in most of their league matches. This after all is the real stuff. How they perform could determine players’ places on the first fifteen for the championship.
No one will want to treat it as anything other than a serious test of character. And while they may not get it as easy as some suggest, no one at home is expecting anything other than their passage to the semi-final.
Meanwhile, unlike their last trip to the city that never sleeps, Mayo will spend no time training in the Catskill Mountains after the exertions of Sunday’s venture. Athletes the world over are known to have drawn on the inspirational powers of the Catskills in preparing for great contests.
Curiously, the Catskills are best known for a folk tale written by Washington Irving about Rip Van Winkle who lived in the shadow of the famous mountains as a hapless layabout.
As the story goes, Van Winkle went into the mountains to escape his henpecking wife, ran into the merry ghosts of New York’s first Dutch explorers and, after being plied with fine Dutch ale, woke up alone in the mountains 20 years later.
Could Mayo have encountered those ghosts sometime in the past?


THE appointment of Trevor Mortimer as captain for the coming year is an honour well due to a man who has long set an example in terms of work and industry on the field of play, and who has suffered for his courage with injuries that kept him out of important contests for Mayo.
Trevor has given sterling service to Mayo since he first donned a jersey as a minor in 1997 and it would be no more than the Shrule man deserves to have his tenure crowned with at least a Connacht title.
His brother Kenneth captained the team in 1999. Now that Trevor has the stripes, the flint of his tackles might help to ignite his colleagues to greater endeavour throughout the coming months.


IT is no great brag for Castlebar Mitchels to have beaten Aghamore on Saturday. But after humiliating defeats by Claremorris and Ballintubber, their two-point victory, the first of the league, bore signs of a Castlebar side on the mend.
Two men made a big difference: Barry Moran, back after a recurring hamstring problem, was hugely effective at full-forward in the first half, and Pat Kelly, their new signing from St Vincents in Dublin and Kilmaine, at centre-half forward.
Moran was at the core of a spirited and constructive spell in the first half after Aghamore had taken a shock lead in the 9th minute, and Kelly led them out of a dark corner in the second half after Aghamore wiped out a seven-point deficit inside five minutes.
But the men from the east made them sweat, and for a while in the second half had them on the run. A goal each by Sean Óg Robinson and talisman Alan Freeman, together with a similar score in the first half by Liam Groarke against the run of play, warn of a defence in need of restructuring.
Without Kelly, better known as a defender, they might not have survived. In building attacks in the first half, in particular, Castlebar were impressively positive, but a rickety defence offset much of their good work. And when their half-time lead of seven points disappeared under that Aghamore avalanche, it was Kelly with the help of Aidan Walsh who charted the way forward.
Aghamore lost the midfield battle. But they could have made a better fist of things if they had not allowed the Mitchels to win almost all of the broken ball. It revealed inexperience at senior level.
They have big, effective men up front led by Simon McGuinness and Alan Freeman and with greater experience at the top level they will pose problems for the best of teams.

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