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Mayo’s under 21 title drought ‘not a crisis’

Sport

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE  Adam Gallagher is pictured in action for Mayo during the 2014 FBD Connacht League. Pic: Sportsfile

Adam Gallagher reflects on his Mayo under 21 experiences

Interview
Mike Finnerty

HAVING played three championship campaigns with the Mayo under 21 footballers, with just a single victory over Leitrim to show for his efforts, Adam Gallagher is more qualified than most to talk about the county’s bad run of performances and results in recent years.
The talented Mayo Gaels forward also captained Mayo for both the 2014 and 2015 Connacht championships, so was in the vanguard when Roscommon and Galway proved too good in successive seasons.
Next Saturday a Mayo team is appearing in a Connacht under 21 football final for the first time in seven years.
Since that April Saturday in 2009 when a Tom Parsons-captained side beat Sligo at Markievicz Park, Mayo under 21 sides have only won three championship games (two of them against Leitrim, and one against Galway).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that successive groups of Mayo footballers have been left scarred by their under 21 experiences over the last six seasons; beaten four times by Roscommon and twice by Galway before the serious business had even started in Connacht.
Some would even say that Mayo’s miserable run in the under 21 championship constitutes a ‘crisis’.
Adam Gallagher has got a very different take on things.
“There’s definitely no crisis,” he told The Mayo News last week.
“For players and supporters and the county in general, of course it’s always nice to have silverware at the end of a season. We’re as sick as anybody when we don’t.
“But I believe that it doesn’t really matter if you go out in the first round or end up as All-Ireland champions, as long as players benefit and improve while they’re under 21.
“Things might not have been pretty for Mayo in terms of performances and results over the last few years, but some very good players have still come through.
“There’s still a huge effort going in to try and become better players and make the step-up from minor to under 21 to senior. It’s a big step to take, and making players better able to play senior for Mayo has to be the main objective.”
Gallagher arrived into Tony Duffy’s Mayo under 21 set-up in 2013 on the back of an impressive stint with the county minors.
His first championship season was over after sixty minutes when Galway ground out a 0-9 to 0-7 win in Tuam.
A year later and Roscommon handed Mayo an eleven-point hammering in Castlebar, ending Niall Heffernan’s debut season as manager on the opening night.
Last year, a landmark win over Leitrim was followed by a disappointing semi-final display against Galway and a 1-12 to 0-11 defeat.
“Looking back on the three years, there’s definitely a sense of ‘what could have been’,” mused Gallagher.
“The standard in Connacht is very high, just trying to get out of Connacht is a major hurdle. “In 2013 we lost to Galway by two points and they went on to win the All-Ireland.
“In 2014, against Roscommon, anything that could have gone wrong went wrong. They went all the way to the All-Ireland final.
“Last year we felt we were very well-prepared and that we could go a long way. But Galway were too good for us on the day.
“Players will always have an expectation that we, as a footballing county, should be up there with everybody else.
But the results over the last five or six years just haven’t been good enough.
“There’s no one thing, one reason, that I could put my finger on from my experience at under 21,” he added.
“We certainly wouldn’t have felt any extra pressure from not having won a match or a Connacht title from the previous year.”
The statistics still make worrying reading for Mayo.
Without a victory over Roscommon at this grade since the aforementioned 2009 season, and coming off four successive defeats to the Rossies in the Connacht under 21 championship, Michael Solan’s charges are trying to break new ground next weekend.
Adam Gallagher believes past performances will be irrelevant.
“From a Mayo perspective, even if you’ve lost to certain opposition a number of times, you’d never feel that team had a hoodoo on you,” he offered.
“The opposition might feel they have nothing to fear, or may take confidence from it, but it never affected my attitude from a Mayo perspective.
“I’d acknowledge that the Roscommon team that beat us would be good footballers, but I wouldn’t fear them.
“The likes of the 2013 and 2014 Mayo minors, who would have had some success, would have no reason to fear Roscommon either.”
Adam Gallagher is well-known as a young man who thinks deeply about his football, and is extremely proud to have represented Mayo at minor, under 21, junior and senior level.
It’s fascinating to hear the NUI, Galway journalism student reflect on his three seasons at under 21 level, and outline what he took from the whole experience.
“From a results and performance point of view, it certainly wasn’t very enjoyable most days we played championship,” he admitted.
“But in terms of representing your county, and improving as a footballer, and building relationships with team-mates, it was very enjoyable.
“I’d love to have won Connacht titles and All-Irelands like previous Mayo players.
“My two years at minor weren’t particularly successful either, but we did play in an All-Ireland semi-final [in 2012] without winning a Connacht title.
“But not having won those titles doesn’t make you feel in any way inferior though, not at all. It certainly doesn’t hold me back anyway.”

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