A DIFFERENT VIEW London and Mayo supporters watch the match between Mayo and London from the top of a JCB at Ruislip in 2006. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
I KNOW from experience that you can be switched on for games like next Sunday, and pay London all the lip service in the world, but the reality is that you pay them no respect.
You expect to beat them.
I know that sounds disrespectful, but it’s the way it is.
As a player, you just want this game to be over.
I didn’t enjoy the championship game I played in London.
Everything was rushed. It was a job of work unlike any other match I played. From the minute we left Ireland until the minute we got back, we were rushing constantly.
At least with New York, you have a few days to kill before the game, and you get a chance to adjust to your surroundings.
Mayo teams don’t have that luxury with the London trip.
You fly in the day before, the game is on top of you before you know it, and then it’s always a rush to make the flight home.
To be fair to the County Board over the years, you couldn’t justify the expense of staying in London for even one extra night. So it’s fair enough having a quick turnaround.
But it didn’t make it any more enjoyable to be jumping from a plane to a bus and on to a plane again inside 24 hours!
I seem to recall the Mayo squad nearly missed their flight back in 2011. And if they’d lost that day, they probably would have been happy enough to let the plane home without them!
Honestly, the only thing Mayo will want from Sunday’s game is to win it fairly comfortably.
They know more than anybody than the real championship only starts for them on Saturday, June 18 against Galway.
Next Sunday is a no-win situation for Stephen Rochford and his players. A six or seven point win would make it relatively comfortable, but even if they win by twenty-six or twenty-seven points, the game and the experience bears no resemblance to the rest of the championship.
The manager is bound to be a bit nervous next weekend, it’s his first championship game as manager.
He will want the whole thing to be low-key; no fuss, no drama, nothing out of the ordinary. The last thing Rochford will want coming back from London is headlines because Mayo nearly got caught. Or worse!
Get in, get out, get it done. That’s the bottom line.
There’s been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about the 2011 match when Mayo had to go to extra-time to beat London in Ruislip. But the Mayo squad of today is unrecognisable from the group of players that nearly crashed and burned over there five years ago.
Back then, Mayo weren’t mentally ready for something as extraordinary as the London ‘experience’ and the whole occasion (or lack of it) obviously got to them.
That mental toughness and readiness is the hardest thing to get right when you’re flying over to play a team three divisions below you in the National League.
But Mayo are in a completely different place now, individually and collectively. Just take Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor for example.
Lee didn’t start against London five years ago but is now a three-time All Star and one of the best half-backs in the game. Cillian, who was just out of minor, came on as a sub.
He’s been Young Footballer of the Year twice since, won an All Star, and is now one of Gaelic football’s biggest scorers.
Collectively, they’ve acquired so much know-how and nous over the last five seasons. The consistency they’ve shown to win five Connacht titles in a row is nothing short of incredible.
Mayo teams have never been consistent. They’ve always fluctuated between great highs and terrible lows.
I often wonder what people made of the Mayo team I played on in the 2000s? Being kind to us, they probably said they ‘didn’t know what to expect’.
We reached All-Ireland Finals in 2004 and 2006, but we just weren’t able to enjoy any sort of consistent success.
This current group of players are successful because they do the basics better than their predecessors and are mentally stronger. They also work harder, every day they go out.
My advice for Mayo fans? Have a great weekend!
A FEW things stick out in my mind from our 2006 trip to London for the Connacht Championship quarter-final.
I remember we stayed in the Crowne Hotel in Cricklewood, which also happened to be where most of the Mayo fans were booked in for the weekend.
The night before the game, I’ll never forget Ciaran McDonald up on the table in the room our medical team and massuese were using to look after players who needed rubs.
There were men, women and children queuing up at the door to get a look at MacD. The queues for the rest of us were a lot shorter!
I was carrying a knock myself that weekend but came on as a sub’ in a game where we struggled to get going, and won without setting the world on fire.
I’ll always remember the surreal experience of being able to see all the faces behind the wire around the field, and being able to make relations and people from home I knew.
Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often in county games!
Neither does a situation arise where the smell of burgers is so strong during the game that it almost drives you to distraction. I cursed that barbecue at times that day!
I’ve always loved London as a city so my advice for the Mayo fans going over next weekend would be, go and enjoy yourselves. Meet your friends and relations, enjoy the day at Ruislip, but don’t read too much into the game.
I think Mayo will get the job done, one way or another, but there are much bigger challenges ahead.