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Vaughan always gave his all

Sport

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN Donie Vaughan lifts the cup after Mayo’s win over Kerry in the 2019 Allianz Football League Division 1 Final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

THE New Year wasn’t even three days old when we learned of the latest departure from the Mayo squad we’ve got to know and admire for more than a decade.
My last couple of years on the Mayo panel overlapped with Donie Vaughan’s first couple of seasons in there. Back then, in 2009 and 2010, I was mentally feeling what Donie has probably been feeling in the last year or 18 months.
You’re wondering will your body hold up to the demands of senior inter-county football? Can you reach the heights in terms of your personal best performances again? And is it as important to you as maybe it was five or six years earlier?
I have no doubt that Donie Vaughan has been thinking about those things a lot over the last while with a new baby being born six weeks ago, and the responsibilities and joy that brings.
Donie was a young player that I liked and got on well with when we played together.
And it was clear and obvious from the very start that he was very driven, and keen to improve. He attacked every training session with a smile on his face and a determination to be the best that he could be. And he was relentless.
Even at that young age — he was only 21 when John O’Mahony brought him into the senior squad — I could see that in him. He was relentlessly trying to improve his game, his fitness levels and his physique. That’s something that this group of players have brought to a new level in Mayo football over the last decade, and has resulted in them being so consistent.
That mentality and desire to improve was very obvious in Donie from the early days.
It’s to his credit, and one of the main reasons why I felt that he was such a key member of the Mayo team that developed over the last decade.
I’d put him in the same bracket as lads like Barry Moran, Seamie O’Shea, Chris Barrett, Jason Doherty and Tom Parsons. They may not be seen as the ‘big stars’ but they have played huge roles in what Mayo have done, winning seven Connacht championships, playing in six All-Ireland Finals, and winning a National League.
I have no doubt that Donie was hugely important in terms of setting that culture and instilling that desire to improve within the squad, and to new players who joined them.
The sort of tough edge, to be abrasive, to not take a step back, to physically and energetically put opponents on the back-foot. You can think of some of the great attributes that Donie Vaughan had in his game; that athleticism and ability to drive forward with the ball, and really hurt teams from the half-back line.
I think the lasting impression he will leave on the Mayo squad though will be in terms of setting that culture and being a good team-mate in that close-knit group.
And of how he delivered big performances in so many big games; in Connacht Finals, All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals, not to mention goals I can remember him scoring against Galway and Donegal on great championship days for Mayo.
His goalscoring celebrations weren’t bad either!
The ups and downs
THE reality is that very few of us get to finish our inter-county careers the way we want to.
Some people, when they think of the latter stages of Donie Vaughan’s Mayo career, will think of the sending-off in the 2017 All-Ireland Final.
I’ll be honest, it’s not what I think of. But I’m sure Donie thinks about it more often than I do, and maybe he feels he could have done things differently. But I know that his team-mates, when they think of the contribution that he made to the team over the last ten years, will not automatically go to that incident either.
They will talk about his loyalty, encouragement, friendship, camaraderie, culture setting, as well as all his football ability and attributes he brought to every game and training session. That’s what they will reflect back on. And now that Donie has retired, maybe it’s the right time to put that 2017 red card to one side, once and for all. And for Mayo supporters to appreciate just how important he was to this group over his 12 seasons with the team.
Because he was one of the key foundation stones that Mayo’s success was built on, even though he was probably unheralded at national level.
I  haven’t met Donie too often since we stopped playing together, but he was always very mentally strong. And I’m sure that whatever some people may think about what happened in that All-Ireland Final a few years ago, he’ll be able to brush it off.
He’s intelligent, resilient and mentally tough.
Obviously, his transfer from Ballinrobe to Castlebar Mitchels was something that drew a lot of attention at the time a few years ago too. Speaking as somebody who transferred from Belmullet to Carrickcruppen in Armagh, I know we all have to make personal decisions sometimes for specific reasons.
But that move probably didn’t make things any easier for Donie. Mitchels haven’t won a county title in the last few years but, again, I’m sure he’s well able to deal with all of that.
The last twelve months must have been very difficult for him from a football perspective.
He didn’t play with Mayo all through 2020 because of a number of different injuries, and he knows better than anybody that his game is all about physicality, energy and being super-fit. He knows now that it’s going to be hard for him to get back to that level again at 32 years of age and knowing the demands of being a parent and running your own business as well.
He just might not be able to devote the time to it anymore, and that his body may not be able to sustain the training load required to get back to the levels he was at five or six years ago.
The reality is too that there comes a time in your life when you just don’t want to be devoting the amount of time required to play county football at the expense of your family time. I know that from my own experience.
One of the things that caught my eye in his statement was that it was specifically addressed to his team-mates, or his ex team-mates now. That tells you a lot about the character and motivation of the man. Inside that group, he was a central figure in them being tightly-knit and striving so hard to try and achieve what they achieved. And at the same time not worried about any outside influences or concerns.
He knows he has the backing of the players that he soldiered with for years, and that’s all that matters to him. I’d like to thank Donie for his service and commitment to Mayo over 12 seasons. He left everything he had on the field, and we can’t ask for anything more.

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