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Mind over matter now for Mayo

By John Campbell

It is still said of top-flight footballers who tend to ply their trade in various locations that they can boast more clubs than Jack Nicklaus.

John Morrison could be deemed the managerial equivalent of such players given that he has been in charge of Armagh, Antrim, Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim and Mayo at various stages of his career.

A recognised coaching authority and an innovative thinker in terms of how gaelic football should be played, Morrison has also brought his huge well of knowledge to bear on the club scene where his endeavours have borne fruit with outfits as diverse as Armagh Harps, his 'alma mater', and Donaghmoyne Ladies.

It was during his stint at the helm of operations in Mayo in 2006, alongside Mickey Moran, that Morrison, who lives in Armagh city, became acquainted with the passion that is endemic in Mayo football.

And while he recognises that the fervour, commitment and ambition which bolster the present side will stand them in good stead in Sunday's All Ireland final against Dublin, he is convinced that James Horan's side will have to show inordinate mental strength if they are to end the county's title famine, which stretches back to 1951.

"There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that Mayo have the pace, power and skill necessary to succeed, but on All-Ireland final day players' heads need to be in the right place," declares Morrison.

"Too often in the past Mayo tended to contribute to their own downfall in important matches because they were not mentally strong."

Morrison has watched Mayo's Championship odyssey unfurl with a mixture of satisfaction and admiration, but believes that Dublin will be suitably armed both mentally and physically for Sunday's assignment.

"Mayo have brought a whole new dimension to the All-Ireland championship this year," insists Morrison.

"They have played with flair and skill and they have shown a physical edge when it has been required.

"They have flourished as a team and on an individual front they have players who can hold their own with the very best."

It was in beating Donegal and Tyrone that Mayo showed their true worth in the eyes of most people given that reservations had been expressed about perceived frailties in their make-up prior to both games.

"Yes, Mayo had questions to answer in both those games and they did that effectively, but Dublin will be a massive hurdle for them," said Morrison.

Yet he believes the very fact that they are in an All-Ireland final once again underlines their character.

"Look what happened to Mayo in last year's All-Ireland final against Donegal," Morrison goes on. "They shipped a goal in the opening minute, then looked to be all over the show yet they only lost the game by four points.

"Now here they are back in the final having been even more impressive in getting this far.

"You would have to say that this takes a lot of physical commitment and mental strength, but Mayo will need to lift both these attributes to the next level if they are to beat Dublin."

Morrison's attention to detail is legendary and it's no surprise that this extends to an encyclopedic knowledge of the current Mayo squad.

"I tend to follow the fortunes of any team I have been involved with and stay in touch with them," he said.

"And I'm happy to say that I have a wonderful relationship with Mayo. They are great people who love their football and many there will die happy if their team should win on Sunday.

"I worked with players like Alan Dillon (below), Andy Moran, Richie Feeney, Keith Higgins, David Clarke and others who are in the current squad and they were just brilliant to be involved with.

"At that time players like Ger Cafferkey, Alan Freeman and others now in the side were beginning to make their mark in the under-age sector and I just knew that they would make a big impact at senior level."

While Morrison subscribes to the theory that manager James Horan has 're-invented' Mayo, he is still wary of the threat that the Dubs will pose.

"From before a ball was kicked in the Championship virtually everyone in the country had them (Dublin) tipped to win 'Sam' this year. While Mayo's march into the final has been impressive, I don't think that it has altered this belief. That's why Mayo will need the performance of their lives and a powerful show of mental strength and awareness if they are to win," urges Morrison.

"And they must guard against indiscipline.

"Any lapse on this front could prove absolutely fatal, there is no doubt about that.

"They cannot afford to make some of the mistakes that they made in the past when the chips were down."

Belfast Telegraph

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