Belfast Telegraph

Brave effort to reach Sam decider, but it is a year too early for Mayo

On the rise: Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and Stephen Rochford celebrate victory over Tyrone in the quarter-final
On the rise: Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and Stephen Rochford celebrate victory over Tyrone in the quarter-final
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

It was the night of last year's All-Ireland final that the story of Mayo 2016 was born. Or, at the very least, conceived.

Don't attach overt symbolism to the date. A players' letter to the county board expressing a motion of no confidence in the management team of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes would have actually been delivered a week earlier, only they were aware that Connelly was out of the country.

It took the group a mere week to act on feelings that only grew stronger as the season went on. Say what you want, but you have to admire their certainty and unity of purpose. If there was a dark night of the soul, it must have been just the one night.

The definition of 'heave' is 'to raise or lift with effort or force; hoist'.

For players who had just taken the eventual (and comfortable) All-Ireland champions to a replay, providing them with their greatest test of the year, it took effort, it took force. Add to that decisiveness and determination.

For those who wonder how 'player power' is so prevalent in the GAA, it is rooted in their amateur status.

Simply put, inter-county football and hurling takes over several strands of a player's life; practically all their leisure time, affecting relationships, work and family. When you get a highly-motivated group of men together and they can't see their ambition being matched by others, rebellion is inevitable.

There are quite a few great heaves of our time to offer up as evidence.

Cork alone have spilled a lot of blood on Leeside, with three player strikes centring on their county board's lack of willingness to cede important decisions to team management.

Closer to home, we have Cavan's revolt against Liam Austin before the calendar year of 1999 got under way in earnest, and the Fermanagh footballers abandoning ship en masse during a miserable 2011 campaign that ended in defeat to London in the qualifiers.

The footballers of Mayo could not have waited. They watched what was a 'High-Performance Unit' under James Horan erode, while they didn't feel the same warmth and respect from the new management.

This November, Andy Moran and David Clarke turn 33. Alan Dillon will reach that age two weeks from now. Keith Higgins (left) is 31.

Time is running out, so a work-to-rule policy this season was not an option. In doing so, they knew it would initially be extremely unpopular. Judging by the reception they have received in recent weeks after Croke Park wins, it was only fleeting.

How this group must envy other counties who have succession plans and broad ideas of where their footballing philosophy is going.

Instead, they had to put themselves out there. In serving the papers in late September 2015, it gave enough time to get a suitable replacement in Stephen Rochford, who arrived just the right side of December.

To do that shows oodles of leadership, which produces results like in 2011 (Cork), 2012 (Dublin) and 2013 (Donegal), when they beat the previous year's All-Ireland winners. Since then, they have taken the eventual champions to a semi-final replay - Kerry in 2014 and Dublin last year.

That unfair and ludicrous tag of 'losers'? Yeah, sure. But for a referee's decision here and there, they would already be All-Ireland champions.

Down in Westport two weekends ago, this correspondent noticed an alarming lack of hype.

Talking to another Ulsterman who landed in Louisburgh this week, he reported the same. Hardly any flags out, in a county that is supposed to go mad.

Has the 'Mayo for Sam' glorious madness just migrated online? Is the hype just a media creation, with the Western People's 72-page and the Mayo News' 64-page supplements? Either way, the players will not be affected.

Now, can the side who knocked out Tyrone in the quarters win? The answer to that is a resounding no.

And the reason is that they are just not playing well enough. Rochford and Tony McEntee are getting it right, but it will not be enough in time for Sunday's decider against Dublin.

If there is to be 'Mayo's Year', it will be 2017. Can the veterans hang on that long?

Belfast Telegraph


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