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Mayo facing more heartbreak on journey to Sam Maguire

Straight talking analysis on the big issues in Gaelic Games by Declan Bogue


Stunned: Mayo’s Colm Boyle after last year’s final in which he scored an own goal

Stunned: Mayo’s Colm Boyle after last year’s final in which he scored an own goal

©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Stunned: Mayo’s Colm Boyle after last year’s final in which he scored an own goal

Away from the football, away from the cones, the drills, the GPS trackers, the selection meetings, the What's App groups, the soggy days in Belmullet, the Championship haircuts, the skinny tracksuit bottoms, the video clips of your upcoming opponent and the four litres of water daily.

Away from all that, everyone is in thrall to Mayo. Even, in some cases especially, Dublin folk.

And why wouldn't you be?

Last Sunday in their extensive coverage for the All-Ireland camogie final between Cork and Kilkenny, the Sunday Independent's chief GAA writer Dermot Crowe referenced the previous year's final between the same two teams. One hook was how a ritual pre-match handshake between Hannah Looney of Cork and Kilkenny's Collette Dormer ended up with a pushing and shoving scene. Most un-ladylike or an expression of the warrior spirit is up to your own taste.

Helpful to 'the good of the game' or not, it is little things like this that intrigue the casual sports fan and add to the appeal. People love conflict. People especially love conflict when it is petty, unnecessary and unlikely to end in drastic or unpleasant circumstances, such as bloodshed on a Kill Bill scale.

Just look at last Saturday night's Match of the Day, and the issue over Mark Hughes and Jose Mourinho not engaging in the entirely false post-match handshake. The interviewer left it to the very last query to Hughes and Mourinho to tantalise viewers. Almost as much analysis was given over to that non-event as to the football.

So Mayo, and their never-ending quixotic journey to Sam Maguire, with all the priest's curses, red and green dyed-sheep, and social media take-overs will always be a draw.

Last year, even the BBC's online magazine commissioned a piece to explain how when the victorious 1951 Mayo team returned from winning the All-Ireland, they didn't stop to pay respects to a funeral in Foxford. Whereupon the priest observing the rites placed a curse stating Mayo would not win another All-Ireland until all that team had passed on.

And two players are still hale and hearty, seeing as you are asking.

Real football people, the ones on the ground playing, coaching, managing and selling tickets have no truck with superstition or folklore. They recognise that as well as practically disappearing for the 1960s and '70s as a football force, there are easily explainable reasons why Sam has not rested in the Plain of the Yew Trees.

They have either been walloped, architects of their own misfortune or plainly not good enough.

Until now. You don't take Dublin to two games and lose by a point in last year's final if you are not up to the required standard. So there is no logical reason why Mayo cannot win Sam in 2017.

Can Mayo do it? Well, in an effort to find something original to say about it, we looked back at last year's preview and the text that appeared on these pages.

"Can they win? The answer to that, is a resounding no.

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

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

A week later, we landed back on the same page, trying to find the balance between embarrassment at our level of certainty and the fact that our prediction was still a live issue.

The pay-off line was: "Dublin to win again. With the utmost of hesitation."

Got it right. Just about. Just like Dublin.

The principles of football remain the same, all the time. If you examine the other team, you note who makes the greatest impact and how they do it. Your first job is to prevent it.

Where it gets ridiculous is the terminology used around this. Two seasons ago, everyone was blathering about how to "hammer the hammer" as a couple of Kerry columnists used Páidí ÓSé's old saying in print.

Last year it was all about handling the "transition" (explanation, this is when the other side have the ball).

Whatever way you slice and dice it, nothing annoys a player as much as having an opponent in his face all day. A few weeks back, Tyrone allowed Ciaran Kilkenny a free role to stitch together long periods of play.

Zonal defence and all that to one side, why one of Tyrone's crowded defence could not stand alongside him and make life uncomfortable was simply unforgivable, especially after seeing the joy someone like Paul Murphy has had in the past.

Mayo have the players. They can negate all of Dublin's best players and they have enough talent of their own, especially with Andy Moran enjoying a spectacular Indian Summer, to do enough damage.

They need to avoid the unnatural disasters that routinely befall them at this stage. Own goals are virtually unheard of in Gaelic football. Mayo conceded two in last year's final and still had the strength of character to come back and draw the game.

Here's the thing. A stroke of luck, a refereeing call, or the shower that is due to fall around throw-in time over Croke Park on Sunday might decide the destination of Sam.

Mayo 'can' win. But 'can' is a big word. It's gotta be Dublin again.


Gallagher and Fermanagh chiefs have put it all on the line

The journey back for Rory Gallagher to becoming Fermanagh manager reinforces the old theory of football being a funny old game indeed.

Working in this game, some people are inclined to hang on your word if the conversation turns to Gaelic games.

Oh, don’t worry. I do my best to avoid getting into hot and heavy Gah talk the best I can. When pressed for definitive opinions on the issues of the day, I lean back and be as philosophical as I can, talking around the issue until a sufficient moment to change the subject. The weather usually works.

The reason for this can almost be exclusively wrapped up in my take on the vacant Fermanagh manager’s role. I thought I was on safe ground. Whenever someone suggested the likelihood of Rory Gallagher managing his home county, I hilariously would offer that about seven generations of county board figures would have to retire before Rory would consider it.

Because Rory had his issues with county board officials and managers in the past. So, too, did his brother Ronan.

Sometimes, players like these are seen as trouble. But any time they have been asked to explain their decision, their gripes were rooted in poor standards and their belief that Fermanagh should not have to accept second-best.

Now, Gallagher comes up close and personal and has the chance to see for himself the difficulties and shortcomings he railed against as a player.

Something we should do at this point is acknowledge the road it took to get here.

Gallagher has been brave enough to stake his reputation back in his home county and the county board, while knowing the standards he will demand of them, have had the maturity and humility to listen to serious football people in the county to get a serious coup.

Since the disastrous appointment of John O’Neill at the tail end of 2010, the Erne county have been able to unveil Peter Canavan, Pete McGrath and now Rory Gallagher as managers. That’s some roll call for a county with just 20 football clubs.

With him, Gallagher brings Ryan McMenamin, a softer, Britpop version of the snarling attack dog of his playing days. A multiple All-Ireland winner with Tyrone, but then Fermanagh people have almost become blase about that sort of thing.

More names will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Some exciting, some very exciting if the rumour mill is to be believed.

Belfast Telegraph