An empty-handed trip to Omagh

This is a piece I wrote for this week’s Mayo News.

When the League fixtures come out every autumn, I always focus closely on the away matches. I’m based in Dublin so trips to Castlebar for the home ties can often be a bit of a stretch but there’s often plenty of lower hanging fruit in the form of handy away fixtures. Newbridge last Sunday week was a doddle and it didn’t take me too long to conclude that the hundred and a bit miles each way from Dublin to Omagh and back was one that was easily within the compass too.

We set off for Omagh mid-morning, with the intention of catching the Club ’51 pre-match gathering at the Silver Birch Hotel in the town.

Club ’51 is a grassroots Mayo supporters’ association that was formed in the aftermath of last year’s All-Ireland with the aim of improving the atmosphere at Mayo matches.

That’s a laudable goal but already the group has assumed an additional – and equally worthwhile – role of identifying a focal point for Mayo supporters to gather in before away games. The Liffey Arms in Newbridge was heaving with the faithful ahead of the Kildare game and it was the same in the Silver Birch on Sunday, with a large smattering of MO-registered cars already parked up there when we arrived.

Inside the hotel, the Mayo contingent also seemed to be in the majority, those there either playing a hard, pressing game up by the bar or else doing a man-marking job on the floor staff in an attempt to get some food. We opted for the latter role, to be told that our only options were soup and sandwiches or roast beef. The beef went down well and we left licking our chomps hoping that dessert would come in the form of a heart-warming win over Tyrone up the road.

We also came away from the hotel with some intelligence about the Mayo line-up, with the news that David Drake and Diarmuid O’Connor would be starting in place of Brendan Harrison and Darren Coen. I was surprised that in this era of information-overload, the news hadn’t leaked before then. It was reassuring to know, though, that the old-fashioned bush telegraph was still functioning smoothly enough.

It was a handy ten-minute stroll from the hotel to Healy Park. I’d never been there before and it’s an impressive ground – a sensible-sized stand, with no poles obstructing the view out onto what is obviously a well-maintained sod.

The stand was filling up fast when we got there and with the day now clear and bright – the conditions looked perfect for football.

The match itself was, of course, a disappointment. The fixtures have done us no favours this year – in a seven-game league roster, how can it make sense to have to play two away matches first off? But our own underwhelming performance didn’t help.

We failed to capitalise when we were on top and Tyrone didn’t make that mistake when they had the whip-hand. Few of the Mayo crowd I spoke with on the way out were too upset at the result but most also wouldn’t, I reckon, have turned their noses up at a victory either.

Back we got into the car again for the journey home, this time tuning into Midwest online on the mobile to hear Mike Finnerty’s commentary from Croke Park.

Kiltane fought bravely but sadly it wasn’t enough as their dreams, like those of so many All-Ireland final teams from Mayo before them, turned to dust before their eyes. As we made our way back down to Dublin, a cold rain shower suddenly battered the car adding to the already darkening gloom, on what won’t go down as a day to savour for the county’s footballing fraternity.

36 thoughts on “An empty-handed trip to Omagh

  1. Soldier On! 😉

    Lovely atmospheric piece. Not a word about the scintillating football Tyrone played though. As a football fan you just had to stand back and admire it. They say a leopard never changes his spots but Mickey Harte seems to have torn up the blueprint!

  2. I enjoyed that WJ. It is a tough place to get a win even thoughwe have a good record there. They were very good last Sunday and their confidence improved as the game went on. I was not too surprised at the result, We need to be picking up points in the next 3 games. I hate the idea of our last game bring a relegation battle like last year.

  3. Well done Willie Joe on the Article! I seen it on the Mayo News website alright. The MayoGAABlog and its creator is becoming more famous every day!

  4. What are we looking for from Mayo this year in the League? How do we remain sane given the first two results and suffer through what could be a very tough campaign to maintain our 1st Division status? Is not being relegated the most important consideration? I don’t think it is as far as James Horan is concerned. We were very fortunate last year to stay up and if we were relegated we would still have made the AI final. The big picture is the 3rd Sunday in September and being in Croke Park on that day.

    James has a bit of fine tuning to do to ensure that we peak on AI day and not in the quarter final like we did last year. We struggled to beat an average Tyrone in the semi final and when Dublin were there for the taking in the first half we let them off. Like a lot of supporters I was baffled by some of the calls on the sideline last year. James has adopted the bird’s eye view approach this year and is obviously keeping a close watch on the big picture from up in the stand. I am adopting the same approach as looking at every misplaced pass or ball blasted over the bar is a recipe for high blood pressure and I want to be around on the 3rd Sunday.

    So while we are still involved in the business end of the season I am not going to fret about the league. If we win it or get relegated it will have have a similar impact on my approach to the Championship.

    So lets all chill a little and consider the big picture for a change.

    The Kerry game will cheer us all up!

  5. Who is going to win the club matches tomorrow am hoping castle bar and st Vincent’s win another mayo Dublin final what do ye think

  6. Nice piece WJ. Out of curiousity we’re you the guy I met outside the gate with the extra season ticket? As regards the league, I think the last Mayo team to get relegated was the ’96 team.

  7. If I knew the answer to that Cait I would be down at the Bookies placing my bets 🙂
    As regards the winners, I think both matches will be close, but as ever the teams that hold their heads and takes their chances will come out on top.

  8. A great witty piece there Willie Joe, and your description of the action in the Silver Birch was priceless – as all that was missing was the ball. Keep up the good work and more witty bits please….

  9. Galway Exile made a interesting point last night about the big picture and peaking on the third Sunday, so we should not be panicing after losing our first two NFL matches. And I would have good time for some of that in theory.

    However, it got me thinking and here’s a couple of interesting facts to start:

    6 of the last 11 National League Div. 1 winners went on to win the All Ireland Final that year. That’s 55% did the double!
    (Double winners: Kerry – ’09, ’06 & ’04; Dublin- ’13; Cork – ’10; and Tyrone – ’03.)

    Add in the fact a further three losing NFL Finalists in that period, also contested the AIF the same year, it does give us a message that NFL form is very important for momentum in the Championship.
    (Losing NFL finalists that also contested the AIF that year: Mayo – ”12; Dublin – ’11; and Kerry – ’08.

    Two points that I think these facts teach us are that winning the NL is a positive result for a championship run. Take just the last five years, Three provided double winners and all three had two key factors in common not just strong first XVs but great subs too. They also had very good managers and management teams.

    So you may well ask, what about Cork two- and three in-a-row NL wins and why didn’t they go on and do a Sam treble. First, it’s really difficult to retain the AL (last was Kerry in ’07) because everyone knows your strengths and counters them. And it’s much harder to creating the same appetite to retain as opposed to winning the first year. Managers that have failed to do so, point to this factor every time. JH might like that problem?

    Those two years, all-conquering NFL double-champions and All-Ireland champions Cork got caught by Kerry in Kilarney in 2011 and the year after, despite adding the third NFL title in a row, they ran in to Donegal’s smothering style.

    So while I like Galway Exile’s point about of managing your peak, I put scoring forwards, a strong panel, smart management, and good league form a bit ahead of the former. And of course last September, we learned great kick-outs leading to possession retention are every bit as important as marquee forwards and their magic moments.

    Let’s not forget what form did for the 2013 NFL Division 3 champions Monaghan in the Ulster championship last year.

    And last March/April we were nearly relegated from Div. 1 but ended up instead in the Semi-Final. So getting back to Galway Exile’s point, it’s fair to say that you need to have a fairly well tuned developing fitness level from March to September and a strong squad to deliver a double. We have a high level residual fitness built up over the last three years, and the tuning is what is being managed. The likes of Andy, Cillian, AD, and a couple of others have longer routes to travel to catch up.

    My main worry is that we need to get to settled best possible forward line playing together ASAP. Questions need to be answered. Andy has been named captain so barring disastrous form, he will play, but will be get his ‘first 10 yards’ sprint pace back? And in what position will he play? Will he fill a number 11 role picking up mid-field breaks and delivering go-forward ball to the rest of the front men?

    Cillian will hopefully be back with a 100% shoulder and getting game time before the championship. AD will have to prove himself as another No.11 option before the league is over. Freeman needs to play every remaining league game and I’d give Doc a good run too. Cameo appearances from the bench do nothing for those two. Give them responsibility, game time and the confidence will come. Kevin Mac seems to be regaining his excellent 2012 form but needs to work hard on end of his runs – better ball retention, the final pass and/or shots. Adam Gallagher looks like he’s got what it takes. Ah, you could go on forever.

    Finally, you need a good panel to win an All Ireland ( Donegal was the only exception to that in a long time). We have that now in every sector except until we get our best starting six forwards in their best positions, we cannot get their back-ups sorted. JH needs to get as close to a settled front six in the next three league matches and for God sake, play Keith Higgins at No.6. Anything Lacey did for a negative defensive, fast breaking Donegal side, Keith can do better for us from 6.

  10. Have to hand it to you Cloud9, a great bit of research done there to back up some very interesting views you hold. And where you say we should not be panicking after loosing our first two league matches, you rightly point out the importance’s of the League. Of course Horan’s hands are tied at the moment, with some of his best players not available and in the mean time we seem to be struggling to find a winning formula.

    Think even at this early stage we can safely say, winning the League is beyond us and surviving in division 1 will be our priority. A quick return of our injured players would be timely and certainly boost moral within the panel and with Mitchel’s players also to come back, things will begin to look a whole lot better.

  11. Is it my imagination or is that young Durkin lad for Mitchells good enough to play for Mayo? He certainly looks good to me.I never realised Shane Conway was in the set up for them
    He used teach me religion class in rice college back in the day.

  12. Fantastic result Castlebar Mitchels ,one for Mayo over Kerry, absolutely great game and outcome. Well,well done.

  13. That’s what i was thinking when i saw him given man of match speech.Certainly one for future id say.reminds me of a younger version of Keegan 🙂

  14. Can’t argue with that Mayo McHale.

    Super win for Castlebar – Congrats to everyone involved! It was a joy to watch!

    You know, it occurred to me as Castlebar were pulling away at the end, Crokes people must be feeling like we have coming out of Croker on too many big days in the last 25 years. They’ve dominated Munster Munster Club football but can’t win that elusive club all-Ireland. Great credit to Castlebar and their game-plan – Pat Holmes go it right and the lads delivered on the field.

  15. I really, really think that we don’t want to be relegated this year. Last year up until Jimmy McGuinness’s Donegal got relegated, it looked like he knew exactly what he was doing at all times. Everything seemed to fall into place for him the previous two years. Then when they got relegated, the doubts started to creep in and everything went downhill from there. It was a major dent to their confidence. If we can get that first win under our belt and just kick on from there. I’m sure James Horan would love to get a win over Dublin in Croke Park too in late March. When we beat Donegal in Castlebar last year in the league, it was a big boost to Mayo’s confidence, as it was in 2012 when we beat Dublin again in Castlebar.

  16. As i said before the match Castlebar had already beaten a better side in St Brigids, Dr Crokes proved today how overrated they are! shame that Cooper got injured as some will use that excuse now.

    Watching this other semi final, St Vincent looking the likely winners Castlebar have nothing to fear and should be favourites to win the All Ireland IMO.

  17. Keith Higgins actually played at no.6 against London in the Connaught Final last year and he just did not look comfortable in the position. He did not get into the game at all. I’d be starting him at corner back in every game, he is one of the best corner backs in Ireland. The only time I would move him, would be if we were losing a game with 10 or 15 minutes left to play, then maybe move him up front. His speed at that time, might then do some damage against tiring defenders.

  18. Great to have another Mayo v Dub final and very well done to both teams. My 2 hero’s in football hailed from this club (Heffo & Brian Mullins) and its great that they are doing so well.

    PS: Don’t have a go about one of my hero’s being Brian Mullins cheers.

    Kind Regards,
    Martin the Dub

  19. HSE, one swallow never made a summer, and a Connacht Final, even against London wouldn’t be a stage to base a permanent opinion on.

    For me, I’d be happy to have Cunniffe and Barrett in the corners. Vaughan played well last year, but I think Higgins ticks more boxes, and JH should give him a more sustained trial there. He has the speed to cover the back half and to raid forward. And he could raid ( like Lacey) a lot more from 6, than from corner-back. He certainly hates playing in the forwards!

  20. Looking forward to that match another Dublin mayo match hopefully Mitchell’s will win and mayo beat Dublin two weeks later we own them one I don’t mind the dubs but not against mayo,

  21. Yeah in fairness Cloud9, it would be no harm to give him a game at CHB again to see how he get’s on, although his size and build might go against him too. Lacey would have a bigger build than Higgins. I’d actually like to see Kevin Keane given a run there, just for the lad himself, and play Shane McHale in the full-back line, in one of the upcoming games. Keane’s build and size might be an asset to him in that position. He is well able to take a point as well. Although his lack of pace might go against him.

  22. r.e. the debate on Higgin’s best position, I felt his best performance last year came against Donegal when he played sweeper alongside Keegan in front of their full-forward line. He was good against Dublin at midfield yeah but he seems to influence games more from deeper positions.

    There’s no reason why he couldn’t play centre-back but Horan’s settled on Vaughan here and he suits our physical, running game.

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