I wrote the piece below for this week’s Mayo News (here) to provide an overview of what supporters were saying on the blog in the wake of Mayo’s defeat to Dublin.
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The mood among supporters following a Championship-exiting defeat is understandably downbeat. That’s true of those Mayo supporters who contribute to the debate on the Mayo GAA Blog where, in the days since the team lost out to Dublin in this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, the analysis has been wide-ranging and at times rather unsparing.
The manner of the defeat invariably frames the post-game discussion.
If it’s a narrow loss then the focus tends to be outward, with the referee often the main object of ire for a crucial decision that had gone against us. If the beating is a bad one, though, as the Dublin one was, then the debate tends to turn inward, drilling deeply into our own failings.
A number of clear themes have emerged from the painful internal analysis that has taken place in the wake of the Dublin defeat.
Chief among these is our failure to implement on a consistent basis the kind of modern defensive structure that all of the other top teams have hard-wired into how they play. This was, in fairness, a consistent theme for supporters on the blog all year, as our pre-McStay propensity to concede goals more easily than others continued unabated under the new management team.
While this failure to bolt the door at the back was a fear for fans all year, two further issues, as well as two overarching themes, came strongly to the fore following the defeats to Cork and Dublin. These all relate strongly to the manner of those two deflating losses.
The first of these is our perceived weaknesses around the middle of the field. No-one, least of all those contributing regularly to the debate on the blog, doubts the quality of the players we’re deploying in the middle eight. There’s a clear sense, however, that we’re not getting the best out of the available talent.
The second, which has been a feature all summer, is the lack of sufficient scoring power up top. Here again there’s no doubting the ability we have in our ranks but the manner in which the scores simply dried up for us as this Championship campaign developed – aside from down in Killarney, a performance that looks now like a complete outlier for us this summer – has been identified by supporters on the blog as a key failing for us this year.
Leavened on top of these specific issues are two broader concerns, which, under closer examination, appear to be two sides of the same coin.
One relates to our off-field efforts this year, focusing on our inability to get the most from the playing panel, while the other points to an absence of on-field leaders, in particular at crucial moments in the big games. The first points to a clear concern about how the team is being prepared for battle, the second about the players’ inability, individually and collectively, to surmount problems as they arise out on the field.
Mayo supporters are often criticised for getting over-excited when things go well and then being too downbeat when the wheels come off. That wasn’t, however, a trend I observed among those contributing to the blog this year, over the course of an inter-county season where Mayo both hit the heights and plumbed the depths.
In large part, fans chatting on the blog – some of whom had voiced support for one or other of the alternative management teams last year – were willing to row in behind Kevin McStay and his charges this year.
But Mayo supporters nowadays are reluctant to hop onto the bandwagon in the way so many of us so gleefully did in those heady days when it really did feel like we were all in it together. The 2021 final defeat – surely the worst one of the lot – jolted Mayo supporters badly and the scars from that one are still there.
Mayo fans nowadays need more convincing before they’ll make the same emotional investment in the county team. How we fared in 2023 didn’t ultimately convince many.
The post-mortem since the Dublin debacle has left those contributing on the blog with the clear view that this year was a missed opportunity for us. As was the case in 2021 and again last year, there are no truly outstanding teams on the scene right now and so a team of our standing could and should have been in the mix this summer.
The fact that we ultimately weren’t points to the need for a different approach next year. For the blog’s contributors, this would need to encompass both a shake-up in playing personnel and changes within the backroom team, as well an altered playing approach. In other words, for many supporters it’s back to the drawing board in several respects as the focus starts to turn towards 2024.