Where we’ve been heading to as a footballing force is a topic that FourGoal McGee has repeatedly examined here on the site over the last few years. I’m delighted to welcome him back into the guest slot once again now to provide his thoughts on where we stand ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland final.
Image: John Courell (@jcourell) via Twitter
This is a sort of cut and paste exercise as it charts the rise of Mayo football since June 2010. Coming from that point, it was evident that the graph has risen strongly, but let us start with part of a comment I wrote after the Sligo defeat that year. It concluded as follows:
In footballing terms, we are now a laughing stock. The RTE pundits, constantly looking for another humourous soundbite, love to see us coming. The likes of Spillane, Brolly and O’Rourke look like they have their lines pre-prepared and they love to deliver them to maximum effect. And we, who have long followed our county, have to sit and take it, YEAR-ON-FUCKING-YEAR! And then there is the pity. I have had people from Division 3 and Division 4 counties coming up to me today saying that we could have won it! As if I needed that! I’d say that these same counties would be rubbing their hands with glee if they drew us in the qualifiers.
Let’s be clear. I am not looking for perfection. But after more than a half of a century of this life, I would like to end one year – JUST ONE – with a feeling that we could stand tall and say to the rest of the footballing world that our county is a proud one, our county does not give up, our county will give every last bit of effort it has to reach its potential, our county deserves respect.
I really don’t mind at what stage we finish up this year, but surely it’s not too much to ask to put a Mayo team on the field with these thoughts ringing in their ears. And surely it’s not too much to say that we just don’t want to face into another long winter knowing that we could have done better.
Let us draw on the words of James Larkin:
“We are beaten, we will make no bones about it; but we are not too badly beaten still to fight.”
Come on Lads, give us something to be proud of.
It was just an echo of the total frustration that we all experienced as supporters. I remember another time when coming out of Croke Park on another losing day and saying to the man beside me “they have never learned, have they?” His reply was “and neither do we!”.
But it didn’t stop us coming back!
Later that year, in a bit of New Year advice I asked James Horan to consider the following:
- Believe in the right to win
- Forget about past defeats, they have no relevance to the next 70 minutes
- Plan for the overall goal for the year
- Play to the limits allowed
- Draw on the leadership of past great players
- And realise that this is just yours for a short time – another generation will build on what you leave behind.
Some of this seemed to be falling into place – then London happened. Following that game I suggested going back to basics and looking at the following requirements of a winning team:
- A goalkeeper that dominates the square
- A full back that dominates in front of the square
- Tight marking, yet attacking wing backs
- A centrefield partnership, where one minds the house when the other attacks/defends
- At least one small, mesmerisingly fast wing forward
- A reliable free taker
- At least two full forwards that can win all sorts of ball and take scores
Those who commented on that post were very dubious that we could fulfil these requirements. But the graph resumed its upward trend and after the quarter-final on 5th August against Cork, Willie Joe provided me with the floor to write what I called a progress report on Project Mayo. The following was the verdict:
Mayo now has a team of talented, committed individuals that are fast gelling into a formidable force. It has no automatic choices for key positions and about 19 or 20 of the squad could legitimately lay claim to one of the first 15 places. We never had a stronger bench. There is no baggage with this group, 2004 and 2006 does not concern them and they appear to really enjoy playing football. You get the sense that it is up to others to beat them rather than the other way around because this squad has found a Mayo style and they are going to use it. And on top of this, we have a sideline that knows the difference between tactics and strategy as well as knowing when and how to change either one.
And really, this is the combination that we have been looking for, for so long. We are a proud county, that plays a pure brand of football but we are sick of being nice. We are sick of showing up and leaving without giving it our all. We are sick of the smug comments that followed what we suspected might come to pass. We are sick of going to Croke Park with a fear of losing and we are sick of coming out of Croke Park and many other lesser grounds having to endure the pity that would be poured on us for losing so badly.
I firmly believe that the current crop of footballers under the current management can harness that hunger, turn it into passion and make Mayo a match for any county in Ireland. Will it happen this year? I don’t know, but the nice guy, “God love them” days are over. This team will play to its full ability and we will not be facing into next winter with the despair that we have experienced in recent years.
It was a big turnaround in a short space of time and one that has been built on further this year. Before the semi versus the Dubs earlier this month, I summarised the extra bits of the jigsaw that have been added from last year:
- We have trained to peak in September.
- We can cope with being without a key man.
- Our backs are one of the tightest units around now.
- We have learned some of the dark arts.
Looking back on Project Mayo since January 2011, a transformation has taken place. As the big day approaches, we get the jitters about whether or not Boyle will play, how we will deal with the Donegal system, how is Lee Keegan’s finger, etc, but we have stopped questioning our fire, our passion and the leadership that has emerged in every line in the team. We are as ready for battle as we can be and we have a bunch of footballers who will completely empty the tank for the good of Mayo football. We have a management team the likes of which we never had before and we have a County Board that are working closer with the management than ever before. In Cairde Mhaigheo, we have one of the best vehicles for supporters’ involvement in the country. As a county, we have finally achieved a unity of purpose. We have something to be proud of. We owe a huge debt to all that has been involved in getting all of this in place.
So when I walk into Croke Park on Sunday, I do not go with a fear of hoping. My thought will not be “Mayo, God help us”.There is a new catch-cry in Mayo now:
BRING IT ON!
Keep the Faith!