Bring it on!

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:


Keep the Faith!

8 thoughts on “Bring it on!

  1. The 5 to do’s list to take game 5 and sam home to Mayo: 1.We must establish an early grip at midfield, be quick on the breaking ball.
    2.We must do a better job of converting our goal chances. Hit the ball low and hard. 3.We cannot afford to have a lapse in the second,
    half, like we had against Dublin. 4.We have got to do a better job of preventing turnovers. 5.Play hard for the full seventy minutes, and you win the ALL- iRELAND. i would like to wish James Horan, his staff and this great Mayo team they have put together, the best of luck on Sunday.

    Best wishes always, from a fan forever,
    Up Mayo!

  2. Couldn’t say it any better myself, There is certainly something different about this Mayo team as a group compared to the last few that contested finals and that is not to denigrate those other great players who gave their all for Mayo in the past. There is now a certain controlled ruthlessness and objectivity involved that was so badly needed but lacking at crucial stages of the game in times past. We always had the players capable of winning big games but this new concerted team approach was not part of our philosophy in those days. I am pretty sure that this bunch of players are extremely confident that they can win on Sunday and I have little doubt that they can do it. James Horan and his team have done a super job with these guys. They only need our convincing that they can do it also. I will miss the game on Sunday as I am in foreign lands unfortunately and it is breaking my heart not to be there. I think the fact that they are underdogs will definitely give them a quiet confidence in themselves that they can upset the odds and I have never before been so optimistic myself that they can do it. Donegal have been brilliant this year but I think if we can blot out McFadden and Murphy and a disciplined display at the back is required to achieve that objective, then we have the more balanced team up front to get the scores from play needed to win. Up Mayo

  3. Great piece fourgoal….Its great to come on here and read the expert opinions and the corresponding sincere and knowledgable comments. I find this week has been dragging, like in slow motion which only adds to the anxiety. First thing in the morning, all during the day, last thing at night, checking the web for any updates on the team, checking the blogs for any news or insight……jaysus this is torture. Three days to go….feck it, i cant bare the waiting; there is so much anxiety and yet so much hope riding on the shoulders of all these lads. Even watched a rerun of mayo/dubs and donega/cork last night.

    I havent commented much over the past few days, mostly because I go back and forth on how I think it will turn out. Much has been written about Donegals fitness and discipline, particularly against Cork. Study that match and you wil see that Cork’s overuse and over reliance of the short hand pass in their build up gave Donegal ample time to regroup behind their 45 and thereby slow down, block and frustrate the hell out of the Cork lads. What was really surprising was that Cork didnt recognize this and change up. The first couple of possessions of the second half they did change their approach by directly going at them down the middle, with quick kick passing. This resulted in two great chances for Cork, but Canty and Kerrigan blew both. I feel that had they popped those over, it would have been a different result. Anyway, the point here is not to relive that game but more to illustrate how Donegal are vulnerable to this type of attack, i.e. fast, accurate, kick passing.

    Fortunately this is what we are real good at, as was noted by Jimmy Mc when he alluded to us as “unplayable”. It won’t have gone unnoticed by Jimmy either that the key( but not the only one) to that approach is Kevin Mc, so look for him to be targeted on Sunday.

    Donegal on the other hand will look to exploit what they consider to be our vulnerabilities. They will look to exploit Michael Murphy’s height and strength against our full back, similar to the tactic Kerry so successfully deployed against us in 2006. Now to be sure, our full back is bigger and stronger than in 2006, and Murphy is no Donaghy, however he is a serious threat and a frame that Cafferkey has not yet had to deal with to this point in the c’ship. I don’t expect Murphy to score much, if at all, but as Jimmy has said many times, he’s a presence and a target man to wreak havoc in there.
    Therefore no surprises this time, we should expect them to follow through on targeting him by lobbing high ball in here and needless to say we must have a plan to deal with this.

    There are so many variables that can affect how players perform and ultimately affect the result. One we have no control over is the weather. Honestly, I don’t know what kind of weather is expected but I think we should hope for a dry day with little wind. I think that will favor our style of play.

    Sunday morning, I’ll have breakfast, put a movie on for the kids so there’ll be no interruptions, make a few phone calls home, try to stay calm and tune in online. It will be torture for sure but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. We have another chance to end the Mayo famine….these lads carry the hopes and dreams of Mayo people at home and around the world…they know it and I wish them all the best. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure, we are from Mayo, and we will be back for more.
    Keep the faith!

  4. Thanks to all the people who add to this blog, however for the first time in my life I cannot read another word, on line or in print. I am overloaded with reading and talking about the game.
    The time for talking is over. What Mayo want and need is action. We will win, because we have no choice but to win.

  5. Ceideboy, I have to agree.
    People are saying there is no hype in mayo. We are holding it all in,I’m ready to burst. We have to win Sunday and when we do, croke park might just explode with emotion.
    Is is too early for a brandy……..

  6. Brilliant analysis Fourgoal! I have to agree Ceideboy – I too cannot read or talk anymore – I am like a person sitting on an ants nest!! The wait is killing me – Tonyk it is never too early for Brandy in the lead up to occasions like this!! However I do have complete faith in Horan and the lads for Sunday and I know they will give it 110% and as James Horan said in a radio interview “the score will look after itself”!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *