Continue to expect the unexpected


It’s another day closer to our All-Ireland quarter-final replay against Roscommon, a match that could, for this wonderful team of ours, prove to be a defining one. Or not.

Sport, like much of life, tends to be analysed in terms of competing – often contradictory – narratives. The football championship, which goes on for several months but only sees teams – in particular the leading ones – play a small number of matches, is particularly susceptible to being dissected in this fashion.

Talking heads have been on the scene – including within the GAA – for decades. In recent years, though, it appears that everyone and anyone is a football analyst and punditry is a game that can be played by all-comers.

I include myself in that, by the way, and I’d be the first to admit that my skills in that department have been found wanting more than once. What do I know? What, come to think of it, do most of those making pronouncements on the game and on teams really know?

Plenty of people are lining up right now to have their say on Stephen Rochford and his team. Many – including some from within the county – have come to bury the manager and his players, not to praise them.

More than once this summer, the detractors have been poised on the edge of a decisive I-told-you-so moment. But every time the lads have found themselves in the crosshairs, they’ve managed to extricate themselves and dodge the bullet heading their way.

The narrative about us has evolved over the summer, in a campaign where we’ve remained in the limelight for the simple fact that we’ve been in action so often. Kerry are safely into the All-Ireland semi-final having played just three matches, we’ve played twice that many and we’re not there yet.

After Galway we were finished. In an ironic twist of fate, however, Galway ended up getting tipped overboard in this year’s championship last weekend while we’re still hanging grimly in there.

After Derry, Clare were given an outside chance of taking us. After Cusack Park we were widely expected to see off Cork without too much trouble, though there was plenty of hindsight scrambling to come up with a half-plausible explanation as to why Cork damn near did for us in Limerick.

Going into last weekend it was all about our experience versus their youthful enthusiasm. Coming out of it the debate was on who had got on top tactically and whether it was Stephen Rochford or Kevin McStay who had the advantage going into next Monday’s replay.

(Time for another mea culpa here: I bemoaned our man getting outwitted by McStay when leaving Lee in on Enda Smith in the second half but failed to give him due credit for putting Lee on Smith in the first place, a move that paid spectacular dividends for us in the first half. See: what do I know?)

So, on we plod towards Monday. Our lads are now, or so the accepted narrative of the moment goes, working on muscle memory, grizzled old fighters past their best but still in the game, still up for a final, fading shot at glory. Great entertainment value but will someone please put the poor superannuated buggers out of their misery?

Tell that to the likes of Brendan Harrison, Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen, Diarmuid O’Connor or Conor Loftus, lads who are all the right side of 25. Tell it to Footballer of the Year Lee Keegan or to Donal Vaughan or Tom Parsons or Kevin McLoughlin or Aidan O’Shea or Jason Doherty or Cillian O’Connor, all of whom have a bit to go before celebrating their thirtieth birthdays.

Sure, the Class of 2006 – a quintet comprising Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Seamus O’Shea (Barry Moran also belongs to that cohort but hasn’t featured at all this year) – along with David Clarke and Andy Moran all remain key players for us . Even then, though, it’s only the last two in that list who are approaching their mid-thirties, the others are all no older than 32.

Lookit, we all know this remarkable team – the best Mayo team I’ve certainly ever seen play – won’t go on forever. It’s reasonable too to acknowledge that the end is coming for at least some of the current playing panel.

What’s not reasonable is to write these lads off while the team is still in contention for the main prize this year. Beat Roscommon on Monday – an outcome the bookies are confidently expecting – and we’re into the final four, a place we expected to be at the start of this year.

Maybe this expectation will prove unfounded, maybe the end will come for us – though only for this year – on Monday. If it does, no doubt the I-told-you-so contingent will enjoy telling us all about how such an outcome was always going to happen.

But, perhaps, this won’t happen. Maybe, just maybe, the narrative will be forced to shift again, as it’s always forced to do when events diverge from the predicted outcome.

This year, we’ve been obliged to expect the unexpected from the lads in Green and Red. Is there any reason for us to doubt now the team’s ability to continue confounding all those who would proclaim to know what’s going to happen when next they take the field in this year’s championship?

65 thoughts on “Continue to expect the unexpected

  1. Absolutely spot on WJ. Brilliant piece. There are a few too many ready to knock for my liking. We’ll beat Roscommon. Then i have no doubt this group will give Kerry their fill of it. So come on Mayo supporters, Keep The Faith!!

  2. A 1 pt struggling win would be great, the team will have aged another few years in the eyes of the experts. But make no mistake this team has been gearing itself ( rightly or wrongly) all year with one game in mind – Kerry in the semi final. Confident about Monday and then…. War!

  3. Fair article, WJ, we all think we are the experts and we are of course coming from an outside track. Maybe it’s fortunate that management don’t take a bit of heed of us. But I am always fascinated by the amount of good constructive criticism from posters who know what they are talking about. You see all of our hearts are in the right place, nothing wrong with identifying problems and suggesting fixes. Sometimes we do try to fix it when it’s not broken
    We will go into Mondays match knowing a lot more about Roscommon and I think we will be too cute for them this time.
    The blog is all about opinions and respecting different viewpoints. It’s what keeps us inclusive in the quest for Sam. Well done on giving us the opportunity to be involved, even if on the ditch

  4. Great post Willie Joe, Much better reading than the doom and gloom after last weekend. onwards to Monday!

  5. Keep it positive for sure. A lot of our guys were off their game on Sun, I’m expecting that to be rectified for the Bank Holiday Replay. You can talk about number of games,age , and mileage etc all day long but these guys are super fit and don’t look to me that they’re ready to throw in the towel. Mayo supporters wont give up on our team or our dreams. Roll on Monday.
    Super blog WJ, keeping us all sane (ish) on this wonderful journey.

  6. Wow brilliant Willie Joe ! Thank you !! all fired up for another battle ! they won’t give up without a fight that’s for certain neither should we !

  7. Can’t wait for Monday. This Mayo team has given us so many great days out throughout the last 6 years and for that I am very grateful. Something to look forward to in work. Things to talk about and constantly keep up debate amongst us all. I love the GAA and Mayo football.

    Found a good song that Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors along with Padraig Stevens did about Mayo footballers. A great song and worth a listen. Called the buck with the big lugs

  8. That’s the stuff to give the begrudgers Willie Joe!

    BTW, just checking my AI final programme for 2014 (sad I know), i see hat the Kerry winning panel had 5 over 30s (O’Se, Donaghy, O’Mahony, Walsh, and O’Sullivan). Didn’t seem to do them much harm that year. Remember in the replay they were fresher and more ‘up for it’ than we were.

  9. Fair Play to you WJ. Favourite post to date.

    As has been said before all we can do is stand back in awe of these men – battling on when they could just have bowed out & be up enjoying themselves at the races. Not the way for these heroes :-).

    Can’t wait for Monday.

    Up Mayo.

  10. Well articulated
    I think at this stage everything that can be said has been said, several times. The Rossies have named the same team, hopefully we don’t, if for no other reason than to have people talking about something else.
    I’d say turn off the cloud there WJ until the team is named so we can all start recharging the batteries

  11. When are we expected to name our team ?
    Friday night is norm for Sunday match , will it be the same for this one , not that it really matters seen it will probably be a dummy list ,
    I guess we will have to wait till 1.45 pm Monday to know for sure , is there any injury concerns that we know about ?

  12. Well said WJ, Fantastic post. As another poster alluded to, plenty of stopped clocks in the County and on this blog. I can imagine the fingers been sharpened to type the perennial “I told you so”. Sure if we all looked at life like that, it would be one depressing existence. Bar maybe 2013, we have always lost to the better team. We had 30mins to rectify Hennellys blunder but failed. Life goes on.

    If the Rossies beat us, then that’s it for THIS year. One or two might slip off into the night, but Andy Moran will certaintly not have his last appearance in a Mayo shirt, to be his one and only championship defeat to Roscommon. Personally I’m more confident for the replay, my gut tells me the Rossies had they’re chance and missed.

  13. Brilliant post Willie Joe. Setting the scene in a positive way. And very good point re age made by catcol. I’ll be watching it in La Costa Brava but my heart will be in Croker with Stephen and the lads.

  14. Just a non-footballing note for Monday:
    The south quays in Dublin City Centre are closing for a week to facilitate the finishing of the Luas Connector, starting Friday evening. There are a number of diversions in effect, and all will have a significant knock on effect for match traffic. Definitely something to look up before you leave, and certainly a day for getting on the road early.

  15. Well written WJ. A post I certainly needed to read and it’s set the scene perfectly for Monday. Four days and counting.

  16. “After reviewing the game” I join you on that mea culpa WJ.

    Spillane thinks we’re crap!
    Wooley thinks we’re there for the taking!
    The whole country pities the state we’re in….

    IMO, they forget…the Championship starts in August, and Mayo are built for August and September.

  17. RESET the narrative !!!!!! Great article and I whole heartily agree.

    ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;’

    The remainder of that quote isn’t as apt. But you get what I mean 🙂

  18. Well said Willie Joe.

    Its time Mayo went out and played their own game. Mayo seem to be looking at the opposition in matches and amending their own game plan to counteract what the opposition will do. We are a top 3 team for 5+ years – implement our own game – fast hard running game with ruthless defense and we will comfotably win! Let the opposition be the ones who need to put their own players doing things that dont come naturally to them.

  19. It always amazes me how many people get upset at what Spillane and Brolly say ,they don’t think we will win an all Ireland this year, its hard to argue with that analysis, but what they did say is that this team has shown great spirit and courage every year to keep on going when the chips are down.
    I have no doubt that we will see more of this on Monday and against Kerry if we get that far.
    Here hoping
    Up Mayo

  20. Great rallying post WJ. I would count myself as one of those persons who have written off the team this year since the Galway game. Having said that I’ve been confounded for 2 months by the way this group continue to move forward even under fierce adversity.

    It really is a testament to the players that even when they are willing to keep going day after day, month after month, year after year especially when so many have written them off or perhaps given up on them. It’s gone beyond resilience at this stage.

    There is something bred now into the psyche of these guys that they simply will not give up their dream.
    All I can do is offer my apologies and say.

    More power to you men as you are some group of warriors.

  21. As far as opinions go I will throw in my tuppence worth. It`s this. I do not believe this team are in any way over

    the hill. I do think they are fatigued from a hard schedule. I think that if they get through Monday we could see a

    different animal. I really hope we ring the changes and give some of the legs a rest for the next game. But I don`t

    believe for a minute that they are past it. If that were so they would have thrown in the towel before now. Our heel

    at the moment I think is that any team we play thinks they can drive a coach and four down our middle. Fix that

    spine, show more lawful agression and we are back in biz. Basically if we hassle and harry and make a nuisance

    of ourselves we will win the game. These Rossies can play football if allowed – – make no mistake about that.

  22. Just to help reset the narrative to summer 2017 you’ll notice the change in the banner photo on the site. Thanks, as ever, to Mayo Mick for his IT talents – not to mention his photography skills – in making this change possible. Up Mayo.

  23. Well said WJ, once again a decent piece of script from you to lift the hearts and minds of the army who follow this army of ours. Its only human to sometimes become despondent and brow beaten by the trodden down attitude cast towards us from the so called experts and before you know it you might find yourself echoing those sentiments. Life supplies us with a plentiful supply of hardship and worries, pulling, dragging and scrapping as they say. But not this team, its not their lot. Bright, confident, articulate, brave, assertive, assured, focused, determined, courageous…that and so much more is the only way to describe them. So fuck it lads, take their lead, reflect everything good that they bring to our lives and get yourself to Jones Road in those spirits if you are able to on Monday and give it your all.

  24. Great picture WJ, and no sign of that flute Maurice Deegan in the background.

  25. Spot on – what about all of the decisions Rochford got right – you never hear about those! This Team are giving everything and are heading into their seventh game. lets get behind them!

  26. Lads, don’t forget your flags on Monday. I know I thought they were all banned but its not the case. Bring the colour. Bring the noise! Up Mayo (always!!)

  27. Thank you WJ. Excellent piece.
    So true in saying it’s unreasonable to be writing these lads off. They go out every time to do their County proud and that’s exactly what they do.
    The sacrifices these guys are making in their young lives is just mind boggling.

  28. WJ on page 62 of the Roscommon People Newspaper your Tweet
    Sweet Suffering Jesus got voted second best tweet of the sporting week.

  29. Lads and lassies, will ye for God`s sake ignore what clowns like Spillane, Brolly and O`Rourke say. I`ve never seen a match won or lost in the RTE studio yet…
    I will use our neighbours in Roscommon as an example.The `panel ` were unanimous that Galway would win the Connacht Final….They were wrong !!
    The same people were adamant that Mayo would beat Ros last Sunday..!!

    You see, these people can be wrong. I believe they are wrong about this Mayo team.
    We all agree that this Mayo team are getting tired, but no matter what happens on Monday, or in the Semi Final, let nobody tell us that we won`t be a force again in 2018

  30. Fact check and reality check:

    Am I right in thinking that our replay record is terrible? Was our last replay win in 04 over Fermanagh?

    Our extra time record is second to none of course.

  31. Horan developed this Mayo team from the ashes of the managerial failures of Jack O’Shea and even John O’Mahony albeit I have nothing but respect for John and his prior success at managerial level is second to none.
    How Horan did it with Ballintubber and then Mayo, is beyond belief ,whatever he did, these players still have it in them to perform at the highest level and will ,I think continue to do so.
    Watching the Kerry v Mayo league game earlier in the year ,Mayo blew them out of the water in the second half.
    Kerry management though seem to be able to turn young average footballers into good footballers as the year progresses ,whilst Mayo struggle to do so.
    What I am really trying to say is, is Rochford standing on the shoulders of Horans legacy . Last year after the Galway defeat he seemed to get all the right calls to get us to the all-Ireland and as we all know but for cruel luck
    we should have won the first day.The goalkeeper change for the replay ,well enough said about that . To win things you need a bit of luck and Loftus’s intervention against Derry was lucky for all of us or was it good management?.
    Lets hope that Rochford gets his mojo back for this replay and get himself back to the glorified position he rose to after the Tyrone game last year ,when he outsmarted the wily Mickey Heart.
    Great piece Willy Joe well done and good Luck to all the lads on Monday.

  32. That’s hilarious Ballinlough Lad! More so seeing as I don’t really use Twitter anymore. That was just a placeholder for the match report I did that night. It was, though, an accurate summary of what I was feeling in the moment.

  33. 2006 against Laois I believe. Rossies not great memories either from McHale Park last year.

  34. I believe we beat Laois in a replay in 2006 so no our record in replays is not bad. I think we’ve won a few in Connaught as well going back a bit. In any event it’s completely irrelevant bordering on superstition to be talking that way. A replay is a new game simple as. The way the game goes 2nd time out often bears no resemblance to the first game. The opposition sometimes does learn a few things but often it’s completely different with different players starring as well.

  35. Yes Correct it was tweet by Declan Varley
    Can I wish local Lad Marty Mcdermott
    Who is the president of Ballyhaunis Golf Club good luck on the sixth of August for the presidents cup
    Marty a real rossie had hoped to get the famous club rossie bus blue and gold
    To make a visit to ballyhaunis.
    The one that Eamon o hara made famous
    What’s goes beep beep
    The Rossies bus backing into the garage
    That was the year the Rossies were going to win the all Ireland but the men from the Yeats county had different ideas

  36. Keep up the good work WJ inspiring us Mayo supporters on. It has been a difficult few weeks. Can you name the new team photo pls? There are some panel members there I don’t know.

  37. Great piece again WJ. I am fierce proud of where I come from (as I know you all are) and of this team. When “outsiders” write us off as finished or no hopers if makes me even more determined to roar our lads to victory. I Can not F’in wait until Monday….bring it on!!!!

  38. That is the best article I’v read on the blog.
    Sometimes I wonder is it an idea to lock the comments that an article like you’ve written can stand there proudly on it’s merits.

  39. Willie joe, did you change the cover photo cos of the smirk of Maurice deegan is background of the last one? Once you see it, it’s all you can see!!!

  40. Great article WJ. God how I’d love to see the lads go out there on Monday and blow the door off the hinges with a devastating display that leaves the Rossies speechless. If ever we needed a morale boosting power play it’s this replay…

  41. Seamus Lennon- as far as I can make out:
    Left to Right
    Back Row: Loftus, Vaughan, Kirby, Regan. McLoughlin, Nally, Parsons, Durcan, Diarmuid, Drake, Coen, Doherty, Clarke
    Front Row: Higgins, Seamie, Dillon, Boland, Harrison, Leeroy, Cillian, Boyler, Andy, Barrett, Aido, Ger Caff, Hennelly.

  42. 4 goals conceded in the last 2 matches.this has been the single biggest issue with Mayo teams going all the way bank to 2004.

    The starting point from here has to be to stop goals going in. Get the required number of bodies back, its not rocket science surely.

  43. That’s a great piece, WJ. Win, lose or extra time on Monday, what a privilege it is to follow this team. 7 great years regardless of the disappointments.

  44. Great articles WJ, especially for us exiled outside Mayo. No doubt you’ll write a book about the glory years. It will be a best seller.
    Let’s all believe and stay positive until the end of Sept.

  45. Fair play to you WJ. It’s always enjyable to read your articles and the comments as well. Over the past week or so I’ve heard on 2 radio interviews 1 ) David Brady saying that a game a week shouldn’t be causing any fatigue issues. 2) Jack O’shea saying that he believes Mayo have been the best team over the past 5 years, just that we havent’t won anything. Both nice to hear. Hope Jack is correct and we go all the way this year. I hope the ref has a good game as well Monday and that we’re preparing for kerry next week.

  46. Think we are to preoccupied with trying to stop the other team playing! We should play to our strengths and run hard at them, leave Cillian near to goal and let them worry about us, man for man we have more quality, strength and experience. This is the players time to prove the doubters wrong. I must be 3 years listening to shit from other county’s saying we are finished!! It drives me insane!!

  47. That’s got to be one of the best pieces you’ve ever penned WJ & comes at a critical time in this teams’ evolution.
    Well done … you’ve done this team & indeed the county some service.
    I have no concern with any of the criticism expressed on the blog as clearly it’s coming from people who know their stuff & have trudged around football fields themselves over the years & who want to suggest fixes or improvements.
    Whether we’re over critical or indeed under critical we are all in this together & want the same result for our county.
    In football it’s always the next match that counts not the last one & so onwards to Monday.

  48. Great post WJ and written with a positive mental attitude. That’s something in short supply around this county On Monday I had to check to see if we were still in this year’s Championship with all the doom and gloom that some people enjoy so much. And surprise surprise it turns out we are. Time to get the tickets sorted and the transport arranged for Monday. Bring a big flag and just let her roll one more time. We don’t need to hammer anyone a couple of points at the end will do.

  49. Timed this article well WJ! A badly needed injection of inspiration as we hit the weekend..Fair play.

  50. Great post John, I love the tone and sentiment! It seems we play our best games when the “pundits” count us out of the picture.
    To Mayo Mick: Yet another GREAT pic, well done!!!
    To CastlebarExile: THANKS for that song link!! I thought I knew every Saw Doctors (Leo Moran) song about Mayo, that is great! Thanks for sharing!
    Well living in Florida means I don’t have a bank holiday Monday, but will be relying on Midwest Radio and my Twitter feed for updates, PLEASE send tweet some pics and updates everyone!!! Safe travels to Croker and please know even tho I’m 4100+ miles/ 6,700+ KM away, I will be with you all in spirit!!
    I am so proud of all the positive posts for this story, we have all come a long way from October 2 and we are taking it full speed ahead! Safe travels and have fun everyone! Maigh Eo Abú

  51. As many have already said this team own no-one, if anything the people of Ireland own them a massive thank you for 7 of the most enjoyable and entertaining years of football, a Derry man said to me the other day he could probably name ever member of the mayo team and maybe 2/3 from any other county that says it all for me

  52. Great piece WJ, both balanced and humble.

    This game, like our season, can be seen from two very opposite angles. Are we doing just enough to progress and keep our cards close to our chest? Or, are we struggling to beat and put away “so-called” inferior teams?
    Are we fumbling through team selections and substitutions trying to find our best 20? Or, are we saving players legs for Kerry and Dublin? Did we fail to beat Roscommon with those last 3 shots? Or. are we brilliant to reel them in from 7 points down and hold them to 7 points in the last 60 mins of football? Did they miss their chance? Or, should we have beaten them? Have Roscommon another level to go up? Or, will we be as poor again?
    All will be revealed on Monday afternoon.

    I have to say that I was surprised at how good Roscommon were and they have improved greatly since our league game earlier this year. I also have to admit to being fairly pessimistic about our chances, and that is not like me! I feel Roscommon will be emboldened by their performance and feel that they missed a real chance to put us away. They will have nothing to fear now, either from playing in Croke Park or from any nerves they may have had from playing us. Their management is ultra positive, player-orientated, vocal, confident, articulate in front of the microphones and cameras and, to me, seem far more inspiring than our management. I can’t help feeling, and as an East Mayo man it pains me to say it, that last Sunday we saw the beginning of a shift in momentum and power from us to them. Their positive start, quick decisive substitutions, pace and energy around the pitch, were all in complete opposite to what we produced, and, are all signs of a team that does not lack self-belief and is fearless.

    Of course I am not privy to what is going on behind closed doors and I may be talking through my arse but I can’t shake the feeling that the players are playing and struggling to win games in spite of our sideline and not because of it. I worry that Rochford has over-complicated things to such a degree that we now have a fear of losing as opposed to a hunger for victory. Our management gets the starting 15 and match-ups generally perfect, but after that, I believe we lose track of things and our “in-game” management is not up to speed. Caution is always our managements first thought and too often we put on half backs instead of forwards when we are chasing games. We have developed a habit of not playing players in their natural position and then expecting them to perform as if it was!
    From July 24th, a post of mine “The one thing McStay has in bucket-loads is a unified dressing room and a group of lads that believe implicitly in his plan and message. That belief has been further infused with a Connaught medal…… These lads know that they have McStays trust, they will back him and each other on the pitch”.
    I feel these young Rossies will go harder for longer on Monday and it is going to take something really special for us to turn them over. Someone posted earlier comparing Ali v Foreman and the Rumble in the Jungle with our replay with Roscommon. While it might be a bit extreme (I don’t believe for one minute that our squad is on it’s last legs not do I believe that Roscommon are some fearsome unbeatable man-crushing beast) but, the comparison is interesting nonetheless. In that fight, after 2 rounds of Ali dancing, jabbing, scoring with head-shots, landing combinations of southpaw jabs and left handed uppercuts, body-shots, hurling insults and abuse to Foreman, Ali realized he was not going to be able to beat him by boxing skills as he had neither the stamina nor power to drop the giant of a man that Foreman was. Neither could he dance around him all night in the searing heat and humidity. He had to find another way. When Ali returned to his corner after round 2, he ignored his corner team, refused to sit down on his stool to rest and water, and instead stood upright staring over at his opponent. Thinking. Breathing heavily from 6 mins of trying to knock his man down early and finish the fight, he knew he was facing something different and he had figure a way out. If you watch it again you can see Ali thinking to himself, blinking, nodding, glancing over and back to Foreman, all the time thinking, almost staring in to space. As Norman Mailer put it, it was as if Ali was looking deep in to his soul and saying “Alright Muhammad, this is it. Have you got it? More importantly do you want it? How bad do you want it?”
    This is that moment for Mayo. Do they have it in them to beat Roscommon? Do they want it? How bad do they want it? We have neither form nor identity at the minute, we haven’t produced a good solid 75 mins of football since last years drawn All Ireland final. There is even a fair argument to be made that we have regressed under Rochford as we are only playing in fits and starts. So lads, Is it to end on Monday afternoon, on the Croke Park pitch, to Roscommon?
    Will the real Mayo please come out to play on Monday.

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