Photo: NASA/Getty Images
It was 20th July 1969. I was just weeks short of my tenth birthday and we were leaving Pearse Stadium having drawn with Galway in the Connaught Final. The memory of game itself is a blur but I vividly remember the adults talking in amazed tones on the way back to the car. That evening, for the first time in history, men would walk on the moon and in the days that followed we would all see the grainy TV footage accompanied by Neil Armstrong’s immortal words: “Just one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
To me, it seemed that Mayo needed to take just a small step to equal Galway’s great feats earlier that decade and for the next two weeks I played out the replay in the field in front of the house. Like all Mayo-mad kids, I was every player, making the crucial block, the spectacular high catch, the incisive pass, getting the seemingly impossible score and always winning the day for Mayo. And in childhood fashion, the accompanying commentary was part of the experience, Carey to Morley, to Corcoran, to Langan, to McGee and a GOAL for Mayo. One small step needed, one giant leap in waiting. But while the Connaught Final that followed would indeed go Mayo’s way, the giant leap did not materialise.
Almost 45 years on and having looked again at the recent Mayo matches against Dublin and Derry, the results would suggest that the giant leap might be beyond us again this year. The pundits agreed. The tanned one from Sligo suggested that three years of effort had been too much and that the team was now “leggy” (he also suggested that Kerry are Dublin’s greatest threat this year!). Another pointed to the goals we conceded in the league and said that Mayo has lost the ability to defend (despite having four All-Star backs between 2012 and 2013). The lack of a marquee forward was also hinted at but the general view was that none of that really mattered, because that cloud of dust we could see on the horizon was all that was still visible of an unbeatable Dublin team, as they disappeared to September glory, out of sight of the following pack.
In those two games, we were slow and ponderous in attack, we were predictable, we became defensive when we had the extra man, we faded when we should have been getting strong. Since then, JH expressed the view that these failings are all small things that have been analysed and are being worked on. In addition, the competition for places is stronger than ever and preparations are going well.
That all may be true, but the niggling reality is that we need to go up gear from last year if we are to go all the way.
Don’t get me wrong. Mayo are a formidable outfit. Like last year, I expect us to come roaring out of the blocks in Connaught. I expect a top drawer performance on the August Bank Holiday weekend and I expect us to win again a few weeks later too. But to do that and have a realistic chance of the big prize, we need one more small step.
JH has been criticised in the past for being over-conservative and relying too often on the same faces. For three years he has consistently brought us to the table, but the big celebration has eluded us. We seemed to be out-thought and out-fought on the big days. Something new is needed. We need to change the mindset, to be brave and to go for it!
Donegal did that in 2012, Dublin did it in 2013. Even the young Rossies did a bit of it when getting three goals in four minutes recently against the Dubs in the U21 final. Regrettably, the Rossie sideline had showed Dublin way too much respect and had allowed them to build up a lead of 19 points before the lads themselves threw caution to the wind and started playing, eventually losing by nine.
And will we get this change? Well, the appearance of Gavin Duffy could be showing that JH has contemplated the maxim “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got” and is realising that something has to change. There is no guarantee that Gavin will get any game time this year but can you imagine the consternation in the opposing manager’s head if he was sprung with fifteen minutes to go in a crucial game? Can you imagine the lift that the crowd would get? Can you imagine the unpredictability that could result?
Photo: Mayo GAA (via Facebook)
Could the one small step be a change of mindset in the manager to become more unpredictable? Could that carry through into how the team could approach the game? Could it result in a Mayo team finally cutting loose and burying the past?
Maybe, just maybe! As supporters, we can only wait and anticipate a long Summer.
Plenty of time to work on the small step.
Plenty of time to savour a giant leap.
Keep the Faith!