FourGoal McGee has taken the floor here on a few occasions this year and he’s back again now to assess how things are shaping up for us compared to where we stood at the start of 2011.
Back at the end of last year, Willie Joe gave me the honour of writing the last post of 2010 and to suggest a few things that James Horan might take into account in 2011. I summarised them as follows:
- Believe in the right to win
- Forget about past defeats, they have no relevance to any new game
- 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.
In April, he gave me the stage again and I proceeded to raise a few hackles when I suggested that it is in Mayo’s interest to have a strong Connaught, as it raised the bar for Mayo and made us a better prospect when we went to Croke Park. In early June, following the slobbering that surrounded the London game, I ventured forth again and suggested what needed to be done to get back to basics.
This post is a sort of a progress report as to where I see “Project Mayo” at this point and to see what, if anything, has changed in Mayo football since the start of the year. Let’s start with the end of year post.
One of the major changes has been the development of a belief in the right to win. This was obvious in three most recent championship games, particularly in the second halves. There was never a sense of panic and in those halves there always seemed to a belief that they would win.
In the way Cork were faced down last Sunday, there was no genuflection to past defeats and this is something that has caught the pundits off guard. This team are not prepared to be whipping boys for anyone.
I don’t know what James Horan’s plan was for the whole year and, like most others, I would presume that he is now in bonus territory. However, this team is stronger than it was in the Connaught Final, so the question I would ask is: when had they planned to peak? Only the Mayo management can answer that one.
One of the things alluded to by James Horan at the end of the match on Sunday was that the lads were all playing right on the edge of the acceptable level of aggression. That is a very welcome sight. Nice guys in inter-county Gaelic football eventually get ridiculed. Brolly, Hayes, Spillane, et al. were doing this in spadefuls in the lead-up to the match because a Mayo senior team playing with this type of intensity has been unheard of in recent years.
In relation to the other points, I don’t know what inspiration is being drawn on from the past, but there is a new pride in the jersey that is great to observe and in the way this team is emerging, the players of the future now have a new bunch of heroes to look up to.
So what then of the stronger Connaught theory? Well, at the start of the year, Galway were in disarray, Roscommon, Leitrim and London were in Division 4 and Sligo were getting demoted down to Division 3. As the only team holding its own in Division 1, Mayo looked odds-on to win Connaught without raising a sweat.
However, things changed. Galway won an U21 All-Ireland title, Roscommon started throwing good performances together and London gave us one hell of a kick in the arse that brought us down to earth with a bang. Suddenly, Connaught was going to be a scrap and we would have to be at our best to get out of it. As it happened, Galway were not allowed to play in the second half – a testament to Mayo as much as it was an indictment of Galway – and the bright star that was Roscommon faded in the Hyde Park monsoon – again not giving Mayo the credit they deserved for this win. So I’ll stand by my original assertion, a strong challenge in Connaught produces a strong challenger coming out of Connaught.
In that third article I did, I suggested that strong underage Mayo teams exhibited a number of traits that we should aspire to in our senior set-up, namely:
- 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
It is interesting to note that the response in early June was that we ticked few, if any of these boxes. From what I saw in Croke Park last Sunday, the development emphasis – with the obvious exception of the goalkeeping position – has been on lines of the team rather than individual positions. This means that the full backs (or those in other lines) all cover for one another and it is through this that we now recognise the people who are emerging to fill the descriptions above. Another thing that I missed in that article was the way Mayo could bring its own brand of football to the fore by building it on a strong defensive base. This is a combination of some of the statements made in that article:
Mayo football,…. an open, attacking, fast-moving game,…. is not a defensive game. It thrives on taking the play to the opposition. And over the years I have seem glimpses of it re-emerging in Mayo county teams. The 1983 U21 team had it. The senior team in 1996 in the semi final against Kerry had it. The 2006 comeback against the Dubs displayed elements of it. The Minors in 2008 had it. Even this year, when the shackles were taken off at 14 points down in the Croke Park league game against Dublin, it surfaced and brought us back to level pegging. The league game against Cork earlier this year also showed again that it is there – just below the surface.
And it was there again against Cork last Sunday but it has now developed a very strong defensive element as well.
So where is “Project Mayo” now? Is that it for this year, or can we expect more? After all, it is our great nemesis Kerry that we face next. No-one expects us to progress. The pundits say that Cork was a wounded beast, short of its main attacking threat. Kerry will be different. Or will they? Consider the following:
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 made a comment on this blog to a post that was written on June 6th 2010. Go back and read the frustration in it. I laughed the other day when I saw an article saying that the hunger was back in Kerry. Hunger! Try 60 fucking years! You have no idea what hunger is!
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.
Our day is coming.
Keep the Faith!