Light in the tunnel

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!

23 thoughts on “Light in the tunnel

  1. Well done Fourgoal and fair play for keeping the faith. I might have missed a few of the devotions and masses but you were solid all the time. Nice place to be and a well argued piece.

  2. good piece fourgoal but sometimes i think you are with the fairies with you waffle…. is that not the same as any supporter in any county would say and want

    your on about no automatic selections for key poistions which i have to say it totally wrong

    1)key poistion full forward – Conor Mort i know he is not playing but who else is there besides him and dont say Freeman orDoherty between them how many points have they?

    2)center half forward – 12 – Dillion or Andy Moran – tell me who else would you have there?

    3)midfield – fair enough mcgarrity is very good but as a sub, no way he could last 70 mins

    4)center half – Vaughan is the best of them and he is not having a great season


  3. Baz – easy there with the personal criticisms. It’s okay to take issue on an objective basis with what’s being written here but not to cast aspersions on the writer or to use the kind of generalities in your comment. Please bear in mind for future reference.

  4. Jaysus Willie Joe, i dont think Baz was out of order.I dont think he actually thinks fourgoal is a headcase,im sure fourgoal isnt hiding under his pillow crying right now.

  5. I’m sure he isn’t, Brighton, but he’s a guest contributor here and I’d prefer if terms like “away with the fairies” and “waffle” weren’t aimed in his direction. I’ve no problem with robust debate on specifics but I’m less keen on the other stuff.

  6. Excellent stuff Fourgoal. Very well thought out. I agree that it’s brilliant we’re losing the Mr. Nice Guy tag. About time too!
    I watched the Cork game twice now & each time the hitting (fair) and the chasing harrying harrassing was unreal.
    Not one Cork player had a minute to think! Remember how Tyrone always go about beating Kerry WORK WORK WORK. Be in their face every minute of the game.
    I think if we keep the intensity up for 70 minutes & are in touching distance (-4 at worst) at half time we can get the crowd going, get out there in the 2nd half and for the first time since 1996 take these Kerry men to the cleaners.
    Maigh Eo forever!!!

  7. Excellent piece Fourgoal. The fight is there and anything is possible as last Sunday proved! Maigh Eo abu!

  8. The thing I am most happy with is the fact that James Horan seems to learn as each match goes by. The lesson from London wasn’t the fact that the Howley experiment went wrong, it was that London had a cut at it, nothing to lose, 15 against 15. Its a simple game really and London proved that. Horan learned from the experience.

    A thing I assumed that was in Mayo teams but was obviously missing was fight on the pitch. Horan has installed that…in buckets. It wont be enough to beat Kerry but throw in a dollop of skill along with a hunger …then we might upset another blue blood.

    Having often cursed/venerated Conor over the years I would welcome him back but back under the new rules. No kings and no royalty, every man working his socks off . A fit Mort with ten minutes to go and a rasher thin lead or deficit to be taken on would be of use , so too would a fit Pat Harte. Anyway we deal with what we got and what we got has done the job. Keep it bubbling.

  9. Anyone know what’s the story with pat harte? He wud be a big asset if available. I see quirke has left Kerry panel. Trouble in the camp?

  10. Great piece FourGoal, enjoyed it. We have a great team of honest footballers, cant wait for 2wks time.

  11. No trouble in the Kerry camp but the cynic in me believes Kerry would like the country to believe that was the case, They do this stuff all the time, ” cute hoors” is the understatement. Forget what’s happening in Kerry, these days are gone as far as i can make out with this present set up in Mayo. We seem competent enough to work on our own agenda, no more ” ahh poor Mayo” it’s hit anything that’s moving and play our own game.

    Never been as happy ( and surprised) with a team, they have done us so proud and i don’t think they’re going to slip into the background and make way for the mighty kingdom, they’ll put in a good show i’m sure and who knows maybe we could sneak it.

    It’s like a fkin dream, i still have to think , is this really happening, from pearse pk in Longford to Croke pk last Sunday. If Carlsberg did ” comebacks from the dead” and all that.

  12. Fourball i apologise if you took offence to my blog, but there was no intention of a personal attack,

    it was a good read, but all i disagreed with was the automatic selections piece you wrote about,

    as manager James Horan has done a great job and i would not change anything

    UP MAYO!!

  13. Sean it’s mighty to see ya in such a positive spirit. You regularly ground the eternal optomists. Le cunamh Dé we will give it a good lash on the 21st.

  14. I saw a young and pacy Dublin team chew and spit out the remains of the great Tyrone team tonight. It left me wondering if a changing of the guard is in progress.
    Of the Kerry team that started the semi-final against Limerick you had Aiden O’Mahony, Marc O’Shea, Tom O’Sullivan, Tomas O’Shea, Eoin Brosnan, Paul Galvin, Declan O’Sullivan and the Gooch who started against us in the 2004 final, seven years ago.

    Over half a team! That’s a lot of tired legs that we could exploit is we are clever.

  15. No problem, Baz.
    What I was suggesting was that some people were beginning to emerge as genuine prospects in the different lines of the team, but those named in specific positions do not necessarily pick up their opposite numbers as the lines are operating as units in their own right. One of the differences in this team is that anyone could be replaced the next day out if it was for the good of the team and if it makes the line stronger. In previous years, we had several players whose automatic inclusion in specific positions seemed to be without question. And in previous years, we failed.

    Hopefully, the greater competition for places and the lines acting as units will bring a different outcome.

    Keep the Faith!

  16. I totally agree with your hurt comment as regards Kerry Fourgoal. I read Jack O’Connor’s book last week as part of my research into our next opponents (just like the team and management, us supporters need to be up on the next game). Well by page 5 I was sick of listening to poor Jack and his hurt of 2005.
    My thought was same as yours, try 60 years. But it did strike me that there was a difference. I think they channel theirs differnently, they expect to win, their public expects them to win and when they dont there really is hurt which they then use as a force for good. With us in past times it tends to be a “lick the wounds, sure we didnt really believe we’d win anway” variety rather than being a full on lets channel this hurt and win variety.
    Anyway, what struck me was how much research they had done on us for the 2006 final, they knew our kick out strategy, it didnt change for the final, they had an effective plan and they took us to the cleaners at midfield. Game over in 10 minutes.
    The same analysis is going on now, as you’d expect so I hope we have something similar in the back pocket to get them thinking. What struck me abotu 2004 and 2006 is that it seemed (and I know I’m only getting one side of the story) was that Jack O’Connor had come up with strategies specifically designed to beat us. And they worked. Whereas we seemed happy enough with showing up and attempting to go toe to toe with them. We know what happened next….
    What concerns me is the fact also that we are going up against a full time professional manager. JOC is a teacher and does nothing else all summer but plan and train this Kerry team. Even when he works he only works half days, the county board picking up the tab for the time he takes off. He also seems to have a very generous employer.
    James on the other hand works for a multinational, who, from my experience of multinationals, will nod the head to the achievements of one of its employees, will give a little bit of slack but certainly wont be granting large tranches of time off to plan and train the county team.
    Theres also the family situation, Jack has 2 grown sons, James 4 young children. Being in the latter same situation myself I really dont know how he manages. And I though my wife was understanding!
    Whats my point? Well its just an observation really between us, that we’ll be up against a manager who will have analysed us inside out and will have spent plenty of time preparing.
    They can be beaten but I just hope we are planning specifically for them and not hoping that the performance against Cork alone will do it for us. It wont. The level has to be upped again. But, we can do it. Heres hoping.

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