It’s a New Year and it’s time for a new voice in the guest slot on the site. Here’s Darragh Berry with some thoughts about a new Mayo GAA year.
There I sat, my head in my hands in an Irish bar in Tenerife, five points down to Dublin with as many minutes remaining. Then I remembered, this is what the Mayo team live for and just as I lifted my head, they lifted the tempo. Just like I left my voice in that bar in Tenerife, the Mayo lads left everything in Croker that day.
The following week, once again, I sat in a bar to watch the replay. I swear I’m not an alcoholic (even though being a Mayo fan would drive you to drink sometimes) but the replay clashed with a family wedding. I missed most of the dinner, even though, I hadn’t much of an appetite after the final result. Just as I had been spurred on by the mountain that faced Mayo in the final few minutes of the first game, I was wary of the four-point lead we had chalked up mid-way through the second half of the replay. As the game wore down to its curtain call, a Dub who was sitting nearby sighed “Poor Mayo”. He wasn’t being sarcastic, he was genuinely sorry that we had endured another ‘oh so near’.
Being beaten in the penultimate match by the eventual winners in the last two years has been little consolation and a bitter pill to swallow. It was déjà vu, Dublin were Kerry in disguise. A year previous, Mayo were one kick away from heading to the final. I grabbed my buddy’s green and red shirt in the Gaelic Grounds as Hennelly’s impossible free kick seemed to be swirling over the bar. Storm Desmond would have come in handy that day but alas the free fell short like Mayo’s dreams. Horan felt he could not bring the team any further while Holmes and Connelly didn’t get the chance to fulfil their potential, facing heavy scrutiny from the get-go.
With the New Year came a new manager in Stephen Rochford. He is a proven winner with an All- Ireland medal as both a player and manager. He hit the ground running on Sunday with the win over NUIG but it’s inevitable what his main goal is and I’m sure it coincides with the beliefs of Mayo players and supporters alike: Bring Sam back.
It just shows the hunger of Mayo football in the last few years. A Connaught title isn’t good enough, a semi-final bow out to the eventual champions isn’t good enough and as Mickey Moran found out rapidly in ‘06 a final appearance isn’t good enough. It is relatively easy to inherit a winning team, how easy is it to inherit a team that has been the bridesmaid but never the bride?
The FBD is nothing to go by but it was nice to see the inclusion of Ballintubber man Jason Gibbons back in the frame. The midfield is a strong area of the Mayo team and to be able to call on Gibbons, Parsons, O’ Shea and Moran is a huge boost. Despite all this, Rochford needs to go into his reign with a clean sheet. Don’t be afraid to make the big calls and leave out the big names if needs be, don’t be afraid to call up some Mitchels players (they are the county champions after all), don’t be afraid to mark your territory.
How can one team bounce back year after year following heartbreak after heartbreak? There is one thing that keeps the flame lit in the Mayo camp and that is desire. It is a crying shame that the likes of McDonald, Mortimer, Padden, Nallen and Horan have no All-Ireland county medals to their names. There is just as many big names if not bigger in this current team and they are determined to leave a fulfilled legacy.
Old Moore’s Almanac predicted that both Liam and Sam would be returning back to the twisting, turning, winding roads of Galway and Mayo. The ‘curse’ has been used as an excuse for the ‘oh so nears’ of the Mayo team of late. This tied in with the terrifying prospect of stepping out in Croke Park. If superstitions are a part of the Mayo team, hopefully this year they will focus on Old Moore’s prediction and not old excuses that have haunted them for years.
Regardless, we will still turn up in our droves, from FBD days right through, God willing, to the third Sunday in September. We keep the faith, because we are Mayo fans and although we have no All-Ireland (as of yet) we do have faith.