Northern exposure for us early next year

Photo:  Irish Times (Ryan Byrne/Inpho)

Playing the All-Ireland less than a week before Christmas Day has its advantages. With all the Yuletide running around I’ve had to do since Saturday, I haven’t had much time at all to brood on the result. I’m well over it all now.

I’ve only popped my head in here the odd time as well since Sunday, for the same reason. In a normal year, I’d be reaching for the shutters around now to close up shop on the blog for the festive season. But this is anything but a normal year.

Next year, by the looks of it, won’t be a whole load better, even if, from a Covid-19 perspective, the imminent start of the vaccine rollout gives us all hope about a return to something approaching normality at some undefined point in the future.

The impact of Covid on next year’s GAA calendar is already clear. Yesterday, the association unveiled its fixture plan for 2021 (overview here), featuring, as expected, a split season that will see the inter-county action played off first following by the club Championships.

As had been trailed in advance, the usual January fare – in our case, the FBD League – has been shelved for 2021 and the start of the National League has been pushed back to the end of February. With no pre-season U20 action this year either, this means that the first two months of the year – when normally there’s a veritable frenzy of matches – will be largely devoid of any action.

The shape of next year’s Leagues were also leaked some time ago and so yesterday’s announcement confirmed what was already largely known. We’re in Division Two North along with Meath (relegated along with us from Division One this year), Down (promoted this year from Division Three) and Westmeath.

On recent Championship form, we should have plenty to spare on all three of the teams in our group. As we all know, however, that’s not the way it works, with our League form tending to be patchy enough.

If we’re contemplating a quick return to the top tier next year then we’ll need to finish first or second in our group and then win the resultant semi-final to claim one of the two promotion spots. That means we’d need to win three out of four games, with the semi-final a must-win one.

I know we may have expected a more leisurely life in Division Two but, by the looks of it, there’s no real margin for error in our 2021 League schedule. We’d better bear that in mind as we start to plan for another year of inter-county action.

46 thoughts on “Northern exposure for us early next year

  1. Of all the defeats Willie Joe this one seems the least difficult to accept. It’s still not a remotely easy one, far from it. 2004 was a little easier to accept for me as I was getting on a plane to Australia for the year of dossing six weeks later – I was well distracted.
    Still, this New Year means we’ll have to wait a few weeks more than normal before our bucks are ready to go again and as usual I am really looking forward to it.
    Sam McGuire or not our bucks are a real treasure, no more than yourself Willie Joe!
    Happy Christmas folks and see ye all in ’21.

  2. Haven’t really commented since Saturday, but I just want to praise David Clarke. I watched via rte so am not sure what I say is true (because for some reason rte were in highlights mode during kick outs), but i think he had an 8/10 in my opinon. Won’t be his biggest fan but after his performance last Saturday won’t mind seeing him in 2021.

  3. @Castlebarred, agreed David Clarke restarts stats were probably the best of any team V Dublin in a number of years. It’s a two way street, the movement and effort outfield was top class overall…

  4. Donie Buckley, is joining the Monaghan back room team according to the Examiner, that’s a long drive…Big loss for the Kingdom and a great addition for the Farney!

  5. Hope all the players and management staff enjoy their Christmas without too many hangovers they certainly deserve it.They have put a huge effort in over the last couple of months I’m sure some of them will find it difficult to get moving forward again mentally and physically. Amongst all the heartache I’m glad somebody mentioned David Clarke and how good he was because certainly he has got a lot of abuse over the years in regards to his kick outs. Thank you Willie Joe enjoy your Christmas.

  6. The articles from Eamon Fitzmaurice and Kieran Shannon in the examiner were really good. Lifted my mood to be honest compared to some of the other stuff written!

    Having thought about it, I can’t see any of our players retiring. They’ll have a couple of weeks off over Christmas and it’s basically into a max 6 month season with the all Ireland final in mid July. What’s the point of stepping away when it’s not possible to travel or have a few pints at the weekend! Although it’s probably necessary for a few tough calls to be made on 2 or 3 older lads that aren’t going to get back into the starting 15.

    I’d like to see Colm Reape in goals for the league. He’s not as good a goalkeeper as Clarke yet, but his kickouts are like Patton or Beggan. It could give us a new dimension.

    Conor Loftus did nothing wrong this year but I don’t believe he can be our midfielder long term. Try Oisín Mullin alongside Mattie or else Stephen Coen and put Mullin at 6.

    Need to unearth a couple of natural corner/full backs. Whether it’s Jack Coyne, David McBrien, Eoin O’Donoghue, Harrison or Swanny doesn’t matter. All our backs need to learn from the mistakes made vs Tyrone in league, Tipp and Dublin last weekend. Good defensive instincts are needed to stop following your man or the ball blindly, resulting in goal chances.

    Finally, try and increase the quality of substitutes we bring on. Easier said than done when compared to Dublin of course but there are a few players in the county who have the potential to step up.

  7. I hope that when 2021 rolls around the Mayo management decide to make Aiden O’Shea their full time full forward and stop moving him outfield. With a bit of work he could be fisting/palming the ball to the net as good as any Dub.
    Certainly he has the required assistance in Cillian and Tommy Conroy while any of our half forwards can provide the ammunition too. Who knows, he may even embarrass some referee, or maybe two, into giving him a free occasionally.
    Meantime I hope all involved, players and management, enjoy a good Christmas despite all the limitations.
    I wonder how many challenge games will be played before the start of the NFL. I cannot see many managers going into competition without a runout or two

  8. Paddyjoejohntom – as far as I know, if we win Connacht and progress to a semi, we would meet Dublin there. We met them in 2012 and 2015.

  9. Didn’t comment since the game but read every one. As usual some very good analysis and reasoned debate, however far too much moaning and conspiracy theories for my liking.
    We were beaten by the better team, a team with more skills, more stamina, more belief in themselves. My only regret and I’d say James Horans too is that we didn’t have a right go for the 10mins after half time. We let them kill the game for 10mins, they did the damage in the next 15mins and then killed the remaining time on the clock. I suppose that’s what they call game management.
    It’s been a mixed year with relegation followed by a connacht title followed by this defeat. The roller-coaster just keeps on rolling.
    Looking forward to the league and seeing more debutants as the transition continues.
    Happy Christmas to you all but especially to you WJ.

  10. Billy Joe said after the game that he just doesn’t see the benefit of Aidan at full forward and feels his best work is still around the middle. I think Aidans lack of scoring return from full forward supports this, however, fitness in MF will be an issue for him especially against Dublin. Aidan is 30 now. Can he really be converted into a full forward at this stage of his career? Plus, he’ll never get the frees he deserves. I’d still have Aidan as a number 6. I’ve been saying it for years now.

  11. Never mind this notion of putting AOS in at ff and hoping to win frees, we need a man in there who can get the ball, turn and bang it over the bar. A top class forward isnt dependent on the whistle, Cillian in the first half was getting loads of joy taking his marks and kicking points first time. Aidan winning a few frees inside every game isnt enough, we would need far more from him in there

    I see monaghan have added Donie Buckley and ulster rugby coach Jonny davis to their backroom team, thats a serious backroom assembled, Buckley especially is a serious recruit. There must be money in monaghan

  12. I’d need to rewatch but how long was Aidan even at 14?
    I feel when we move him in and out we destroy his game confidence/flow.
    We wear him out at midfield and then are suprised when he is subdued at 14.
    I see value in Aidan at 14 but only if he is left there. His role would chiefly be to win ball and lay it off. He also soaks up at least one physical defender and at times a sweeper.

  13. I disagree on our tackling. I think we foul a lot. Often in scoreable positions too.

  14. First comment since the result, I don’t wish to be overly negative but I think people are not being realistic about the margin of defeat. Dublin won comfortably in the end and the result was never in doubt by the start of the 4th quarter. If the game had continued for another 10 minutes the deficit likely would have widened to 10 points. They are further ahead than they’ve ever been, it’s an obvious tactic to feel their way into the game in the first half and not go all out, we saw this with the first half on Sat, first half in last year semi and last year replay final v Kerry. Just being competitive in one half of football with them is now seen as an achievement because there’s only a handful of counties that can do, it’s a very low and worrying bar. Whilst they have their advantages in fitness, stamina and replacements on the bench no team will beat them in championship other than through a freak event such as an early red card (And even then it would be a stretch..)

    The context of this defeat also shows what an achievement the level of performance was in the 2016 and 2017 finals. Overall re-watching them games there was a far greater level of sophistication and strategy in the gameplan than Saturday, particularly in terms of defense. We also looked fitter and were competitive to the very end. Perhaps Rochford didn’t get enough credit for that? Though it’s difficult to judge comparisons due to the circumstances of this year but the prolonged break etc

    Still a hugely promising year it must be said, the trajectory is definitely upward which it wasn’t after 2017. Some great new finds and encouraging players coming through, though it looks like second is the best we can hope for until something is done about the blue whale.

    Thank you to everyone involved with Mayo GAA this season, your fortitude and perservenace kept us going through these dark times. And of course a special thank you to you @WillieJoe, I would be interested to know the amount of time you dedicated to this blog, it looks like a full time side job (if that makes sense). Just know it is hugely appreciated by us all and life would be poorer without it. Maigh Eo Abú!

  15. When we had Buckley we did defend better but we still conceded those poxy goals in finals, some of which were also palmed in, by small forwards which is worse again. Infuriating in fact. Embarrassing even. And Bernard Brogan cutting in from the sideline surrounded by 3 Mayo men but still being allowed to set up another tap-in, when really he should have been sent into the upper tier of the Davin stand with a shoulder.

    I think that the main reason we’ve always conceded like that is a lack of cohesion, lack of trust perhaps, not just in the backs but in the team as a whole. Its the only explanation. Its happens far too often for it to be anything else. We always have top defenders, nobody can argue with that, but as a unit, we’re all over the shop. It drains us, as we’re constantly playing catchup. It also proves another thing: the owngoals in 2016 were no flukes really. They were our own bloody faults plain and simple.

    I’m sorry to say but as things stand we’re as far away from an All Ireland as ever. I don’t know what the solutions are. We need to get cuter and far meaner but its easier said than done. The one thing that impresses me about Dublin is the way they can adapt and plan during half time then come out and nullify ÀLL the opposition threats. I hear they’ve a big screen in the dressing room going over clips. I’m assuming both teams have access to one nowadays but evidently Dublin utilise this facility far better than anyone else. It helps to have the players that they have but we still need more TACTICAL smarts. We’ve always been found wanting in this regard and to be fair to Rochy he was the best we ever had in this regard. I think that’s irrefutable. The changing of goalkeeper for the replay was his only big lapse in my view.

  16. @Liberal…

    There was an interesting discussion on the gaa hour the other day, cian ward who is always a good analyst was extremely critical of Mayo on both goals, identifying a number of collective and individual errors in both dublin goals. Basically there wasnt enough selflessness in the defending on both occasions, ie lads were just blindly following their own men without anticipating where the real danger was.

    In the first goal, once it was clear mccarthy was burning AOS for pace it was up to a few of the defenders to clog up that middle, it was likely dublin would be forced to shift the ball out a bit and kick a point but so be it. You’d take that as damage was done once mccarthy was goalside.

    In the 2nd goal there really should have been no danger, con in a standing position with 4 defenders goalside, they all run to con then run to scully leaving con, criminal naivete. Barrett was particulalry poor on that one considering his experience

    By contrast, look at the keegan/fitzsimons incident again, undoubtedly fitzsimons gets away with one but he took one for the team, he sees Keegan is making a burst, identifies him as the main danger at that moment in time, leaves his own man and creams keegan, he sniffed out the danger and was ruthless. Thats the difference

  17. Supermac – our defending against Tipp was even worse and Kerry did the same sort of defending for Murchens goal last year.
    Defenders surely have to sense where the real danger is and block up the middle. No point following your player out to the corner flag and allow players with the ball walk through the middle. Having said that our defence did improve a good bit compared to the Tipp game.
    Just wondering what young players are out there that are likely to come onto the senior in next year or two.
    Frank Irwin and Paddy Heneghan looked good with the u17 team last year. Towey looks promising and I think that Jack Coyne from Balkyhaunis looks a promising corner back

  18. I love Cian Ward’s analysis supermac. He’s the best in the business in my opinion. He cuts through the BS and comes at it in a very player-centred way, demonstrating a deep understanding of the game.

    Re the first goal, I think the main issue was the timing. It’s the start of the match and naturally players are told who to pick up and to stick religiously to their man. But, Dubs had that worked out, and knew the seas would part and space would be there for Mccarthy when Aido was scorched for pace. It was a brilliantly worked goal to be fair, a carbon-copy of Murchans against Kerry last year, ie right after the throw-in (murchans on the resumption of the second half).

    Yeah, re the Fitzsimons smash, I think if we’re all honest and weren’t from Mayo we’d have admired that one if one of our lads did the same to a Dub. It probably was a yellow and no more. But it was criminal that we didn’t even get a free. We had the Dubs measure at that point and Fitzsimons experience came to the fore: ie smash Mayo’s best player, create a turnover, and inspire his team. Boy did it work. I’ve yet to watch it back but in real-time I thought Aido’s pass was of the hospital variety..? I think Fitzsimons may have intended to hit Lee fairly. Its so hard to know. Plus, in that move, we were very patient, then…just when we break the line and make progress, bang, Lee is nailed.

    But that raises a broader point, ie the difficulty we have converting possession into opportunity compared to Dublin, who achieve this with relative ease. We utilise so much energy, often resulting in zero.

  19. Supermac we need a sweeper at all times against them.

    3 full back players who stay inside the 21 and another man sweeping who’s only job is protect the goal.this formation needs to be practiced heavily.

    There just doesn’t look to be much work done on this at all. We should have a defensive coach who works with the Keeper, full back line and sweeper. It’s the area we could make the biggest gains for the least effort.

    Need to focus on how do i make the forward uncomfortable, body position, when and how to foul, how to handle runners, high ball etc. We just really need to copy what the Dubs do in this area. i don’t think any of there individual defenders are outstanding they just make sure they have enough bodies around their goal and apply loads of pressure and foul when required

  20. Did we really defend better under Buckley? The 2013 final, 2 Kerry games in 2014, Dublin replay in 2015, 2 own goals in 2016 final, conceded an early goal in 2017 final and conceded over 20 points vs Kildare in 2018.

    Our tackling and work rate was better than ever this year. We just need to get smarter about when to drop off and protect our goals.

    Andy Moran made a good point about Cillian on second captains. He’s doing too much tracking and dog work off the ball. Why was he in our full back line marking scully for the 2nd goal? He’s not helping us there. On another occasion he tried to track Murchan running up the field. He needs to get smarter about conserving energy during the game.

  21. Frank Irwin and Paddy Heneghan are still 18. By all means bring them in for experience but next year will come too soon for them.

    Jack Carney and Enda Hession are probably the 2 players on next year’s U20 team capable of coming into the senior side.

  22. Yeah i was listening to that second captains pod too (Andy and McConville are a great double act), would agree with Andys point that we dont need to see cillian back there, he is too honest for his own good and puts in a savage work rate but he was the last man back on scully for the 2nd goal. His workrate is a huge asset in our forward press but would like to see hime relieved of any responsibilty past his halfway line, particularly as he was having such joy on the edge of square in first half.

    On an individual basis you wouldnt say dublins defenders have been better than any of the mayo defenders over past 6-7 years but in terms of collective defending they are far better and more selfless, The fitzsimons example i mention above a prime example, also feel that John Small doesnt get enough credit there, he was putting out fires all over the place in the 2nd half, sniffing out danger and cutting out the ball, he was a motm contender in my eyes.

    We need a pure stopper back there somewhere,at the very top level its not enough to say ‘well i kept my man reasonably quiet, he only scored 0-2’, possibly need to consider a sweeper option for some games. Who is the smartest player/best reader of the game in the squad? They would be assigned that role

  23. @Liberalrole I agree with you having AOS AT 6. Our throw in strategy is not working and having Aiden in central position would force opposition to go out wide as no clear run down the middle.
    For kickouts he can push into the middle and options available to the opposition will be reduced. He is possibly the best tackler in the game so will be utilising those skills outside the scoring danger zone. I don’t think the14 position suits his game as he needs to be involved in the action and we have not perfected the type of ball flight necessary to do maximum damage inside.
    JH has a lot of things to ponder over the coming weeks as do some of the old warriors. Roll on end of February!

  24. Just got the print version of the programme. Messers there at DBA – won’t let me download with my coupon, and of course they are closed until Jan 4th.

    So, I’ll have to transcribe some of this stuff.

    Panel: Includes some we haven’t heard much of for a while: Rory Byrne, Jack Coyne, David McBrien, James McCormack, Fionn McDonagh, Darren McHale, Eoin O’Donoghue, Paul Towey, Donie Vaughan

  25. More from the programme.

    Backroom teams, compare and contrast:

    MAYO (18)

    Manager: JH
    Coach/Selector: James Burke
    Coach/Selector: Ciaran McDonald
    GK Coach: Tom Higgins
    Selector: Martin Lally
    S&C: Conor Finn
    Stats: Jack Murray
    Doc: Seán Moffatt
    Physio: Mark Gallagher
    Physio: Brendan Butler
    Kitman: Liam Ludden
    Logistics: Joe Doyle
    Stats: Evan Gannon
    Nutritionist: Evan Regan
    Performance Coach: Martin McIntyre
    Values & Behaviour: Ger Cafferkey
    Physio: Darren Flannery
    Player Welfare: Noel Howley

    DUBLIN (29)

    Manager: DF
    Selector: Shane O’Hanlon
    Selector: Mick Galvin
    Selector: Brian O’Regan
    Coach: Darren Daly
    Physio: James Allen
    Analysis Team: Stephen Behan
    Kitman: David Boylan
    Performance Coach: Bryan Cullen
    Media Manager: Seamus McCormack
    GK Coach: Josh Moran
    Doc: Kieran O’Malley
    Physio: Niall Barry
    Kitman: John Campbell
    Analysis Team: John Courtney
    Sports Therapist: Richard Daly
    Nutritionist: Daniel Davey
    Sports Therapist: Paul Donnelly
    Cameraman: Chris Farrell
    Logistics: David Hendrick
    Nutritionist: Neil Irwin
    Dev. Gym Coach: Shane Malone
    Gym Coach: Tommy Mooney
    Performance Consultant: Brendan Murphy
    Performance Consultant: Seán Murphy
    Physio: Kieran O’Reilly
    Analysis Team: Frankie Roebuck
    Doc: Diarmuid Smith
    Analysis Team: Ciarán Toner

    Quite a difference in resources there. Dublin v. strong on analysis, and therapists. They even have their own cameraman. Maybe all Mayo heads are not listed but I’d say that’s a pretty accurate reflection

  26. For me there are alot of questions that never got answered to satisfaction from Horans previous tenure
    Why was Freeman pulled after 20 mins on 2013?
    Why did we not move to protect the goal in 2014 first semi when we were 5 points up and down a man.Just close ths game out?.
    Why was there not a plan made for Donaghy in the replay for 110 mins there seemed to be no reaction?.
    For some reason no one ever really asks those questions.These were all massive misses and there were others ie Dublin down to 14men at the end of 2013 final and AOS bypassed for that full game but no change made.

  27. Will Jason Doherty be back in time for 2021 season , what was the time frame for his recovery ?

  28. How could you play Aidan O’Shea as a 6 at the highest level? Would he have had to mark Con last weekend? Or Shane Walsh if we play Galway?

    Breaffy played Seamie as a 6 this year and while it worked to an extent, Fionn McDonagh ran amok in the group game against Westport.

  29. Agree wideball – defenders need to be mobile. Regarding Jason Doherty, sean Burke, return to play from ACL repair takes 9-12 months so may see him for championship but not league. Even then it’s unknown if he’ll come back the same. Andy Moran and jack mccaffrey are the only 2 I’ve seen come back from this injury to the same level or better than before. It can take a season or two post repair to build confidence and turn speed. No doubt Jason will put his heart and soul into the rehab

  30. Gaelic football has become a fuddy duddy sort of craic. Instead, put out a team with the speed and nous to go man to man – the aim is to win your own ball.
    Stop the incessant capitulation to a team who play a hybrid game which is utterly boring to watch and which will only be discredited by us returning to real Gaelic football.
    Time to end the era of uncontested kicks-out and make the opposition dance to our tune. No more funneling back usurping the role of others. No more over-analysis – instead, field a team which has the optimum mix of score-makers and score-takers and man-up. Someone has to break the cycle of complicity with this era of non events.

  31. Billy joe is an excellent football man and by fook he knows his stuff but doesn’t mean everything he says is 100% correct. if we are going with aido on the edge of the square we really need to leave him there , let’s see how effective it can pan out by instructing him to stay there when hes on the pitch . We only started to struggle in the middle when Fenton upped it and cluxton started finding him and this is why I say oisin to midfield . Horan i understand is developing a mobile middle and that’s the right way to go but loftus could still slot into 11 and be around the middle eight in an offensive way , mullen and ruane is the way to go for 8&9 .

    Clarke was very good last weekend , probably best performance from a keeper in a final for us in a while but we also need another desperately at this stage for the future .

    I feel we are right back in the mix ala 16/17 but with more youth on our side . I just hope div two doesn’t soften them , there’s a fair difference in intensity . Galway and ros will have that advantage on us coming into championship but it’s all so fast a season I’m not sure it will come into play , three games is it in league ? (If you dont qualify for semi )

    When will connacht championship draw take place, surely ros v Galway in semi final this time ? Anyone ever think we should rotate connacht championship rather than open draw , with six teams only ,surely it’s the fairer way to go.

  32. Mayo defence must learn to defend first and leave attacking to the forwards, for Cons goal last CO Conor was last line of defence, Aiden also spends too much time in his own square. How can they be so called marquee forwards if they have to run the length of the field all day. Let full backline be last line of defence and full forward line be always be close to opponent’s goals. That way scores can be got and prevented , let halfbacks and half forwards do the running. Simple game and keep it that way

  33. If there isn’t a suitable role for any player in a team, then why is there an onus to persist ? I’m talking about all players now and not singling out individuals.

  34. Culmore – I’ll give you one example. I remember moments before AOS scores his goal v Donegal in the 2015 quarter, Connelly roaring at him to get forward to the edge of the Donegal square…with some protest Aido headed on up and then scored a great goal.

    Fast forward date being and Aido is taking a free….when it’s inside and receiving that free where is should be. He is a wasted asset.

  35. Agree wideball, Aido at cb would not work. A nippy lad coming at full pelt who possesses a side-step would leave him for dust,damage done by the time he gets back. For me at 11,rampaging forward still suits him best,drawing defenders and laying it off. I would have oisin at 6. Not sure about him at midfield with Mattie. I think we need a bigger presence there.

  36. Old Moores almanac made a bold prediction for the winners of the 2021 all Ireland football championship!!

  37. Anyone read Dara O’Sé’s piece in the times. Here you go if you haven’t.
    In my opinion hes very good and is much more on the ball regarding AI Final decisions by players and management than either Fitzmaurice or Aidan O’Rourke.

    In terms of the game itself I felt the loss of Paddy Durcan was very significant. Kilkenny had a field day at the office in the second half and it was clear as day that Stephen Coen couldn’t deal with him. For the life of me I dont understand why Horan didn’t switch Keegan onto him or else bring on a tough hard hitting defender like Swanee to make him pay sorely for any scores he was gonna get.

    Also as Dara sais what about Higgins and/or Parsons. If theyr’re on the bench surely someone with that level of experience should have been introduced. Maybe someone could ask management these questions in one of the podcasts WJ?

    I for one would love to know the reasoning behind some of these decisions.

    As to next year i’d say we’ll make a semi. But Id be wary of Cork in this division. And I think we could easily end up missing out if it the League is not taken seriously enough. For me a return to division 1 is imperative. That’s where the real good teams operate and if we are to be considered in this circle we should be there as well. Time will tell for these new lads.

  38. I did a quick trip to the west today. The show of county colours around Kiltimagh and Kilkelly was both highly impressive and uplifting. I saw more Mayo flags down there in a few hours today than I’ve seen Dublin flags up here all year.

  39. You need your no.6 to be mobile in the modern game. As previously stated, aido at 6 simply would not work as all the opposition would have to do is place a nippy player on him and he’s toast. 14 is the only position for him and I believe once it’s worked on and he knows he’s there for the duration of the game he will be a huge asset. Mullen is a rolls Royce and himself and Ruane could be our midfield pairing for the next 7/8 years if he stays around. He had a lot to work on but by god the talent is there. I am very hopeful going forward. The young lads we’ve brought in are very good. You have the likes of paddy/Cillian at their peak. There’s certainly plenty left in the likes of lee/aido. I’d hope that Clarke would stay around another year or two with Luke Jennings as his understudy. There’s options to look at in the fb line, Swanny, EOD, Mcbrien, McCormack and Harrison to come back. I believe we will continue to be consistently competitive at the top level for a while yet.

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