Ragged minors fail to do the job

Minor final 2009 the endMajestic though the setting may be in Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday, it’s a scene that just refuses to provide any succour for us poor benighted souls from the Yew County.  We came in hope again today but once again our dreams of All-Ireland glory turned to dust on us, like all those other times they’ve done in the recent past.  It’s gone well beyond a joke at this stage: since our last All-Ireland Sunday success back in 1985, we’ve now lost eleven September finals (six minor and five senior) on the spin.  And, as those September losses mount up in this apparently inexorable way, year after year, each successive one hurts that little bit more than the one that went before.  Today’s one hurts like hell right now.

This afternoon in and around Croke Park summed up so much about what passes for normality on All-Ireland day.  All those people in Mayo jerseys with those weary, resigned looks on their faces and those folk in the Kerry colours, strolling round HQ like they owned the place (which, in a sense, I suppose they do) but most of whom couldn’t be bothered to wait around to see their captain take possession of Sam for the umpteenth time and instead poured out onto Jones’ Road as fast as their legs would carry them.  This is it, guys – this is September Groundhog Day.  For once, I can’t wait for Monday to arrive.

And yet … We could have won that bloody match today.  We wouldn’t have deserved to, mind, after that ragged, disjointed second half display but had we managed to rob it from under Armagh’s noses, none of us would really have cared.  For all the pre-match talk about this Armagh team being something special, they looked far from that today and while they could have blown us away in the second half, we should have gone in at the break at least four or five points to the good.  Only at the end, where our lads’ nerves totally went to pieces and they – despite the fact that their county was on the cusp of its first minor title in sixty years – held their nerve to close out the game with four unanswered points, did they look in any way a class above our fellas.

And yet … We tore into them impressively from the off, our team showing multiple positional switches from that named in the programme, most notably with captain Aidan Walsh moving out to midfield and Brian Ruttledge switching into the inside line.  We won most of the early ball around the middle but an inexplicable miss from a 20 yards free from the normally ultra-dependable Aidan Walsh was followed by two points at the other end from them – the first a free, the second from play – and so, despite that early dominance that we’d enjoyed, they were two to the good after six minutes.

Brian Ruttledge opened our account from this free a minute later and soon after a nice Cillian O’Connor lay-off to the inrushing Danny Kirby saw the Mitchels youngster pump over the equaliser.  We continued to see loads of ball but they made better use of the scraps they got with the impressive Andrew Murnin edging them ahead again before Cillian O’Connor scored from play to level matters.

More chances followed but our sole apparent tactic of lamping the ball high into Alex Corduff wasn’t exactly paying rich dividends.  The balls in were reasonably well directed but the Ballina youngster repeatedly flailed one-handed at them, failing either to claim the leather or lay it off to the likes of Cillian O’Connor.  As a result, bags of good, hard-earned possession all went for nothing and instead of going in a few points in front, we reached the halfway mark level, Fergal Durkan pointing just before the break to leave it all-square at four apiece.

I was fully expecting to see a transformed Mayo emerge in the second half – I’m a simple man: this was what had happened in the Down game and I just expected that the same thing would happen this time too – and Brian Ruttledge’s second point of the day within seconds of the restart gave us reason to hope that an enjoyable second half was, indeed, in prospect.

SchlingermannInstead of kicking on, though, we conceded two scores in quick succession, the second of which – from McVerry – had to be tipped over the bar by the alert Michael Schlingermann in goal.  Michael’s Kiltimagh clubmate, Ciaran Charlton, then surged forward and thumped a beauty over the bar to level matters once more.

The Orchard County then took complete control of the game and for the next ten minutes created chance after chance, all of which, to our immense relief, sailed wide of the posts.  They kicked six wides during this ten-minute spell and while all these chances were being created by them, we failed to get a single shot at the posts at the other end.  As well as those missed points, they came close to bagging a goal too, only for the excellent Ciaran Charlton to pull off a crucial intercept perilously close to our goal-line.

It looked as if they were going to blow us away but, amazingly, we were the next to score when Aidan Walsh – who’d dislocated a finger in the first half (The Brother saw it all clearly and said it looked gruesome enough) – knocked over this free to edge us a point up with just ten minutes left to play.  We’d been completely at sea for the previous fifteen minutes, during which time we’d looked anything but All-Ireland champions but now, with the winning line starting to come into view, the notion that we might just nick it began to look somewhat less than preposterous.

Minor final 2009 action shotIt was obvious that the lads could sense this too as we threw ourselves at them for the next five minutes. We desperately needed a score at this stage in order to turn the screw on them and give ourselves some breathing space. But Brian Ruttledge shot a bad wide, then sub Jack McDonnell had a goalbound effort beaten away and Aidan Walsh screwed the resultant ’45 wide.  The crucial score never came.

Eventually, they raised the siege and with their first attempt at the posts in ages, Tasker hauled them level.  Straight away afterwards, a clearcut goal chance arrived for them but, although left exposed in a one-on-one situation, Schlingermann pulled off a superb save to keep our hopes alive for a bit longer.

But then came the three points that finished us off, the first of which was scored by sub McAlinden, the second from midfielder Carragher who was totally unmarked thirty yards out when the ball was fed through to him and who had all the time in the world to pick his spot and thump it over.  I can’t remember who scored their tenth and final point but what I did know by then was that the game, and the cup, had slipped from beyond our grasp.

I had to leave my seat just after the final whistle – the sight of those crumpled, defeated bodies sinking to the turf was heart-breaking and I simply couldn’t bear seeing the opposing captain yet again accept the spoils of victory at our expense.  Sometimes the only way to deal with things is to shut them out, although I did take the time out back to have a right old moan for myself in the post-match audio piece I did.  And then I went back inside and sat through a poor enough senior final only to see the Kerrymen go and win that.  A perfect bloody day, in other words.

I’m still feeling sore and bad-tempered after today’s loss (I had the first hint that the day wasn’t going according to plan when, on arrival at HQ, I realised I’d left the battery of my new camera at home; this means, by the way, that today’s visuals were all done by The Brother – thanks, Bro) and will no doubt continue to feel like this for the next few days.  But the pain felt on the terraces must be nothing compared to the anguish that our young players will be experiencing right now.  I saw a number of them at close quarters up in the Hogan during the senior game and the hurt and disappointment they were feeling then was clearly etched on their startlingly young-looking faces.  It’s crap to lose and they know that a whole load more than we do at the minute.

But, despite the loss, we should still be grateful that our brave minors’ exploits gave us all sufficient excuse to be there at Croke Park today, on football’s biggest day of the year.  As I keep saying, so many counties never get to savour the experience of having a team involved on All-Ireland day and so while we’re all understandably down right now, the fact that we keep coming back means that we can never be definitively counted out.  We’ll keep coming back, we’ll keep knocking on that door and one day – hopefully sooner rather than later – we’ll experience something different than having it repeatedly slammed in our faces.

12 thoughts on “Ragged minors fail to do the job

  1. yet another day walking out of croker with one hand as long as the other.yet again we go away with what ifs,if onlys and maybes.is their positives out of todays game?.I hope no scouts from across the water were watching today or a future senior keeper could be away.Getting seriously sick at watching oppisition capitains holding up trophys

  2. at least will battled to end t hey had some super forwards the best team won in the end keep the faith mayo

  3. I am gutted for the young lads, it was there for the taking because Armagh did not live up to their favourites tag at all. But again, Crokeritis got us, nothing went right. In fairness, Cork Seniors had a bit of the same condition. Let’s hope these lads keep playing tho, there is hope there for future days out.

  4. yesterdays loss will have been worth it if it perhaps galvanises soem of the minros not to want to experince this again further down the line..

    was a shame , regardless of what went on up to the time it way level at 7 each i thought it was poor decision making on the balls out of the half back line that lost it , poor decision making under pressure , i was roaring with frustration at how each time what looked liek the worng option was taken… very similar to the denouement against meath..

    but anyway , well done lads and i hope each and every one of you grace crokers turf again for your clubs or county..

  5. I saw Ray Dempsey on The Sunday Game last night and he made one comment that I think was bang on the button…. he said that this Mayo team was probably boxing above it’s weight. What i take from that is that they were a little bit lucky along the way to make it to this years final and the hard honest work from the bunch of players (a characteristic of Rays teams) that meant we won some games we might have lost. For example we were fortunate in the Connacht Final draw in Salthill and against Down poor shooting by the Down boys rather than Mayo being vastly superior got us through the semi. Nothing wrong with that but at some point the luck runs out. Funnily we nearly got lucky again yesterday – as you say WJ there was a time or two when it looked like we could have won it even against the run of play.
    But no matter how you get to a final it’s always heartbreaking to lose. Listening to Ray I think he has a real perspective of just how well this 2009 team has performed and if he thinks they ‘boxed above their weight’ isn’t it a positive reflection of the team and Rays management of them that they actually got to the final and came so close.

    Like yourself I had the same feelings at the end of the match though with all the old cliched headlines on Mayo football flashing through my mind. It’s hard not to but it wasn’t so much any issue with the team on the pitch yesterday or the result but the accumulation of losses that hurts. And I feel sorry for the teams, like yesterdays minors, who are unfairly having to carry some of the frustration we all feel but they are in the spotlight.

  6. I don’t know if it has been mentioned anywhere else, but the turning point of that match was the cynical flooring of Andrew Farrell at the end of the first half. We were well on top in the middle until that point and it was only when he had to be replaced early in the second half that Armagh got on top in that sector.

  7. You’re spot on Richard – I hadn’t appreciated the importance of this at all until I read about it this morning. A few of the papers mention it as an important turning point and Armagh’s no.8 was very lucky to stay on the field (the ref was probably reluctant to send him off as it was an All-Ireland). Once Farrell was gone and Corduff moved out, our shape went totally and, of course, it was Carragher who got the point to put them two up near the end. It’s on small things like that (not to mention Aidan Walsh’s dislocated finger) that matches can turn … more what ifs!

  8. Hi WJ
    Another heart breaking day …. while I sat there very proud of what the lads had achieved in getting that far and competing for so long yesterday , I still felt dejected when I sat there thinking of how many times we have lost all irelands at all grades since 85 . Mr Mac Stay eluded to it last night 18 finals lost and 1 won. Not good enough in reality , a few hard luck stories along the way, but ultimately failure in an overall context . There comes a stage when in my opinion you have to stop “learning ” and actually go out perform and win. If galway at many different grades and Roscommon minors can do it then in my opinion so can we. I think deep down its all about mentality, and I fear we do not have the correct mentality at any of these levels.
    Anyway Im sure after the dust settles on this latest defeat …. Mayo will look back on the what ifs at all grades this year …. hopefully they will “learn ” from past mistakes and this will drive them on to better things in the near future… Here’s hoping !!!

  9. Was on the Hill yesterday and the sight of the lads lying crumpled on the ground was just too much. They gave it their all but Aidan Walsh dislocating his finger and losing Andrew Farrell were two huge blows. It looked alot like the first Connaught Final against Ros – no shape and a real sense of panic.
    We should be very proud of our minors. We might have had a few heartbreaking September days over the last couple of years but, as Ray Dempsey said, at least we’re there.
    Congratulations on getting to the Final, it won’t be your last. Keep the faith.

  10. In alot of ways, we shouldnt have been there, but of course when you do get there, why not take your chance. I wasnt overly disapointed to be honest, they put in a game performance full of heart and effort, by all account the experts had it that we’d struggle to keep the ball kicked out to them. If some of the more talented players on the senior squad had the same effort and determination we might have gotten further this year. At the end of the day minors is about getting some of them into the senior squad, so it looks like there are 3 or 4 capable of that so on that basis it was succesful – look at Laois who wont a boat load of them, didnt make much difference to their seniors. However, a win would have been good just because, well its not another loss on AIF day. Some days the better team wins, and that was the case yesterday. Last year was way more disapointing for me, I had the thought last year that I am actually going to be in Croker on AIF day when we fecken win!! Anyway.
    I was listening to something on the way up, some owl lad from the Cavan 1959 minor team who lost the final to Dublin. They were having a golden jubilee get together in Kells this weekend. That was the last time ANY Cavan team was in Croke Park on AIF Sunday. While I know alot of us could have done without the pain of alot of those Sundays we’ve had over the last 15 years, to be at the big dance that regularly is a major achievement in itself and one most other counties woudl give their right one for.

  11. I meant to highlight that radio programme, BW, (it was Sunday Miscellany on RTE Radio 1, by the way) as it’s a salutary lesson for anyone who thinks losing finals is the worst thing that can happen a county. Cavan felt they should have won that 1959 minor final but the lads were able to console themselves with the thought that there’d be other days for them. This wasn’t an unreasonable assumption given the county’s record in All-Irelands up till then – 5 senior titles, two minor ones – and as recently as 1952 they’d featured in both finals, winning the senior but losing the minor. But there were no other big days for them: as you’ve said, BW, that day fifty years ago was the last ever time that a Cavan team took the field on All-Ireland Sunday and so our pain at losing so many finals doesn’t feel quite so bad when set against what other counties have had to put up with down the years.

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