Ray Dempsey has a few after-match comments in today’s Sunday Indo that are worth an airing here. It’s no surprise to see that he paid fulsome tribute to his young charges following their emotionally charged extra-time defeat to Tyrone yesterday afternoon in Longford. He made specific reference to the team’s winning mentality and expressed the opinion that, although defeat was ultimately to be their lot, they possess a different mindset compared to other Mayo teams that have also fallen at the final hurdle:
This isn’t like the past Mayo teams. These fellows showed character a long way ahead of what has been shown in the last few years.
I’d tend to agree with Ray there. The last Mayo team (apart from the winning U21 side in 2006) to acquit themselves in the same positive manner were the 1996 seniors who, of course, (a) also finished an All-Ireland level and (b) had one Ray Dempsey in their ranks. That may be no coincidence.
Ray went on to speak about the future potential of his minors, saying that:
These bunch of lads have worked hard on their own game. Now the real commitment for these lads towards Mayo football is that they don’t lose what they have learned in the environments they have played. Hopefully they will build on what they have learned. They put everything into the game. I knew they would, that’s the bottom line. If you want to be a success at inter-county, you have to have players who are willing to go to the well and come back stronger every time.
This group of players have certainly shown enormous potential and hopefully a good number of them will now progress through the ranks to senior within the next few years. Some of them, of course, will still be minor next year – including Aiden Walsh, who I’d have on the seniors next year just for his place-kicking skills (maybe he could coach the seniors instead) – so we could get another championship run to remember out of them then.
Ray is right to be proud of his team and Mayo supporters everywhere should equally be proud of what Ray has achieved with these lads. Few of us would have predicted back in January that the man who would have the greatest influence on our footballing year would be Ray Dempsey but his record over the course of 2008 confirms this to be the case. The minors’ run to the All-Ireland and their gutsy, never-say-die attitude over the two games has added significant lustre to an otherwise indifferent year of football and we have Ray Dempsey to thank for this. It goes without saying that his achievements this year will make him a very strong candidate for manager of the seniors the next time this role becomes vacant.