A defining moment for me in the 1996 All-Ireland final came as Mayo substituted one of their forwards. On his way off he applauded the crowd on the opposite stand. They rose in unison to cheer him.
The deed was nearly done but as the stewards filtered round the ground, for Meath it was the final signal for them to pull defeat from the fire. I later read a Mayo selector congratulated the manager on the history about to be made.
We of course know what happened next. Heroism, honesty, naivety mixed with poor refereeing slashed the psyche of our tyres. We never really recovered. A year later a pale imitation of that great team went through the motions against Kerry.
In comparison to a year earlier, this final was labelled the worst ever. Some title for two of football’s blue bloods. A Kerry famine of eleven years was greater than a Mayo famine of forty-six years. Kerry learned from the trimming they received a year earlier to a fresh and liberated Mayo team. They did their homework. We helped them. An injury to Mayo’s number four against Cork in the semi final of 1993 was replicated early in the final of 1997.
All we had to do was not to do what we did four years earlier. What we actually did was replicate with nobs on the 1993 switches. From there on it got worse including a missed 14-yard free in a three-point loss.
Which brings me to the recent draw with Dublin. The result brought out the best of the half-full, half-empty in us all . Perversely both sides are correct. Mayo are an anomaly, not a single other county dwell where they graze. It’s that field that’s neither lush green nor scorched earth. Behind the brand leaders … just … but ahead of the chasing pack … by miles. Great deeds sullied by final day failure. A cut and sore opened for others with doubtful pedigree to rub salt into.
The draw against Dublin touched a raw nerve. It encompassed some of the best that makes Mayo majestic. Naturally it was sprinkled with spit and sawdust. A loss wouldn’t have been greeted with greater dismay. To me that is laudable and real. The Mayo follower is now mature and seasoned and is aware of the difference between potential and actual delivery. A draw snatched from six points down and with fourteen men is in effect a win for the team who clawed it back.
In Mayo we are spoiled rotten. Spoiled to saturation. We, with certainty, expect to contest finals. Since 2004 we have locked horns with various counties in four senior All-Ireland finals, three League, two U21 and four Minor ones, not counting various club Senior and Intermediate deciders.
It could be argued we have become blasé about losing finals because we know another one is just over the hill. No? … in the last six months we have graced Croke Park on final day at Senior and Minor, as well as Club Senior and Intermediate. That becomes expectation thus becoming habit eventually becoming routine.
Out of the above came a single cup. Getting to those finals reflects the rude health and talent we possess and our never-say-die attitude. What we lack can be compressed into possibly 1%. But have we the nerve and the balls to find that 1%, learn from it, enforce it and capitalise from it?
The one theme we see on WJ’s site this week has been in inability to learn . Unable to close out matches has cost us. Inability to learn that the chronic turn overs against Donegal in 2012 could not be repeated in 2013.
Simple things like simple frees in squeaky bum matches cannot be missed. The minor finals of 2008/9, the senior semi-final and final last year saw bad close-in misses. Those belong to that 1%. Fix those and you fix a lot.
We have scored the most in the league, hey … who needs a marquee forward? The present guys seem to be doing okay. We have conceded the most in all of the league divisions. Who needs sorting? Well, actually both because our game-plan appears to be built around flying half-backs bombing forward supplemented by a converted wing-back and corner-back up front.
In cooking terms we are more rich Gateaux than wholesome brown bread. Nice with a cup of coffee or dessert but sickening if you overdo it. Whereas the old plain scone of bread will satisfy the appetite better and take you further. Ask Armagh, Donegal or Meath.
There comes a time when we must square the shoulders and stick out the chest. For sure, back the team because they are ours. But those that wield the power must go to the 1% and study it, drill it into heads until it’s like rote.
“Pass and run” was the Shankley and Paisley way at Liverpool. Keegan and Dalglish subscribed to it and were successful . A lot of fancy Dans since then didn’t, hence the difference. Only now decades later has Rogers brought method and simplicity . Soon the success will come.
So spoiled people (myself included) soon we gotta make a decision about ourselves. Are we happy to live in the near-certainty of final day outings and its attendant hype or will we all make the demands that will put us where the likes of Clare and Donegal recently resided?
The expectation that final day outings is a passage of rite for Mayo folk won’t last forever so as the time changes once again and the clock ticks, perhaps we all should refocus once more. The lessons painfully etched on our souls need to be learned before this present egg-timer runs out and all we are left with are regrets and “what’s is with ye in Mayo at’ll?”