Thoughts ahead of the quarter-final draw

I read a marvellous book while on holidays – Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna – a novel which places the fictitious central character in the company of Leon Trotsky, the muralist Diego Rivera and his painter wife Frida Kahlo in Mexico in the period leading up to the former’s assassination there in 1940. Perfect holiday reading it was, just as one of the same author’s previous novels, The Poisonwood Bible, proved to be on another beach many years ago.

The book, obviously, has nothing whatsoever to do with the core remit of this site but it’s the title that’s somewhat relevant. A lacuna is a gap or a missing piece or some sort of thing and, marooned as we are in this period following the conclusion of the provincial championship and still in blissful ignorance of who we might be facing in the All-Ireland quarter-finals the weekend after next, you could say we’re in a bit of a lacuna ourselves right now. Alternatively and, at the risk of straining the metaphor a bit closer to breaking point, my own absence from the wet and windy surroundings of Hyde Park where the Nestor was won last Sunday could also be seen as a kind of gap in proceedings (well, for me at any rate).

Anyway, enough of the metaphors. While the qualifiers play out this coming weekend (though not quite fully, given the Armagh/Tyrone/Roscommon ménage à trois which will take another weekend to resolve) and before the draw for the quarters is made – which is scheduled to take place live on RTÉ on Sunday evening after the Galway v Waterford SHC quarter-final (details here) – there’s a small gap in which to reflect on where we’ve got to and what might happen from here on in.

There’s been a fair bit of talk about the disparaging treatment that we – and, by extension, all other Connacht counties – have received from the pundits, both before and since last Sunday’s provincial final. My view is that such babble is simply noise, annoying and grating noise to many ears, but just noise nonetheless. The pundits are spectacularly wrong in their analysis and predictions most of the time and we should never be worried or put out in any way when they trot out smart-arsed lines they probably took half the week beforehand to think up (Spillane’s pathetic jibe about Connacht’s ‘junk status’ is an obvious example here).

What strikes me most vividly about the football pundits is how their ‘analysis’ differs so greatly from their hurling counterparts. The hurling lads invariably talk enthusiastically about a game they obviously love while, for the football guys, any such feelings appear to be reserved solely for themselves. Personally, I think that all this negative press can only be good for us, as Aidan O’Shea’s wonderful Twitter response to Liam Hayes last Sunday evening showed. I’d be more than happy for us to be written off completely by all and sundry before we get to Croker, enabling us to give our best and most appropriate response where it really matters – out on the turf at HQ.

In terms of the Connacht campaign itself and what it means for where we stand, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve won the provincial title without really knowing all that much ourselves about our true worth as a team. I can’t recall a previous situation where we beat both Galway and Roscommon in winning Connacht and still hadn’t much of an idea about how good we were. The London near-miss could be a factor, Galway’s supine challenge probably is too and while Roscommon are certainly an improving side, I don’t think we can say for certain how good they really were either. Added to this is the weather, with both the Galway and Roscommon games played in conditions you’d expect to have to endure at a league match in early March rather than in high summer. If we’re coming into the quarters under the radar (which we clearly appear to be), then this has to be at least in part due to the fact that we have yet to play a championship match this year in weather you’d expect to see for such games.

Another factor about this year is how the team has evolved in the right way, compared to what went on under the previous regime. Then, we had largely settled teams in the league, giving way to widespread shuffling come championship time, with predictable results. Under James Horan, it’s been very much the other way around, with only a few exceptions (notably Trevor Mortimer, whose recall for the championship has been an undoubted success). We’re now at the stage where we can expect to see only minor tweaking to be made to the quarter-final team compared to the side that started the last day. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us line out with the same starting fifteen in Croke Park.

We’ve also been lucky (so far at least) with injuries. Apart from Trevor Howley (who started against London),we haven’t lost a single player to injury in the championship this year. That’s got to be some kind of record for us. Even if we do take a hit or two on this front in the quarters, our bench is now looking stronger than it has for some time, a point underscored the last day by the successful switches James made in the second half, with all those coming in playing significant parts in securing the win.

Looking to the quarters, with Armtyrommon out of the equation for us it looks like we’ll be facing either Cork, Kildare or Wexford the weekend after next (the bookies fancy all three to make it through and so do I). None of them will be easy (though Wexford would represent a more manageable challenge for us than the other two might) and, in another twist to the insane championship structure we’re saddled with, all of them will have played at least one championship match at HQ this year before we’ll get to do so.

The quarter-final record of all the provincial champions isn’t great and is getting poorer every year (with all four falling at this stage twelve months ago) while the quarter-final record of the Connacht champions is poorer still – our runs to the final in 2004 and 2006 remain the only times that Nestor Cup holders have made it past the quarters since the backdoor was introduced in 2001.  So, as we go into the All-Ireland series expectations of us will be very low amongst others and many of our own supporters will, no doubt, be of the same opinion too.

Until the draw is made, it’s fairly pointless speculating about how we might fare out on the Bank Holiday weekend. But at least we’re in the draw and we have a team that doesn’t readily want to accept defeat. Let’s see who we pull and then take it from there. In the meantime, all we can do is kick our heels and wait for the balls to be drawn from the bowls on Sunday evening. As we do so, it’s instructive to think back to the state we were in twelve months ago. Regardless of how we get on in the quarters, it’s obvious that we’re in a far better place now. Defeat with honour would mean that 2011 will go down as a very solid first year in charge for James Horan while victory would of course propel us and all those dreams that bit further down the road.

33 thoughts on “Thoughts ahead of the quarter-final draw

  1. Too steamed to read rest of piece, but hurlers are allways promoting any sort of hurling match,where as football bucks want to write off football!!! It,s 1am!!

  2. sometimes i think the likes of l.hayes and spil say what they say in the hope of gettin a pos reaction out of mayo seems to be working so lads make it as personal as ye can ye royal,kingdom pri##s

  3. Jaysus Willie Joe you are turning this into a very “high-brow” site altogether – – – – will we be able to keep up with you at all,at all??? Far from “menage-a-trois” we were reared – – – sure tis hard enough to look after ONE. Dont be putting bad thoughts in our minds and us trying to concentrate on the football !!

  4. Oh sweet Jazuz – please let us not have to play Cork is all I can say after watching what they did to Down!
    A defeat like that for Mayo would be real bad for a team whose confidence is already a bit shaky. We need to beat someone (anyone) in Croker before mixing it with the really big guns!
    Failing that – I will be doing a novena in Knock for a small hurricane during the match.

  5. If we do draw Cork, it will be an opportunity to see how we have progressed since we played them last. Of course Limerick would be a better option.

    Great article by Keith Duggan in the Times today on his experience in Ross last Sunday. Worth reading.

  6. I was at Croke Park today and Cork looked very good for sure. Mind you, Down were poor and their backs let Cork run right through them, which was pure suicide. Also the two goals were desperately poor scores to give away from a defensive point of view and they came at precisely the wrong time for Down. Cork’s second half point scoring was excellent and I wouldn’t fancy seeing our lads under the hammer in this way if we end up playing them. It could be last year’s league final all over again.

    I’d be a lot more bullish about our chances against Kildare were we to pull them. Derry were utterly toothless and clearly suffering from the six-day turnaround yet it took Kildare ages to put them away. Kildare are well organised, extremely fit and will run at you all day but I don’t think their backline is too hot and their midfield is average at best. A good hold on midfield against them and plenty of good quality fast ball into the forwards would ask serious questions of them.

    And then, of course, the other possibility is Limerick and Horan v Horan …

  7. I just thought that the metaphor was too good to resist, maybe it’s because of that nude pool incident involving the Rossies all those years ago!

  8. I take it that it is not a swimming pool you are on about – – – – Was that the time one of the Rossies forgot to “chalk his cue” and he subsequently had the misfortune to go in off the pink. Ya – that was a good one – one they dont like being reminded of – you would nearly feel sorry for them – – nearly — but not quite.

  9. Know what i think this would be the perfect time to meet Cork.
    After stuffing Down they will really fancy themselves.They won`t rate us and we could catch them on the hop like Galway caught Meath in 01.Sometimes the team that you`d think are unbeatable can be taken on the day.
    However this is all nonesense talking like this but i honestly believe there is a big game in this team this year we could take one big scalp.
    I`m still saying we should not fear the big boys at this stage,it`s later on i`d be more afraid.
    So let every game look after itself no matter who we draw i`d be as much afraid of wexford as cork at this stage.

  10. Willie, I don’t agree the punditry is just noise. They have a responsibility and shouldn’t be let off the hook with a fool’s pardon. I’ll try to write it up later myself on the blog.

    On the more important stuff, I’d love Kildare, but I’m very heartened by PJ’s remarks about Cork. I have to admit my bowels were turning to water watching them duff up Down but again, sooner now than later when it’ll really sting. Would love to see Mayo draw Kildare though.

    Limerick is the nightmare option. Win and we get no credit. Lose and we’re back under the dunce’s hat. Sigh.

  11. Interesting fact-Maurice Horan (Limerick manager) is a brother of Liam’Mayo Football Strategic Plan/Championship-Man’ Horan!!!

  12. Limerick for me , every all Ireland winner gets a winnable game or two on their way to the title. No need to “test” ourselves against cork or Kildare , we would be meeting Kerry soon enough!

  13. Dublin Kildare
    Kerry Roscommon
    Mayo limerick
    Donegal Cork

    Such is my faith in connacht football I am giving Ross the win in their qualifier. Kerry Tyrone another interesting draw as well.

  14. You can just imagine the Limerick Supporters this morning. I have no doubt that they will be hoping that they draw Mayo in the QF’s. If they get us then they will probably believe that they can beat us and progress to an All Ireland Semi Final.

    I for one hope that we don’t draw Limerick as our mental preparation will be all wrong, no matter what is said. If Mayo are to measure progress under James Horan then we need to play Cork, Kildare or Tyrone (if they beat Ros) in the QF. We have come through a very poor Connacht Championship and unfortunately it is no measure of where we stand in the National context.

    Yes, Maurice is indeed brother of Liam Horan of Strategic Plan fame. Those Horan boys must know something about football after all!!

    The other interesting fact is that Limerick has a Financial guru called JP. Maybe the Limerick JP can give the Mayo JP some tips on balancing the Mayo financial books this year!!!

  15. We all know we are in bonus territory here for this year anyway, so we shouldn’t mind who we get. I’m sure in 2004 we were all patting ourselves on the back after getting Fermanagh in the semi, all matches bring their own challenges.

    I didn’t see the matches yesterday as I was at a wedding but Cork are overrated – they can only play one way, which is fist pass the ball through midfield and into the forward line. They cannot play direct ball into their full forward line, and their full back line is dodgy under the high ball. For big men, they aren’t great under the high ball – their match against Kerry showed that only one or two of them could cut it in the air against them, and one of them Sheehan went off with a cruciate.

    Had a good chat at the wedding yesterday with a Galway man about the current Mayo team – the gist of it was that Cork and Kildare are “seasoned”, at a different stage of evolution. Mayo aren’t there yet, but another couple of seasons playing at a high intensity could see themselves successful. A trait this years Mayo team has shown is that they don’t back off from the fight, they don’t collapse. While in one way it’s bad, in matches against Down, Dublin, Armagh, London, Galway and Roscommon we came back from serious arrears – admittedly didn’t win them all, but the fact is we did, which wouldn’t of happened in previous years.

  16. Gee don’t mention Limerick; I helped carry in the team bags to the dressingroom in Askeaton for that fateful centenary cup…I remember a lovely bowel of flowers on the dressingroom table and a lovely card saying “cead mile failte Maigheo”..oh please no I cannot bear to think

  17. We beat Cork already this year (they hold no fear) i think we’ll get Limerick & then the big test v Kerry in the semi final.

  18. Im confident about turning over cork if the Mayo full back line play as they did against the rossies theyll have a chance. The thing is that all of the team will need to collectively play out of their skins which i believe they can, the smug cork crowd will believe they have the game won already, now is the time Mayo..Believe!

  19. I never preach a negative gospel and I feel I may need to wash out my mouth but on this one unique occasion it is all that is open to us………..Lets face it Cork are miles ahead of us right now and thinking otherwise is simply codding ourselves. The bookies will give a fair indication of the gulf there is by the odds they will offer.
    The only way we could possibly win is if Cork have a completely off-day by dismissing us entirely and focusing on the Kerry match. But I doubt if that will happen – they themselves have suffered too much in the past to let this happen. So I’m afraid for what will happen in Croker.
    Our approach has to be to negative, abrasive and cynical and defending like demons (12 behind the ball if necessary) to try and keep the margin down and frustrate them and then perhaps play a bit late on in the game so that we DO NOT suffer another humiliating defeat in Croker. A thrashing is to be avoided at all costs for the future of Mayo football.
    If we play football with them they will make a football out of us!

  20. mabye, diehard we could write a letter to the C.C.B sujjesting something like “A Chara, we in Mayo never thought we’ed be meatin ye an’ ye play’n such mighty sthuff.If ye could see any owl way a leavhin a few a ye’er big lads doin’ the hay or bring’n home the turf our b’y s id be awful grateful ………… mise le meas …… Failing that we just get behind our lads and shake off the Croke Park shakles for once and for all. Maigheo Abu!!

  21. No way should we go up there waving the White flag before a ball is kicked. We have beaten Cork twice in our last three competitive matches and the bookies, pundits and opposing fans will still count us as no hopers. We have a great opportunity to lay down a marker and from what I have seen from Horan and his team we will be carried out on our shields at worst. If we fight to the last ball we can surprise the naysayers.

  22. I fully expected it to be Cork – that is Mayo luck. On the face of it we face a difficult job but while I don’t expect to win I do not expect a hammering either. Few teams reach the top without a reverse or two along the way – and few of those who do stay at the top for long. This Cork team have had their share of disappointments along the way and it is these which has made them the team they are today. What is vital is that whatever happens next weekend the team decide to stay together and learn from the experiance. Too often Mayo decide that we have to go back to basics and start a total rebuilding process rather than consolidating, identifying and solving weeknesses after a defeat.

  23. No white flag or shleeveen letters to anyone- only a realistic appraisal of where we are at (as far as I can see) and an appropriate response from mayo.
    Defence has to be our priority. A win would be wonderful – a close game would do me grand – a thrashing would undermine all the good work so far.
    So what I am saying is stop them at all costs and by whatever methods are necessary!

  24. I can only agree with Digits, Cork are awful in the air as many analysts have noted and rarely do they win any kick-outs. Hopefully Mayo can create a gameplan to take advantage of this serious weakness in Cork’s play.

  25. Mayo-dub I have to say i dont share your views about the mayo full back line. Higgins and Cunniffe were v good the last day for sure, but we are heading up there to play without a full back or a centre back of the required standard, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far anyway. Thats 2 crucial positions to be weak in, what would we give to have James Nallen and Kevin Cahill in their prime at 6 and 3 for this game!
    I Would expect Higgins to pick up an in form Kerrigan (he’s probably the only mayo back who can match his pace). Alan Feeney will have his work cut out on Donnacha O Connor, a proven big game performer in Croke park.
    Its going to be a huge test for mayos half back line against O Neill, Gould and Paddy Kelly who has matured into one of the countrys top footballers in last 2 seasons. The intenity and hard hitting cork will bring to the game will be something most of our players havent experienced before.
    If we can keep a hold of them in defence then we have a chance, but im not holding my breath.

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