Under the radar

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The recent success of the Mayo U21s ushered in the end of a long winter and the dawn of a promising summer. One of the contributors to the blog asked if those U21s were the first from Mayo since 1950/51 to have won two All-Ireland winners’ medals. Sometimes I am sad at the lack of connection and history we have regarding the Dark County. It’s a noble and great history.

The U21s themselves state that they are writing their own history, unbeholden to the past. I commend them on that. Past blow-outs, past piseogs and past flops are not in their make-up or DNA. Indeed they are a bunch of solid lads, where only when the final whistle blows are the cards examined and winnings checked, a rare phenomenon in the County of Eternal Promise.

To answer the contributor regarding double All-Ireland winners, the answer is that other Mayo lads since 1951 have indeed achieved that feat. The minor winning team of 1966 bequeathed us a slew of great footballers. From that team and onwards to the county senior team came Eugene Rooney, Seamus Hughes, Gay Nevin, Tom Cafferky, Seamus O’Dowd, Tom Fitzgerald, Des Griffiths, Jim Smyth, Sean Kilbride and John Clarke. A year later that named group were part of the squad that beat Kerry in the All-Ireland U21 final. Inside twelve months that group had annexed minor and U21 winners’ medals.

Mayo minors 1966

Photo: The Green Above The Red (double-click for full-size image)

But, and being Mayo there is always a caveat. The 1966 team defeated a strong Down team. In 1968, the third season on from the boys of ’66, Down seniors won the senior All-Ireland final, beating Kerry. Eight of the 1966 minors were on the senior winning team. We came up short that year, losing by a point in front of 42,000 spectators in Castlebar to Galway on a scorcher where I stood lost amid the mighty and towering elders surrounding me. By 1970 that Mayo era hit a high watermark with the hammering of that very Down team in the National League final where Mayo ran amok. Rooney, Hughes, Early, Fitzgerald, Gibbons and Griffiths were the sole survivors of the ’67 U21s. O’Dowd was a sub as was Kilbride but already many of the golden crop of ’66 and ’67 had peaked. Mayo the county went into senior cold storage until 1981.

In 1971 the county’s minors defeated another vintage Cork minor team who had the legendary and skin-headed Jimmy Barry Murphy on board. From the ’71 clutch we harvested John O’Mahony, Seamus Reilly, Adrian Durkan, Ger Feeney, Con Moynihan, Johnny Culkin, Mick Gannon, JP Kean, Mick Higgins Ger Farragher and Mickey Maloney. They then graduated to the county U21 winning team in ’74. (Mick Gannon missed out with a broken leg) . The future was bright but a year later it was in tatters. The minors of ’71, the then U21s of a year earlier saw their progression derailed in the 1975 Connacht Final replay versus and old and wise Sligo outfit.

Mayo minors 1971

Photo: The Green Above The Red (double-click for full-size image)

For Ivan Heffernan, O Mahony, Reilly, Feeney, Moynihan, Higgins, JP, Webb, Farragher, Gannon and Culkin the journey was more or less over. Mayo got it wrong. They rushed the cake and put in too many youthful ingredients. The fallout saw us coast along, Leitrim finished us the following year and it would be 1981 before we would surface. Only Feeney and JP would make that squad. It was wrong and it was unfair to load such expectations on such young shoulders and it was equally wrong to consign them to the scrapheap. Within the ’71 and ’74 lads were genuine talent and ability. Jimmy Barry Murphy and S Coughlan would win senior All-Irelands with Cork in 1973.

From the 1978 minor winning squad Peter Ford made the leap to All-Ireland U21 winner with the ’83 team. Advancing to the U21s that won the 2006 final but had the following members from the 2005 beaten minor finalists in Ger Cafferkey, Chris Barrett, Tom Cunniffe, Aidan Campbell, Mikey Sweeney and Seamus O Shea. I have no doubt that Pearse Hanley would have made that jump too but for other circumstances. That U21 team spawned us the guts of the senior team since the successes of 2011 onwards.

But if we look at who we defeated, Cork, we tend to think they underachieved. The facts, though, are at variance with that assumption. Since 2006 Cork have won a senior All-Ireland, three National league titles along with a Division Two title. They also added two further U21 titles. From the 2006 team they harvested O’Halloran, Carey, Shields, Cadogan, Gould, Lynch, Kerrigan, Colm O’Neill and Goulding, who shared in the aforementioned honours. For us the quest goes on.

Having won the recent All-Ireland U21 title in the most un-Mayo fashion this group of lads indeed have the makings of the real deal. The likelihood is that, for a number of them, they have hit their inter-county high. For others the seniors beckon.

Dublin with Jim Gavin as the former U21 manager has never been shy in giving youth its fling. Of course Dublin do joined-up thinking and the conveyor belt sees Gavin at the helm of the senior team. We should emulate them. After all we are the one single county who produce top players across the grades. The trick now is to integrate those of the required standard into the senior squad. Fresh blood is what keeps the body young.

It’s my wish and hope that those boys indeed write their own history unfettered from the past. Some of them are already two-thirds of the way. One more hurdle to clear. Careful nursing might just achieve that.

11 thoughts on “Under the radar

  1. The key to future success in my humble opinion will be to get the balance right in terms of bringing these players through to the senior team. Rush them and it could all end in tears, wait too long and the chance could be gone. The great thing for these players is that they have a very good environment to come into. There are already a lot of lads with plenty of experience to integrate with.

    It would be great to see us have another big year at the U21 grade again next year, then the future would be very bright for us. That Cork team that you spoke of, after losing the 2006 final against us, had wins in 2007 and 2009 at the U21 grade, so that was three very strong teams that fed into the 2010 All-Ireland win and National League triumphs.

    Our underage All-Ireland wins normally come in ones so then you need a very large percentage of those players to come through to your senior team. If you can have at least two underage successes close in years, as Cork did, then your chances of senior success is greatly enhanced, as you would expect to get maybe at least 3, 4 or 5 players from each successful teams. Our 2014 minor team made an All-Ireland semi-final so they should be capable of putting in a big challenge next year. Roll on the games!

  2. A great post there John, and you sure bring a lot of memories flooding back, especially the 1966 Connaught Final v Galway. That was my first time to be in MacHale Park and my first time seeing a Mayo team play in the Green and Red. The fact that we lost that day didn’t seem to matter much, as I was just so excited to be there. To see some of those great players like Ray Prendergast, John Morley, John Gibbens and the great Joe Corcoran in the flesh was enough excitement for one day, and it sure left me with a life long passion for the Green and Red of Mayo.

  3. A brilliant post as usual John,I was also there in Mchale park,if someone told me we would still be waiting,I would have doubts about their sanity,but I am still optimistic,hopefully this year

  4. Rochford makes the point [in an interview with RTE] this morning that we need to be cautious in how we integrate some of these young fellas into senior football. Some of them are into the twenties and readier for the transition in terms of physical development. Others are still in their teens and should be allowed develop at their own pace.

  5. I think the approach we have taken with youth over the years has been the right one, bring the best of them into panels and see how they go. Watch others in the club scene and if they look like they are worth a punt, take it and get them involved. In fairness over the past 10 years there have been very few cases where we have heard of someone scorching up the grass for his club who hasn’t got a run. In fact the nature of having new management teams on a regular basis has meant everyone has got a shot. The model that doesn’t work, which we have never tried is, as John Cuffe points out what we did to the team back in the early 70s and basically throw them in as seniors. Roscommon did that to their minor team of 2006 and it didn’t work.
    At any sport there is no tried and tested formula, rugby have an academy structure that is about as scientific as one can get and still some guys make it earlier than planned for them from the academy structure, some guys don’t make it at all, some guys get pushed through because someone believes in them but the evidence might suggest otherwise, but its false belief and they just don’t have it. Some others then, are told they wont make it only to not accept that and to go away and make it somewhere else when they are older and the time has become right because they stuck with it.

  6. Great post John. While there is every chance a couple of the u21’s (in addition to Diarmuid of course) will see significant game time in the Championship, an important thing for me is the energy the win will inject into the squad. More importantly, it will significantly increase the challenge for places, especially for some of the more established players who have yet to nail a starting place but who have been mightily close over the last couple of years. They certainly can not rest of their laurels and it might be make or break for them because these 21’s are now the future. And if lads are not showing form in early summer, we have very real options to bring in, lads with youth of their side, pace, and above all else, Confidence. Because of this, I feel now, more than other years, that we have a serious panel that will be needed.

  7. It’s really a question of resources. We have a great mix of youth, experience and a nice dollop of very talented footballers. We have fellas who know defeat fairly well and a few who don’t seem to see defeat as something they have to expect or more importantly, accept. Throw in six Connacht titles in a row and two underage national titles in three years then that’s the players sorted in terms of ability and skill and talent. Oh, and Cillian O’Connor is our captain. For me how this wealth and richness is handled and managed is the real question. For me that’s where the real responsibility seems to lie. How can the fellas in charge honour their players the way the players have honoured themselves by their sheer determination, doggedness and integrity? By their persistence alone the players have shown everyone they are more than up for it. Is everyone else? I believe they are. I hope more than anything it works.

  8. It’s great that there’s competition for places but does anyone really see any surprises coming in terms of the starting 15. I only see one or two positions that are up for grabs come the championship.

  9. niall, maybe the starting 15 wont surprise us but perhaps in a tight game where player x is having no luck one of the new recruits will come on and open our eyes for us.We are in a lucky position to have 5 allireland winners in the ranks and they will only add fire to Mayo.
    we have a few veteran forwards that are now going to be under major pressure to produce on the day or else make way for someone else that has a 2 allireland medals (ok, at underage level) to have a go. Someone else mentioned fatigue in the Mayo players that have been there for a while, I think they have more on their minds than being fatigued, rochford and co along with coc egging them on will push the fatigue issue to one side.

  10. As always, enjoyed your piece John. The pictures….those were the days. So many players I looked up to. Many I knew. And I’m honoured to have played with and against a few of the younger ones. Thanks again John.

  11. A lot of painful memories indeed. That was yet again a great read John. Leaving Sligo on a wet evening a couple of months ago, I felt I had watched the luckiest Mayo team ever and they were lucky that evening. Leaving Ennis a few weeks later and the slow dawning on a sodden soul, luck had nothing to do with it.

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