He’s been in the guest slot several times already using his ontheroad alter ego but I’m now delighted to welcome John Cuffe into the pulpit for the first time under his own name.
As James Horan leads his charges off on another venture our hunger for news on the team was never greater. The 24-hour quest for information never sleeps. Twitter, electronic news, press, TV and radio make us feel we dwell in the kitchen of the team we follow.
The excitement generated by Conor Mortimer’s return against Leitrim and his cameo 0-2 illustrated that. Forests fell to alert us to the news. Carnacon’s girls’ All-Ireland win, save from the Mayo press, got hardly a mention.
Danny Kirby’s four goal salvo against GMIT had many scurrying to the record books to see who did it last apart from Willie McGee against Kerry in a real match back in 1967. Our hunger, mine included, has the danger of creating a false or imaginary status of our current worth.
Those long evenings has me looking back on the county. I recalled men who served long and men who dropped in for a kick or two before moving on just as fast. I selected at random some rather ordinary games long lost in history to highlight the period from 1969-1989.
The excitement generated by the X Generation today leads to instant elevation. In contrast back in 1969 we kind of accepted our leading men to fire over the scores, that’s why they were picked or so we thought.
Mayo drew with Kerry in the 1969 league semi-final, 0-11 each. Joe Corcoran scored all of the Mayo scores. Even though Mayo lost the replay, Joe took Kerry for another 1-2. No more or no less than we expected. The same year Clare walloped Mayo 1-7 to 0-4. Again Joe eased our embarrassment with all of the Mayo scores. Joe’s scores we expected, Clare keeping us to four points was a shock.
Incidentally, the other forwards on duty that day were John Gibbons, Tom Fitzgerald, Sean Kilbride, Willie McGee and a repositioned John Morley. Take it from me: we will travel a long road to get a better sextet today. That year’s Connacht semi final saw John Nealon at 15 take Leitrim for three goals. Mayo wiped them 6-13 to 1-8. No insult intended but we would have been insulted back then if it was anything less still bearing in mind, though, that we never saw ourselves as All-Ireland contenders in that era.
Kerry must have hated Corcoran because in the league quarter final in 1970 Joe stitched them for another 0-6 as we won 0-10 to 1-5. The league final of 1971 saw Joe in an equally menacing mood. Kerry equalled our great league titles run but Joe shot the lights out with 0-7. Just as we knew he would. Joe had a habit of scoring all Mayo scores in certain games. Derry saw him score all Mayo scores in the league of 1972.
Whilst we never assumed All-Ireland aspirations back then we knew how to trim teams whom didn’t have our pedigree. Thus a score of 2-20 against Wicklow’s 0-3 was not a shock or brought out an attack of the Twitters. That day the Mayo team from 8 to 15 all (but one) scored – Ger Farragher 0-2, Ted Webb 0-1, JP Kean 0-7, Sean Kilbride 0-2, Willie McGee 1-0, and Tommy O Malley 0-2. The number nine I left out was Sean O’Grady who didn’t score but his replacement Ritchie Bell scored 0-2.
Whilst we were becalmed at times we were still able to unearth a forward or two who knew where the posts lay. Mayo trounced Derry in the league of 1977 and a certain Billy Fitzpatrick rattled 3-2 against them. In that year’s league final Billy Fitz notched 1-6 against a strong Dublin team. Mayo in all fairness were never ones who took advantage of an opponent and Billy was put into cold storage until he reappeared with his pension book against the same Dubs in the All-Ireland semi final of 1985 where he scored another point proving age is no barrier.
Poor Leitrim were wheeled out again in 1979 when a Mayo team on no particular journey still whaled them in Carrick. This time Joe McGrath notched 3-1 thus eclipsing Johnny Nealon’s 3-0 a decade earlier. Manchester United beat Arsenal 8-2 earlier this season. Down beat Mayo 0-8 to 0-3 in Kiltimagh in the 1983 league, not sure what that proves though except we needed a new corner forward who knew where the posts were.
By 1984 the jet heeled Kevin McStay had inherited the mantle of Corcoran, McGrath et al. Once more hapless Leitrim were mugged as Kevin dropped his calling card with 0-5 followed 1-7 V Galway in that year’s Connacht final. By the way in the Leitrim match Tom Byrne scored 1-5 and Anthony Finnerty 2-2.
By 1986 we were back on soccer scores again as Dermot Flanagan and Frank Noone – both defenders – scored two of the Mayo three points against Cork in the league. Sligo took a hammering in the 1987 Connacht semi-final as Mayo made hay with a score of 3-17 to 0-6. Again everybody from 10 to 15 scored.
Names like a J O Boyle dropped in against London with a healthy 1-3. JO Boyle slipped away quietly later having achieved more than most of us ever dared. Sligo must have dreaded Mayo back then but we never looked at it that way. We knew we would win those matches, it was the others that we had doubts about. The 1988 Connacht semi final dished up a hors d’oeuvre of 2-19 and all scored from 8 to 15. The excellent Joe Lindsay didn’t but his replacement Tom Reilly lashed in 0-4.
John O’Mahony steadied the ship but the start of 1989 heralded a major disaster rather than a return to Croke Park for our first final since 1951. League losses to Louth and Cavan augured poorly. A heavy win over Longford closed out the league but we were lying in the long grass and another assassin had been added to the team. Michael Fitzmaurice, first rate free taker and forward came on board. Mayo finally got to swim with the big boys after a 37 year lapse.
So what does all the above tell us? Well, All-Irelands, Connacht Championships even, are not won in January or February. Two points against Leitrim is not something I would be sticking on the Mayo CV of greatness. Peter Solan, Joe Corcoran, John Nealon, Joe McGrath, Kevin McStay have that ground well harrowed.
Danny Kirby with the help of a steady manager and his own undoubted ability will be a great, not because he scored goals against a team a well trained St Jarlath’s might thrash but because of what he will achieve on a dry sod with some defender who hasn’t shaved or brushed his teeth in months breathing down his neck. Great expectations lead to great falls. We have been on this road before. Let’s let Danny come at his own pace and let’s see Conor lift them over in August and September.