You’d be like a wagging two tailed dog all the same

David Clifford getting his hands on a ball in the last seconds of a level game is much like the 6 foot 5, 16 stone Guinness slugger heading to the bar on a stag when there’s a kitty behind the bar – if you don’t act fast you might just be left with nothing for yourself. 

As downers go, it’s hard to face into a long journey back home when you know there was possibly a point, if not two, left in the pathway behind you. 

With Rory Brickenden holding his marked ball on the right with a minute remaining, there was déjà vu flashbacks of how the Dublin game ended. He didn’t look comfortable being in that position from the minute he raised his hand, not many would in fairness. 

It’s times like that where you wonder if the mark didn’t exist, how much more it would have suited a situation like last night. In saying that, if ROD, Cillian or Boland marks that, totally different scenario. 

GAA, especially games involving Mayo, often comes with an element of ifs and buts. If that match stays 15 against 15 would we have seen it through like we did it against Dublin?  If we had held onto the ball that bit more in the final moments … If that marked ball was recycled instead of rocketed towards the posts.

You’d be in awe watching Clifford in action. He’s the definition of what a GAA forward should be. 

Ball into hand, turns, shoots, over, flag. 

Photo: Irish Examiner (Inpho/James Crombie)

Majestic. 

If you could bottle that you’d be feeding it to footballing youngsters daily in their Weetabix instead of milk. If Aliens came down in the morning looking for information on GAA, you’d just show his highlights reel on loop. It’s just a shame on his jersey where the red bit should ideally be, there’s gold instead! 

I’d like to think if Mayo had won on Saturday, I wouldn’t be sitting here ringing the communal bell chiming that the drought was ending.  I’d hopefully be still writing the same words in a similar, calm headed fashion. Yes, it’s only the league but it is hard to not be excited with our progress in it. 

Considering we’ve had to play the finalists of the last two All-Irelands in our first three games and we’ve come out with two convincing wins and a one point loss, that is something to have you as happy as a dog with two tails. 

But much like an on-form Clifford, our league position could turn on a sixpence very quickly. 

Three hard northern teams and the racket-inducing Rossies who have no fear of Mayo, nor MacHale Park neither, all yet to come, means we’re not even home and hosed in terms of league one status for next year, never mind anything else. 

If truth be told I haven’t been the most loyal Mayo fan so far this season. A January holiday booked in October to beat the New Year blues and one of my best friend’s stags meant I was missing in action for both Galway and Dublin. 

Despite being in one of the nicest and friendliest cities in the world, Valencia, with a great bunch of friends, part of me woke up on the Sunday of the Galway game wishing I was looking out onto the stormy Prom having a pre-match pint.

Photo: Travelanddleisure.com

But as I played pool in a t-shirt while sipping on a local lager in an Irish pub that was advertising the game on a big billboard; and while herself was texting me simultaneously to tell me that she couldn’t feel her face due to the unique Pearse Stadium sideways wind and rain combination; coupled with a resounding Mayo win – I thought to myself, the league would be a great spectacle if we could just relocate and rehouse the games nearer the equator. 

The Dublin game was not as clear on the mind though. My long suffering friend Matt (also a Mayo fan and lived with me for six years, most of which was during lockdown – both reasons why he has suffered so much!) is getting married. 

Living together during lockdown, just the two of us, makes us feel that we went through something together that nobody understands. We have a bond that is unbreakable. And we did it, honestly, with not one single argument. We spent our days working, exercising to lose weight, kicking balls in the local GAA pitch and playing FIFA. 

If you survive that, you’d survive anything. I feel like I could marry Matt myself now after it! It was like our ‘Nam. You don’t understand man, you had to be there. 

Manchester was the destination and Mulligans pub the location of the first night on the Friday – self-proclaimed ‘best Guinness outside of Ireland’ and it wasn’t too bad at all.

Of course while ordering a pint I got a not so unusual “are you from Mayo by any chance?”

Maybe it was the accent or the general head on me or the fact that me and Matt had been sending drunk voicenotes to my Galway friends, replacing Mo Salah’s name with Bob Tuohy to the tune of James’ ‘Sit Down’. 

The man with the question was from Ballinrobe and immediately we shot into a game of “who do you know that I know” and the machine spat out various answers both sides. We could both leave the bar content now. 

When you start drinking at 10am, it’s very likely that the brain is going to shut off before night falls. 

I knew that Mayo had won, I knew that I had been asking every pub we went to if they had RTÉ but trying to recall from the brain much else in between is like going to Hawkeye when it’s broken – you know it normally works but the most time you need it, it’s down. 

So most of my watching has been done behind a screen instead of in a stand (thankfully Allianz Sunday was recorded at home to refresh my memory of the above game).

Photo: Sportsfile

Kevin McStay seems to have instilled a confidence in his batch of players that often lacked in previous years. The confidence to look up and play that crossfield kick or punt into the forwards. We’re no longer only about that running game, and it’s great to see the versatility coming into our play. 

One of the greatest goals ever scored in GAA is Declan Meehan’s against Kerry in 2000. The finish is one thing for sure but the build up play is another. In particular Paul Clancy’s assist to Meehan.  He gets the ball with his back turned to goal and just slingshots the ball over his shoulder in the hope that Meehan is still making that run. 

Nowadays most managers would say, yeah great ball, but don’t do that again.

You need that spark, that wizardry, that creativity in GAA to create the standout moments, the big memories. 

Nobody is afraid to shoot either any more in this Mayo team. From the keeper right through to the forwards. And obviously that’s not to say that wasn’t the case before but now it’s been amplified. Doesn’t matter the distance or the angle, if they see it and like it, they swing for it.

ROD, Boland, Sam Callinan all examples of that last night. There was some tremendous pile drivers and tight angles of scores that in previous years we might not have taken on. 

Diarmuid O’Connor’s outside of the boot from distance was the highlight for me, similar to his clubmate Jason Gibbons’ point in the 2012 All-Ireland final. 

Back yourself, and if you the player are confident enough to back yourself, then I the fan am happy enough to put my confidence in you that you’ll score.

Even the last minute marked kick. Personally I’d much rather see someone have a go and miss than what we’ve become accustomed to seeing of players booting the ball backwards and trying to build a scoring chance up from near their own half again. 

Yeah, sure, it’s a miss last night. But that miss could be the catalyst for Brickenden to score a crucial snatch point later down the line. It’s not a miss if you learn from it.

When he retired, Dean Rock said that his freetaking became stronger after a last minute kick he missed against Kerry in the league in the mid 2010s. He said that miss made him practice harder on the placed balls and in truth made him one of the best free takers the game will ever see. If only he had scored that free against Kerry years previous, he might not have been so well versed in 2017 – and missed instead. 

Our tackling too has been second to none. 

That was always a drill I hated when I was playing GAA. Trying to palm a ball out of someone’s grasp. 

One coach when I played for a team in Dublin (I won’t say what letter but nowhere near A or even B standard!) would make us hold onto our shorts with our ‘strong hand’ and have us try and dispose the man on the ball with the weak hand – I could barely do it with my right hand never mind my left. 

But so many instances on Saturday where a Kerry man was soloing or carrying ball and it was pickpocketed the same way you’d snatch a leaf off a bush as you’re casually strolling by it. 

It was actually relaxing to see that when Mayo were turned over, there was no panic but rather a state of urgency to get the hands in and reclaim the ball. Kerry are also naturals at that side of the game too and at one stage it turned into a game of basketball when both teams snatched the ball and were dispossessed in quick succession twice each. 

If those same Aliens mentioned above got bored of watching Clifford and wanted to see one piece of play that could hopefully sum up McStay’s Mayo going forward, the winning point against Dublin would be up there. It combines the first two points I mentioned above. 

Has O’Donoghue the capacity to score from there? You might not put the whole house on it but you wouldn’t be pinching yourself if he did either. 

Having a shot in that sense is probably the second hardest thing to do, the easiest would be to recycle and hope time is on our side to muster up a cleaner chance. 

But no. 

First of all Boland to find that space, against the Dubs, in that period of the play is brilliant awareness in itself. ROD’s ability to find him in that nook and cranny with a ball delivered with SatNav precision is years of practice and ‘can’t buy’ technique personified. Boland then has a Johnny Wilkinson second to grab that ball and wrap the leg around it before he’s smothered by a sea of blue. 

Photo: Sportsfile

Give me that excitement any day over a safe draw. Give me Saturday night’s ending over a run down the clock level pegging any day. We became so used to percentage kicks under Jim Gavin and it worked wonders for them and more power to them. But a long range Hail Mary is a sight to behold. 

It’s a simple game that has been transformed by genius, mastermind tacticians over the years.

If we’re bringing the turf home and the bog is too soft for the big tractor, you’d be inclined to opt for the smaller Massey 135 to get the turf home without a blip. 

My auld buck would say “it’s hard beat the Massey for the difficult job”.

It’s hard beat the man who can score from anywhere for the difficult job too. But if we were dealing with turf we’d only be at the turning stage yet. It’s a long way away from the dry sod yet.

And I promise I’m going to the remainder of the league games. 

And to finish on one more last if … if Mayo do continue to do well and Croke Park starts calling, I was at those Dublin and Galway games, got it?

5 thoughts on “You’d be like a wagging two tailed dog all the same

  1. Hard to beat the Massey surely. Mayo have a tendency to end up in the sioch (side of the road/drain) just seconds before a glorious motorway opens up in front of them. Maybe its time to switch to air to water and let the ball do the work

  2. Well written indeed. Not sure Mayo aren’t safe enough already in the league. 4 from 6 is pretty strong in the whole scheme of things. Monaghan and Tyrone cough up plenty of chances. I’m fairly confident Mayo will be close to the top of the pile at the business end. The burning issue is can anyone say league form has transferred over to championship in recent times? Derry look sensational but not sure that’s important in February. The plodder gets there eventually. Dubs, Kerry, Donegal and Mayo in the mix for the big prize. Spillane thinks there’s a big shock on the cards this year and he might be right.

  3. Great article Darragh, Cheers for the pints in the Sportlann after beating the Dubs in Mc Hale, was great to see ya !!!

  4. Recycling a mark, with time almost elapsed, is not just an option when the existing score is acceptable and the opposition possess a scoring genius – its an imperative. Not surprising we have so many cockups.

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