My first permanent teaching post was at St Gerald’s College, Castlebar, 20 years ago this September. And having taught in the county for eight years, I appreciate the ravenous and deep rooted desire that exists there for a senior All-Ireland success. The school principal at the time was big Brother Thomas Durnin from the De La Salle Order, and he asked me to bring the Sam Maguire Cup down in 1998. The reaction of the older members of staff was revealing. They would take the canister. Look at it, and then hand it over quickly, with a certain amount of disdain, muttering something like; “I don’t want it. Or want to touch it, unless we have won it ourselves.”
Now, having reached their fifth consecutive semi-final after last weekend's easy win over Donegal and with a new management team in place, the belief that this can be their year is gathering momentum. And with Aidan O’Shea currently unstoppable at full-forward and Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins in flying form, some of that belief is warranted.What was very impressive in their victory over Donegal was the performance of midfield duo Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea, who both won massive amounts of ball and showed a terrific work-rate.Their possession count of 29 and 28 was only bettered by Lee Keegan with 30. Barry Moran also added an aerial threat and produced one massive fetch at midfield. His sweeper role worked very well and credit goes to Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly for going with that system. They have spoken about horses for courses and it is the way to go. Seamus O’Shea is continually improving. His kick passing and use of possession was top drawer, and it was good to see the Breaffy man constantly looking up in possession to try to pick out the best attacking option in the full-forward line.The work-rate of all the Mayo forward line is first-rate and McLoughlin, Doherty and the O’Connors (Cillian and Diarmuid ) will not be found wanting in chasing, tackling, and harrying the Dublin rearguard in two weeks' time.
It will be a big step up in intensity for Dublin on what they have faced in getting to the last four. Mayo will have to improve on their ruthlessness in front of goal. They only scored 15 out of 29 scoring chances and Andy Moran’s last effort when he went for goal when he had a free man inside typified their lack of efficiency in the last 20 minutes. All-Ireland winning teams do not kick the ball into the opposition goalkeeper’s hands on seven or eight occasions when points are on offer. And to do so against Dublin would be madness. For the Mayo players the crusade for All-Ireland glory continues for another few weeks at the very least, and they would appear to be good value at 15/8 to beat Dublin. No doubt some of my old teaching colleagues at St Gerald's and new school principal Danny Hyland (from Claremorris, and a past pupil of St Colman's ) will now be hoping that past pupils like Seamus and Aidan O’Shea, Tom Cunniffe and Robert Hennelly will be walking into the school gym hall with the Sam Maguire in tow in late September.
Where have all the beards come from?
With the game sewn up by Mayo with well over 20 minutes to go last weekend I started counting the number of beards on the hallowed turf of Croke Park. How many hipsters can there be on one GAA pitch at the same time? Mayo have really embraced the hairy side of fashion and have some standout beards. Kevin McLoughlin's effort probably has to take pride of place, alongside Tom Cunniffe. Others that are in on the anti-Gillette campaign include Rob Hennelly, Chris Barrett, Seamie O' Shea, Aidan O' Shea, Keith Higgins, Ger Cafferkey and Tom Parsons. And I may even have missed one or two lesser ones. Donegal had their few bucks too with Paul Durcan, Neil McGee, Mark and Ryan McHugh, and Karl Lacey all having various degrees of facial hair. And even Meath referee David Gough was in on the act with a neat debonair effort. Perhaps there should be a motion put forward for the 2016 convention that no more than 50 per cent of all players on the pitch at any one time can have a beard during championship action. It could also have a subsection to that motion, proposing, that hair tossing be a yellow card offence, as opposed to a red one, with theatrical diving in order to get an opponent sent off leading to an automatic two match ban.