With 2018 drawing to a close and only the u21 club championship yet to be decided, it's time to put to bed what has being a very testing and difficult year both on and off the field for Mayo GAA.
The national league performances in 2018 were erratic, despite beating Monaghan on the opening day, a three-game losing streak against Kerry, Galway and Dublin had us knee deep in relegation trouble.
A fine away win against Kildare was followed by our worst performance of the year as Tyrone tore shreds off us in Elvery's MacHale park winning by 2-14 to 0-8 points. It meant Mayo had to travel to Ballybofey for a winner takes all relegation battle against Donegal on the final day.
Mayo needed at least a draw to stay in division one. That game had all the passion and atmosphere of a championship encounter played in front of a huge crowd. I struggled to contain myself as Kevin McLoughlin kicked a late equaliser much to the delight and relief of the Mayo faithful. Replays showed that McLoughlin had in fact taken a full 13 steps without a play of the ball but we didn't mind. It meant Mayo's proud record of staying in the top flight was maintained.
The importance of that cannot be overemphasised. Playing against the top teams in next years NFL is of huge importance for squad development, to see if potential future Mayo players can compete against the best in the country and on top of that Mayo will have ten thousand-plus supporters at all their home league games in 2019 which will boost the coffers and help reduce the debt. Clashes against the likes of Louth, Clare or Tipperary would not be as appealing to the large Mayo fan base.
It was then onto the May 13 for the championship encounter against Galway. This was the stand out opening fixture of the championship and it attracted a lot of attention from the rest of the country. Johnny Heaney's late goal sealing the deal for Galway who have now beaten us three years in a row, two of which were on our own patch.
That game will forever be remembered for the horrific injury sustained by Tom Parsons, The roars of pain from him as he lay on the turf still ringing in my ears. Thank God for the speed of the medics and the proximity of Mayo University Hospital that Tom's outcome wasn't much worse.
For those of you wondering, he's still very upbeat and positive and confident he will wear a Mayo jersey again in the white heat of battle. He has been an inspiration to many.
Mayo had to go the scenic route again and navigate away trips to Limerick and Tipperary. The Tipp game was far from simple. The highlight of the Limerick game apart from the reception given to Tom Parsons on his arrival into the main stand in the Gaelic Grounds, was the 3-09 notched up by Cillian O'Connor.
The first bit of controversy of 2018 involving Mayo was to arrive after the draw for a round three qualifier as the GAA decided Newbridge was unfit to hold the qualifier between Kildare and Mayo. Had officials explained that before the draw was made, there would have been no issue whatsoever. It started the now infamous “Newbridge or Nowhere” campaign which ultimately gave Kildare added motivation to beat Mayo which they duly did after a titanic battle.
How could a team that lost to Carlow in the championship turn over the only team capable of beating the Dubs, I wondered. The extra incentive because of their stance a very telling factor.
Many including myself were reeling as Mayo had missed out on the chance to play in the new Super 8 format despite been at the business end of the season every year since 2011. We expected a smooth passage for the remainder of 2018 after Mayo's early exit but what followed was humiliating and embarrassing. We were the headline act and main news story on All-Ireland final week as Stephen Rochford stepped away from the job citing a lack of backing from the executive.
Our dirty linen was been aired in public again, it was far from positive publicity. It looked like it was a two horse race for the managers job between Michael Solan and James Horan to replace Rochford. Word circulated that board members had actually travelled to Ballaghadeereen to offer Solan the job but called to the wrong house; if true, humiliating in every sense.
The late withdrawal of Solan from the race again conspicuous but leaving the door wide open for James Horan's return. James Horan has certainly started his second coming with real intent and has most certainly cracked the whip and laid down a few early markers even to some of his most experienced lieutenants.
There is no settling in period or time to think, If you want to be part of the Mayo set up for 2019, you do it on my terms seems to be the order of the day for Horan. Mayo have lost more games than they have won in Elvery's MacHale Park over the last three years, Horan wants to make it a fortress again. With away games in next year's league against Kerry, Tyrone, and Dublin, I'd certainly be targeting some home victories.