Another year of ups and downs for Mayo

Nowhere to go in Newbridge: Diarmuid O'Connor is swallowed up by Tommy Moolick, David Hyland and Morgan O'Flaherty in Newbridge during Mayo's loss to Kildare in the championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

Nowhere to go in Newbridge: Diarmuid O'Connor is swallowed up by Tommy Moolick, David Hyland and Morgan O'Flaherty in Newbridge during Mayo's loss to Kildare in the championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

It wouldn't be Mayo if there wasn't drama involved and 2019 was as drama filled as any of the past number of years, even if the curtain came down on the action on the field six months ago at this stage.

Since then we've had plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way, with Stephen Rochford staying on and then stepping out and the return to the Mayo fold of James Horan - who is now the man tasked with guiding Mayo back to where they expect they belong — with the top guns of the game.

Winter warm-ups

On the field the action was due to start way back on January 7 at home to Galway in the FBD League, but a frozen pitch saw that game abandoned, so the action threw-in the following Wednesday, January 10 and against Leitrim in the same venue and a new look Mayo team looked to have the points in the bag until a late, late Brendan Gallagher goal levelled it up at 0-13 to 1-10 in front of 1,696 paying spectators.

The refixed Galway game took place the following Wednesday night in horrendous conditions - with a torrential downpour looking like the game might be in doubt again, but it went ahead and the Tribesmen headed home with a win by the narrowest of margins, running out 1-10 to 1-9 winners - despite Mayo having a two point man advantage for the closing 12 minutes - after both Damien Comer and Sean Mulkerrin had been sent to the line.

Due to the postponement of the first Galway game, Mayo had three games in five days in the FBD League and that run came to an end in Hyde Park against Roscommon where they were beaten by the Rossies, by three points on a score of 0-14 to 0-11 when Mayo once again were unable to take advantage of having a numerical advantage on the field, playing almost the entirety of the second half with a man up.

The curtain came down on the FBD League run the following Sunday in James Stephens Park in Ballina, where Mayo picked up their first win of the year seeing off Sligo 1-10 to 0-11 with Jason Doherty helping himself to 1-4 and local hero Evan Regan chipping in with three points.

Staying in the top flight

Mayo's retention of their status as a division one side got a helping hand, or helping few steps from Kevin McLouighlin in MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey on the final Sunday in March, when the Knockmore man took took at least ten steps before firing over the score that levelled the game up and sent Donegal down - with Mayo hanging on by the skin of their teeth in the top division.

The league campaign actually started out really well, with Mayo picking up an unexpected win on the road in round one against Monaghan in Clones on the last Sunday in January. Once again Mayo had the numerical advantage going into the final stretch, but looked like they were not going to be able to see off their opponents, but up stepped Paddy Durcan driving the ball over the bar from distance to pick up two valuable league points for Mayo.

The following week, Kerry came to Castlebar and with hopes inflated by that win over Monaghan, Mayo expected but the Kingdom delivered on a cold night in Castlebar. Once again Mayo had a numerical advantage on the field for the closing stages of the game and again they could not make it count, only able to add two points to their total in the final 20 minutes, despite having two more players on the field - with Kerry holding out to record a 1-15 to 2-9 win.

Next up with the near neighbours in their back-yard and it was Galway who kept the points at home thanks to a 1-13 to 0-11 win at the end of a fractious encounter that saw Mayo finish the day with 13 players after both of the O'Connor brothers were shown the line. With Barry McHugh in fine form for Galway finishing up with 1-3, Mayo's main scoring threat came from Cillian O'Connor who finished with 0-5, before his early ejection from the contest.

Round four wasn't going to get any easier for Mayo with Dublin coming to town and the All Ireland champions kept up their end of the deal running out 2-10 to 0-12 winners, with Niall Scully and Paul Mannion getting the vital goals for Dublin, who had the game wrapped up with 15 minutes to go - with three late, late Conor Loftus points putting a gloss on the scoreboard for Mayo before the end.

Things were getting serious now for Mayo with just three games left and the spectre of relegation staring them in the face. They did however face what looked like the easiest of their seven league games in round five when they travelled to Newbridge a venue that was revisited in much different circumstances later on in the year. This one went to plan with Mayo running out seven point winners on a score of 1-19 to 1-12, with Aidan O'Shea helping himself to 1-1 and all six of Mayo's starting forwards getting on the scoreboard during the game to boot.

Mickey Harte's Tyrone came calling to Castlebar in round six on the day after St Patrick's Day and they left with the points after big 2-14 to 0-8 win, with just one of the eight points coming from a player named in the starting 15 - from Tom Parsons, albeit Cillian O'Connor did have to leave the action injured early on. Tyrone were tough and no nonsence and Mayo struggled for long parts in the game and left everything hanging on their trip to Ballybofey the following week.

They did what they needed to in the end against Donegal - but they were outplayed for long periods of the game and were very lucky to scrape the point they needed thank to McLoughlin's effort - it was a case of job done, but more to do and with a nice lead in time to their Connacht championship clash with Galway there was plenty of reasons to be hopeful or so the majority thought.

A challenging championship

Everything all year had been building up to the visit of Galway to MacHale Park on May 13th - Galway had won the last two championship encounters, but despite those defeats Mayo's championship run had gone on much longer than the Tribesmens. The visitors made it three from three in this one, but the game was overshadowed by a horrible knee injury to Tom Parsons - which made the outcome of the game irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Johnny Heaney's goal late on was the vital score in this one, but Mayo had been down this road before and had shown how they could dig themselves out of a hole so there was plenty to be positive about - even if Mayo had now been beaten in seven of the 12 games they had played in 2018 so far.

The first round draw of the qualifiers was kind to Mayo - sending them south to Limerick - where they took care of business with ease running out 5-19 to 3-7 winners with Cillian O'Connor bagging 3-9 along the way. That game also saw two of the late draftees into the squad James Durcan and Cian Hanley getting their first starts for Mayo having come on as subs against Galway.

The second round of he qualifiers sent Mayo to Munster this time to the home of hurling in Semple Stadium, where Tipperary put up a much better showing that Limerick did in the previous round - but Mayo still ran out 1-19 to 1-11 winners with James Durcan getting the goal and adding on two points, while Cillian O'Connor chipped in with five and Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin both adding three each. Mayo though were dealt another serious blow when Seamus O'Shea picked up a dislocated shoulder that ruled him out for a long time, that was now both of Mayo's starting midfielders out of action for the rest of the championship season - however long that lasted.

It all ended in the next round, when boosted by their victory over the top brass in the GAA of getting the game played at home in Newbridge, despite the GAA wanting in played in Croke Park - Kildare drew on that support to see off Mayo by two points on a score of 0-21 to 0-19 at the end of a epic encounter in Newbridge. When it came to the final few minutes, it was Kildare who had the extra bit of gas in the legs to get themselves over the line - when Eoin O'Dongohue levelled it up near the end of normal time, it looked like Mayo had what to took to see this one off, but Kildare dug in and Cian O'Neill's side did what the had to pick up the win and bring Mayo's run to an early end.

Managing the situation

While nobody expected Stephen Rochford to make a decision there and then on the spot, the situation on his future dragged out longer than many would have liked. Then on Saturday, August 25 word emerged that Rochford was going to stay on as manager and was bringing in with him Peter Ford and Shane Conway as part of his backroom team for the new season. Things then took a turn dramatically as he announced his resignation from the position two days later, when he released a statement saying: "After a meeting of the Mayo GAA Board’s Executive Committee last night, held to discuss the management team I had assembled to manage Mayo senior men’s team in 2019, the board issued a statement saying they wished to meet the management team and me about our structure and plans.

"It was apparent from what transpired at that meeting that the desired level of support for me as manager was not forthcoming from the Executive Committee. This disappoints me greatly.

"Accordingly, I see no value in meeting with the officers of the board and I am resigning my position as Mayo manager. I thank all those who supported me during the past three years, two of which saw Mayo come so close to winning the All-Ireland title.

"Like all Mayo people, I enjoyed the good days when the team won and suffered the disappointments when the results didn’t go our way. It was a great privilege to manage the Mayo team.

"The 2018 season was a disappointing one for all involved, and for our supporters. However, I had every confidence that our new backroom team had the capacity to build on the progress of previous years and drive the team on in 2019."

The hunt for a new manager was now underway and that ended when both Mike Solan who had managed the Mayo u21s to All Ireland glory in 2016 and the u20 to this years All Ireland final and former manager James Horan were nominated for the post. Solan withdrew from the race in late September leaving Horan the man - who has the task of bringing Mayo back to where it wants to be.

It all begins again on Sunday week, in Carrick-on-Shannon in the quarter-final of the FBD League at 1.30pm and it won't be Mayo unless there are some crazy twists and turns along the way.

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