It’s often said that a week is a long time in politics. Can I suggest then that three weeks is an absolute eternity in football? Just a few short weeks ago, all the talk around these parts was that Galway would be a shoe in to retain their Connacht championship. The fact that they would be playing the Connacht final (assuming it is Mayo ) in Pearse Stadium added to that theory because the general perception is that the seaside venue is definitely worth a few scores to the Galway men. But the pendulum has very definitely shifted in the last two matches of the national league. Galway were the form team of the league for the first five rounds, getting standing ovations from their ecstatic home supporters on a number of occasions such was the quality of their play. But after a rather slow start by Mayo in their opening rounds, they have very definitely come thundering into the equation again as serious provincial contenders after their impressive one-point victory over the up to then unbeaten Galwegians in Tuam a couple of weeks ago. Mayo followed up on that victory with a very creditable performance against the All Ireland champions in McHale Park last Sunday, where both sides took a share of the spoils.
Whilst Mayo appear to be improving at the right time of the year , (Alot of questions have been raised about the potential of Galway ). Liam Sammon will be particularly alarmed about the lack of real qualty midfield and he will be also a little concerned about the teams over reliance on Michael Meehan. He will be also a little concerned about the team’s over-reliance on Michael Meehan. He has plenty to ponder over the next few weeks. Last Sunday Kerry literally blew them away. In fact in a 20-minute spell in the second half Kerry did to Galway, what Galway did to teams in teams earlier part of the league. This defeat in particular has without doubt dented their confidence. Any team with aspirations of success at the business end of the season will benchmark their title chances by how they fare against the best teams. Galway played the best team in the country last Sunday and discovered that they are still a work in progress. The result means that for the second year in a row they miss out on a league final appearance that was almost guaranteed a few short weeks ago. Granted a Kerry team playing at home in front of their very demanding supporters was never going to give anything away too easily, particularly when the prospect of playing Derry in a national league final was more than likely going to be the outcome for the winners. Remember Derry beat Kerry last year in the league final in Parnell Park when all the smart money was on Kerry to cruise to an easy victory. With the game fixed for Croke Park this year, I anticipate that Kerry will be a little more focussed for the final this year.
And what about us
But what about Mayo? There is no doubt that Mayo have improved as the league progressed. The introduction of a few of this year’s under 21 players and the placement of a few lads in their best positions has given the team greater balance and it would appear greater belief and confidence. With the return of some of the more experienced players into the fold, there is no doubt in my mind that Mayo will prove a tough opposition for any team in this year’s championship. John O’Mahony has used a sports psychologist with every team he has been involved with. This year he has retained the services of Gerry Hussey, a Galwegian who worked with the high performance boxing team for the past three years and indeed accompanied the Irish team to the Beijing Olympics earlier this year. He developed a system of integrating psychology into the athletes' preparation and performance programmes and was credited with playing a major role in the team's success at the games. A number of the successful boxers at the Olympics were quick to highlight the significant role he had played in their success. Apparently Gerry has had a significant impact on the Mayo players too since he was introduced a few short months ago. In fact he must have really sold himself to the Mayo cause as I saw him leap into the grateful arms of James Waldron; the Mayo Chairman, after Mayo beat Galway in Tuam. (That was my first time to witness a Galway person jump with joy after a Mayo victory! ) He was very much to the fore again last Sunday as the team came out onto the pitch for the second half, issuing instructions to a number of players before the resumption. He is obviously making a difference.
Big weekend for the u21s
The Mayo under 21 management made the long trip up north on Wednesday evening to get a look at their opponents in tomorrow’s All-Ireland semi-final in Longford. Down beat Armagh in a pulsating encounter by a single point and apparently are a formidable outfit. One would think that playing an Ulster final just three days before playing an All Ireland semi-final is a tough call on players. But apparently the Ulster Council didn’t have much of a problem in this regard as they could have played this game last week. Either way I expect it will be a cracking game of football. This Mayo side bears little resemblance to the outfit that travelled around the country months ago playing challenge games. They are now a very tight, formidable team in their own right. The Mayo minors involved with the under 21s this year will relish the opportunity of getting back to Pearse Park to lay a few ghosts to rest. You will recall that it was in this venue that the All Ireland minor final replay ended in despair for our boys. Don’t miss this one.
This weekend’s congress will decide on the fate of the experimental disciplinary rules. In order for them to be retained they will require a two-thirds majority of the voting membership. I have mixed views myself as to whether I want to see them stay for this season’s championship. We have very definitely seen a huge reduction in the more sinister and cynical elements that had crept into games in recent years. The big issue as far as I can see if they are introduced, is whether referees can apply the new rules consistently throughout the championship. Referees throughout the league were in some instances flashing yellow cards like confetti at a wedding, when others had a preference for black. It will be interesting to see what happens at the weekend as the pressure on referees will greatly increase if the new rule changes are adopted as the real test of bravery for the men in black will come during the big battles in the summer months.