I received a text immediately after the final whistle that simply asked ‘What happened Mayo?’ It was from a friend of mine who was convinced that Mayo would beat Meath last Sunday. It was not the first time I was asked that same question down through the years, but this time I wondered at its appropriateness. We may just have to accept the hurtful reality that we just were not good enough on the day. We could apportion blame on a sub-standard performance from the referee and his officials, but that would not in any way explain why we did not finish off an average Meath team, particularly when leading by four points midway through the second half. The reality is we just did not play well enough to win the match.
I had my concerns heading up to Croker last Sunday. For a start Mayo teams rarely carry favouritism with any degree of confidence, particularly in Croke Park, and for people to suggest that we would beat Meath comfortably was just loose crazy talk! We should also have been a little concerned when we witnessed Galway’s poor showing against Donegal one week after we had beaten them in the Connacht final. As we know, Donegal won that match and Cork subsequently destroyed Donegal one week later. In hindsight that could have been interpreted as a signal that maybe we just were not as good as people had made us out to be and our Connacht final victory was won by beating a mediocre Galway side.
However, in my opinion many did not want to even contemplate the possibility of any weaknesses as the ‘experts’ had suggested that Mayo had ’as good a chance as any’ of the teams left in the race for the ultimate honour this year, and most were happy to go along with the favourable sentiments. And let us not forget we played brilliant football for most of the Connacht final, not to mention our performance against Roscommon! However I have to highlight the harsh reality that our Connaught Championship has disimproved and we are just not as strong as our counterparts in Ulster and Munster. Meath looked pretty dismal a number of months ago when they were beaten by Dublin in the Leinster Championship, but four victories through the back door had them hardened and confident, in a way that we were not, for last Sunday’s encounter. They were a bigger, stronger, team and their aerial dominance, particularly in the full-forward line, caused us huge problems. Outside of Alan Dillon, Aidan O’Shea, and Aidan Kilcoyne, no other Mayo player should have come away from Croke Park content in the knowledge that he had won his individual battle with his opponent.
Investing for success the right way
I heard it suggested that no other Mayo team had gone to Croke Park as well prepared as this current one. They had the benefit of one of the top sports psychologists in the country, one of the top sprint coaches, and lots of bonding weekends away, and still came up short. I have no doubt that when the review of the season and the value for money audit takes place over the coming days and weeks there may be a lot of questions requiring answers. In the bigger picture maybe it is time that we examined out structures at grass root level here in this county. Practically every year of my adult life I am asked the question where all the good footballers are in Mayo. I respectfully suggest that resources would be better spent on developing players from their late teens upwards rather than on the “white collar” professionals we are currently employing. Let me give you an example. James Cafferty is a young footballer from Crossmolina. Last year he played with the Mayo minors producing some outstanding football throughout their run to the All-Ireland minor final.
He is a big, strong, strapping lad who, in my opinion, will almost certainly play for the Mayo seniors at some time. This player, and many others like him, should by now have been identified as a future senior inter-county footballer and provided with the necessary support by way of strength conditioning, nutritional guidance, and general advice. If such a structure were in place I believe it would produce a better standard of footballer to represent our county. Our conveyer belt system is producing a sufficient number of young footballers with the necessary skills up to minor and u-21 level but unfortunately we do not have a system in place that ensures that these lads do not slip through the net unnoticed. We are losing a wonderful opportunity that would almost certainly guarantee a greater success rate at the business end of the season at senior level. We will almost certainly continue to travel to Croke Park more in hope than in confidence or belief if we don’t properly acknowledge where we can improve the system.
Back to the home front this weekend
Club championship action resumes this weekend with a full round of fixtures taking place all over the county. We in Crossmolina host Ballinrobe who, as it happens, are pointless after their opening two outings. They have no chance of advancing to the quarter finals but I am sure they will be hungry for victory. I can guarantee them in advance that we are not taking them lightly and on the basis of their performances against both Ballina and Knockmore I know we will have to play very well if we are going to get anything out of this match. The aforementioned Ballina and Knockmore are in action themselves in what should be the tie of this round. Aidan Kilcoyne fractured his shoulder last Sunday and will be out of action for eight weeks. He is a huge loss to Knockmore and, because of his absence, I think Ballina might just shade this one. Right now nobody has a clue when the quarter finals will be played. Apparently, at a county board meeting this week, there was a disagreement in deciding a fixture list for the coming weeks because our minors are involved in the latter stages of the All-Ireland minor championship. It now looks almost certain that our showpiece county final, previously fixed for October 4, will be moved back a week or two.
Sometimes people just do not listen
I met my good friend Tom Carr in Croke Park prior to Sunday’s game. As I mentioned before in this column, Carr got the dreaded vote of confidence recently from the Cavan county board chairman to continue as the manager of the Cavan senior footballers for another term. He was subsequently asked to resign by the county board’s secretary as apparently he did not have the necessary endorsement from a number of clubs in the county. Tom dug in his heels, refused to resign, and suggested that the board convene and a vote be taken. The county board executive were mandated to vote in favour of their manager. If they did, it means that Tom only received the “yes” vote from seven of 38 clubs. I suggested to Tom that he should have considered his position but as I discovered last Monday he did not heed my advice and decided to continue as manager. Inter-county management is an ugly business these days!