George Bernard Shaw once said, "You see things and say 'Why?' but I dream of things that never were and I say 'Why not?” Our minors are our ‘dream team’ on Sunday next and it is on your brave young shoulders that all Mayo’s dreams currently rest. Good doesn't just happen. Good people make it happen. And you lads are good people. You are the most exciting generation ever — the best educated, and clearly possessing of sporting talent, and with the prospect of making a huge contribution to your county's future. God knows we need a boost, a big sporting win, to give us some hope of achieving bigger and better things in the years to come. It is such a long time since we won an All-Ireland championship final in Croke Park that a win on Sunday would help eradicate some of the awful memories we have from the last couple of decades. Ultimately when it comes to match time it will be down to the panel of players and management whether or not we will have something to get excited about.
I have heard so many clichés concerning Gaelic football down through the years that I have become conscious of using them too often when addressing teams. One that does stick in my mind however, and I honestly don’t mind if I am accused of using it regularly, is that ‘the hardest working team invariably wins matches’. I have often mentioned this fact to squads I have been involved with, ie, don’t be beaten by a team that works harder than you. And in fairness this present Mayo minor team have not been found wanting in that department throughout this campaign. They have been tested on several occasions, none more so than in their below par performance in the Connacht final drawn match against Roscommon. There’s no doubt they got the rub of the green that day in Pearse Stadium and came through the replay with a much improved performance. Having come through the quarter final unscathed, they were given an even greater test in the All-Ireland semi final against ‘hot shots’ Down, and despite the fact that they looked out of it for long periods in the first half, the players were manly and brave throughout the second half in taming, what I considered, a talented side. It was on that occasion in particular that I saw something that I liked about this particular team. They refused to show the white feather and concede defeat, but instead every single player stood up to be counted with a non-stop display of tackling and harassing, and ultimately suffocated their fancied opponents into submission.
I was in Croke Park a week earlier to see the Armagh minors beat Kerry in their semi-final. Armagh were very good with several of their players looking like they may become very good senior footballers in the near future. They are big and strong, have great mobility around the park and an inside full-forward line that looked particularly impressive. Neutrals I have spoken to suggest that Armagh based on that performance in particular will win this All-Ireland. However I don’t necessarily agree for a number of reasons.
It has been a long time coming
We don’t need reminding again that it is 24 years since we last won an All-Ireland minor title, but you can’t but notice that there are huge similarities between that outfit and the current one. One such similarity is that there were no individual ‘big stars’ on the ’85 side and there are none on today’s team, rather a team of honest and hard-working footballers. No one gave the ‘85 squad a chance of reaching the top, but they did, displaying wonderful character and a terrific work ethic along the way. I hope no one minds when I suggest that we have put out minor sides to represent this county on several occasions down through the years that appeared to have greater potential than the 1985 side, but who then went on to under-perform on a grand scale. You see, the thing about minors, as distinct from senior sides is that you never really know what to expect from 17/18-year-olds. Young men can react in so many different ways on big match days. Players who looked so good in games in the lead into an All-Ireland can find it difficult to cope with the enormity of the big occasion. Ray Dempsey and his back room team will have spent a lot of time in recent days getting the players focused on the match itself and emphasising to them not to become distracted by the large crowd for example. They will have further focused minds on the fact that the 60 minutes of an All-Ireland can fly by so quickly that players come into a dressing room disappointed that they never got an opportunity to express themselves on the big stage, because the whole thing just passed them by.
My advice to the team is to enjoy the occasion, take it all in, because the reality is these players will never sit in a dressing room together as a group again unless the game ends in a draw. So in a nutshell it’s all about the performance over the 60 minutes on Sunday, not about what has happened in the lead up to the game.
Remember no one player will win this encounter. It is all about the team performing as a unit, not about individual egos.
Forget about our recent record in All-Ireland finals. (We have lost five since our victory in 1985 ) Some team some time is going to break the cycle. Why not this team? Remember this is an opportunity of a lifetime that might never present again. All the hard work is over so it’s now down to every individual to be the best he can be on the day. My final piece of advice is to remain positive throughout the occasion. Never ever drop the heads, irrespective of what happens.
Remember to check your boots lads
I recall my two years playing at this level. I was on the Mayo minor team of 1979 and 1980. We were beaten in the All-Ireland semi-final on both occasions. We were following in the footsteps of the great All-Ireland winning side of 1978, but we weren’t a patch on that side. I recall arriving in the dressing room at Croke Park for the semi-final in 1979 to discover that my football boots were missing from my bag. My roommate at the Skylon hotel had removed my boots and hidden them behind the wardrobe as a prank on the Saturday night. He forgot to put them back into my bag before we departed for Croke Park the following morning. Very few players carried two pairs of boots those days so a squad member was asked to hand over his pair. That poor player obviously got an early message that he wouldn’t be getting a run that afternoon! Final message lads, make sure to check the gear bag before you get on the bus! Best of luck to management and all the players. We will be rooting for ye.