The week before the All Ireland minor final, the Mayo Advertiser had an opportunity to sit down with Mayo manager Ray Dempsey to see how the Knockmore man felt about the impending All Ireland final, how his side have performed this year, and getting the best of his players in the biggest 60 minutes of their lives so far.
Colm Gannon: You must be looking forward to your second All Ireland final in a row?
Ray Dempsey: We are enjoying it we are working very hard, it’s a game we have to prepare for, it’s not the occasion as such [the All Ireland final] we are working hard to put the steps into place that will bring success. I think the good thing from our point of view is that from our last game in the championship the lads have seen the results of hard work in winning the semi-final.
CG: How has that preparation gone from the semi-final to now, there have been a lot of club games the lads have been playing in, would you have preferred not to have lads playing in club games in the lead up to An Ireland final?
RD: I have no problem with the lads playing with their clubs, the clubs provided these lads to the county. It might be the dovetailing of two or three competitions for these lads that’s not right, but these lads representing their clubs at their own grade in minor level I don’t see any harm in that at all. It brings a bit of reality back to the lads, these are the players they have played all their lives with. They might have moved on to a different level, but it’s important for them that they realise that this is a different challenge for them and they realise it’s not just about representing the county.
CG: When it started off again this year, you must have trawled through the county to find a whole new panel more or less from last year’s one?
RD: It’s true, what I would say to lads that didn’t make it, there is probably a guarantee that some of those lads will go on an make it a senior for Mayo because they might not be fully developed now. They can get stronger, fitter, and bigger than they are now. We have decisions to make in a window of two or three months and we have to make the decisions. There are players that I feel just weren’t ready to make this year’s minor championship that could go on and will go on and represent Mayo at other grades, be it u21 and senior.
CG: It must be a tough thing to do to tell the lads who just missed out that these are the 30 I’m going with?
RD: It’s very hard and again it’s judging to see who will be ready in the next three months, there is a window there of a month or two from Christmas to March time, when you are analysing and seeing do these lads have a part to play in this years championship. Even though you know there is football in them. Give them a year or even six months and they could be quality players and there are players out there that has happened to. All I say to them is if they keep their beliefs and work very hard and invest time in strength, fitness, and skills they’ll get their rewards out of it.
CG: A feature of the team this year is that the lads are willing to play anywhere and dig deep when needed, is that very important in a team these days?
RD: There are going to be situations thrown at lads and problem solving for them to do on the pitch, you can put it down to leadership or class, but a player has to have the ability to cope when something is thrown at him. Be it the player that is on him and him having to work, track, and tackle till he gets on top of him. That’s a quality we would be looking for in any player, because the individual can work hard enough to get on top the team will get on top. There are personal battles all over the pitch and it’s how you apply yourself to them that will decide how successful you are at the end of the day.
CG: They have shown, in games this year against Roscommon in both games and then again against Down when they were on the ropes, the ability to dig in and fight.
RD: As I said earlier the lads will have seen from the semi-final the results of applying themselves and working hard when they don’t have the ball. Doing the unfancy thing, the tracking the tackling, the ugly yards have to be put in and the great thing about the semi-final gone is the lads applied themselves and did their jobs and got the results. And they know and we know, nothing less will be asked of us again in our next game. We’re not hiding behind it or thinking we are going to get anything soft in our next game, we know it’s going to be the exact same. The harder we work the better chance we have of winning the tie.
CG: You are going in as underdogs against Armagh, you played them earlier in the year where you got a beaten and they have looked good all year. Have you worked out a definitive plan for them yet?
RD: We have our own system and we might have to tailor it a bit to look at Armagh but won’t be changing an awful lot in our game. We will be looking at different aspects of their game which might give us problems and we might have to change a few things but we won’t be changing our game plan too much. Armagh have been going with a steady team since that challenge and I would say every one of those players who started that game that day will be playing in the All Ireland final. They are together since they were u15, I suppose we owe them from the challenge, but all we can do is have no regrets from the game and go out there and do our best, and fight to the bitter end and see where that takes us.
CG: Has the game changed dramatically since you were playing at this age group?
RD: God, there is a huge difference, everything has gone up I would say two or three hundred per cent. I wouldn’t know where to start, you can put the word professional or whatever you want in front of it. But the commitment by a minor footballer now is huge, that’s where it starts from, you have to start indicating the footballer at this age who will go on a represent Mayo at senior and the player has to step up to it. Otherwise they are leaving themselves vulnerable to being passed over when it comes to senior. You would always say looking back at that age you would love to have the step up it is now and the opportunity to being the best player you could. Because you always have to have the ambition to go from being a good club player to being a good county player and not just be happy with being a county minor player, you have to have the ambition to go on and push yourself to be the best you can.