Once again Mayo fell at the final hurdle, but unlike other instances when the Mayo faithful have left All Ireland finals scratching their collective heads as to what went wrong, this time there could be no question marks about the performance, attitude and dedication of the players and the management. Everything that could possibly be given in quest for the Tom Markham Cup was given in Pearse Park last Saturday. It took 140 minutes of football for Tyrone to shake Mayo off, 140 minutes where every player in green and red gave everything he possibly could.
Aidan Walsh’s last gasp free pulled Mayo level at the death of normal time, but extra time was just 20 minutes too far at the end of a grueling championship campaign that saw Mayo play eight games, including two replays and two periods of extra time. But even when the goose was cooked with seconds to go, Mayo didn’t give up and James Cafferty’s goal cut the gap at the end. When the final whistle blew, heavy legs and heavy hearts of those in green and red collapsed in exhaustion on field but all those involved can hold their heads high at all they had achieved this year.
The crucial score came only seconds into the second period of injury time when Robert Hennelly spilled a lobbing ball to allow Conor O’Neil to score. It was cruel, cruel luck on Hennelly who has been outstanding all year and had kept Mayo in the game all afternoon with a string of fantastic saves, his save in the 53rd minute from Ciaran Gervin almost defied believe. Tyrone looked dead on to score a goal to remember with some sharp movement down the right hand side before the ball was flicked into the path of Gervin whose punched effort from close range was arrowing to the net. Only for Hennelly to throw himself to the right and palm it on to the post and away to safety.
Time to get serious about coaching
As the crowds took over the pitch for the presentation the Mayo players and management were left to mingle with friends, family and supporters on the field. Once the formalities were over they made their way back to the confines of the dressing room to think over what had just gone before. Picking over the bones of a defeat is never easy, but it is even more difficult when on the grandest day you face the bank of dictaphones as the celebrations from the victors changing room echos down the corridor. But Ray Dempsey, like he has done all year, listened to the questions and gave the answers. His message has been constant all year and he echoed it again: “If Mayo are serious about winning All Irelands then a proper coaching structure must be put in place.” Hurting from the defeat the Knockmore man was still looking at the positives for the future. “It just wasn’t to be today. We were beaten by a very, very good not side. Not more talented but a more technical team. Tyrone set their stall out 10 years ago to become a powerhouse of football and that’s what they have become, they set their stall out every year to become All Ireland champions, its what the pride themselves on and it’s what they got.”
The structures in coaching the games that have been put in place by the All Ireland champions is something that obviously has impressed Dempsey and he is keen to see Mayo do something similar. “They are 10 years down the road, where we’re just 10 months at it here. If we want to be taken seriously and we have to really up our coaching and get the proper backing and support that’s needed to compete with the Tyrones of this world. We had to battle big time today on the technical side of the game. It’s now time that words were put into action and we get out there into the schools and get the structures stronger, put the right people in the right places to develop the structures. We have to get the clubs and schools to develop the players in the technical skills and movement. Everybody with an interest in Mayo football knows what I’m on about.”
Proud of his players and of the supporters
As the volume level increased from the victors’ dressing room Dempsey was keen to give praise to his valiant charges for the season they have had. “I have to congratulate them on their performance, this isn’t like teams past Mayo teams, these fellas showed character a long way ahead of what has been shown in the last few years. These lads have worked hard on their own game all year and now the next commitment for them is that they don’t leave behind what they learned in the environments they have played in. Hopefully they will build on what they have learned, they put everything into the game. I knew that they would. If you want to succeed in at inter-county you have to have players who are willing to go to the well and come back stronger every time, even when things go wrong in games.”
The crowd of over 15,000 that came to Pearse Park was predominantly Mayo, Dempsey had put the call out for the people of Mayo to come and give these players the support they deserved and he was happy to see them come in their thousands. “I have to congratulate the supporters. We asked them to come out and they did in their droves. We did our damnedest to be going back across the Shannon with the cup but it’s not the way it turned out. We’re down today but we have to look at the situation and see whether we really want to be consistent at this level and work harder.”
The future’s bright if we want it
With the dust now settled on the championship for 2008, the Mayo minors provided a real bright spot on the footballing landscape for the year. While the senior side continues to go through a transitional phase, the U21s picked up their third Connacht title on the trot, while the minors illuminated the summer. But there is still a lot of working to be done in the county as Dempsey emphasised on the coaching front to get Mayo players up to speed with their counter parts, heart and commitment will get you so far but may not be enough. But as the season winds down, the schools one is only getting going and a new batch of players will be staking their claim to be considered for next years minor panel, the good fight will still be fought in Mayo as long as Ray Dempsey can have anything to say about it.