Understandably, the mood in the county is somewhat muted after the disappointment of Mayo’s performance in the league final. What the final did tell us is that Cork are the best team in the country right now and their improving style of football over the last two years will almost guarantee that they feature in the latter stages of this year’s championship. In fact, I will be surprised if they don’t win the All-Ireland this year. They have a plethora of big, strong, athletic footballers who are really comfortable on the ball. Mayo on the other hand look particularly small physically, an observation I have heard from more than a few. Also, notwithstanding the fact that Mayo played very poorly, Cork look to have it sussed for 2010. Last year they bubbled over in mid summer, playing their sweetest football in July and August. They will be smarter this year and I think that the Cork management will gather sufficient expertise to ensure that they peak in September.
Mayo, on the other hand, appear to have plenty of work to do in the physical stakes. They have been presented by management with a schedule of training and matches over the next five weeks that practically leaves me breathless. It is punishing to say the least, and I would question if it will have the team fresh and hungry for championship. Those who are lucky enough to be included in the championship panel for the summer ahead can look forward to games against Donegal, Cavan, Cork, Westmeath, and Dublin before they play Sligo. When you throw in club games and a few other collective training sessions in Castlebar, it sounds like the team is being punished for the below par performance against Cork.
A balance is required and I can fully understand that management want to have the team in championship form for fear of a slip up against Sligo.
I recall a championship match in which I was involved back in 1996. What should have been a fairly routine encounter turned out to be a fairly disastrous display against London in the Connacht championship. We did manage to win on a score line of 1-11 to 1- 5, but we had Maurice Sheridan to thank who scored 0-9 (8f ) that just saw us fall over the line. The performance left the Mayo supporters bewildered and disappointed at the time. It was embarrassing for both players and management as quite a large contingent of Mayo supporters had travelled out to London for the weekend. We flew into Dublin later that same evening. The lads were allowed a few hours in Dublin that night, but I had arranged a training session in Westmanstown for the following morning so I did not expect many to over indulge. As it transpired, it was one of those tortuous sessions that begged several questions from the squad. I have been reminded of that morning on many an occasion since. While no one enjoyed it, I always felt it generated a steely resolve among the squad that left us mentally tough for the remainder of the championship. As we all know we possibly should have won the All-Ireland that year. The point I wanted to make here is that no matter how desperate things appear, fortunes can change overnight, just as they did in 1996. That is why the result in Croke Park, while disappointing, might just be the kick up the ass this squad needs.
Mayo were due to fly to Portugal for six days of warm-weather training this Sunday. It was decided heretofore at congress, however, that no county football team is allowed to travel outside a 13- day window prior to a championship fixture, once the National league has concluded. Rather bizarrely, the Mayo County Board only discovered this rule on Tuesday of this week when it was pointed out to them that they should first seek authorisation from HQ prior to travel. The trip has been cancelled.