Holding the line at the back

All Ireland SFC semi final

Ready for action: Ballinrobe’s Donal Vaughan has come back from a number of months out injured at the start of the year to  become a key member of Mayo’s defence. Photo: Sportsfile.

Ready for action: Ballinrobe’s Donal Vaughan has come back from a number of months out injured at the start of the year to become a key member of Mayo’s defence. Photo: Sportsfile.

The pre-match press night is a necessary evil for players and management alike, with an unrelenting hunger for information from within the camp from local and national media and the general public in the build-up to a big game. It has become a customary exercise in the lead-in to the important business on the field. Last week, national and local journalists descended on McHale Park to get their few words with some of the actors in the drama that will unfold on the lush green sward of Croke Park on Sunday. With the evening's events winding down, the Mayo Advertiser caught up with Ballinrobe’s Donal Vaughan on the concrete concourse outside the meeting room, where his team mates Alan Dillon and Keith Higgins were still being put through the ringer by my colleagues from other outlets.

Vaughan is a Munster man by birth and through his early childhood, from Cork to Kerry, before arriving in Mayo and it was hard to miss him in a bright yellow Munster rugby jersey. Does he read the press before a big game or after it? “You’ll keep your eyes away from it to be fair. In Mayo there is fair amount of coverage of the game across all the papers and the local radio. But I think James Nallen said it before when he was playing, that if you're prepared to read the good, you have to be prepared to read the bad. So one way out of it is to not read it at all. My parents would read it, but I don’t want to know it. It’s irrelevant what the media think. One week you're brilliant, the next week you're useless.”

Listening to experience

Taking notice of the advice of Mayo’s most capped player, who is also a selector in James Horan’s backroom team on the media, is not the only bit of advice that Vaughan is taking from the Crossmolina legend who used to occupy his number six shirt. “I’ve asked James (Nallen ) from time to time for tips on things that I might make a mistake out there or something I might not be sure of. He’s top class, I’ve always said if you only knew half of what James Nallen knows you’d know a lot, it’s great to have someone like that to call on; he’s been a great help.”

For Vaughan it’s been a long road back to just a couple of days out from an All Ireland semi-final. He had a long term injury to deal with at the tail end of last year and faced the choice of playing through the pain or geting it fixed and trying to come back fully fit.

"I think it was this time last year I was struggling with my injury and I had to get it sorted. I was out for seven or eight months at the end. If someone had told me that at the time I would have gone mad. I have to say James Horan was very fair to me. On January 31, I had the option to get a Gilmore’s groin operation or play through for the season. I was willing to do both, James took me aside and said his instinct was to go with it and come back and come back right. He said to me that I would be part of the Mayo set up when I came back. I have to thank him for that and for the time that he gave me to come back.”

Coming back into the fold after a few months out of the game would be a test for most people's fitness at any level, never mind at the top end of the game, but it was time off the ball that Vaughan found the hardest to get back to grips with. “A lot of the lads would tell you that my fitness wouldn’t be my weakness. I’d kinda be a naturally fit guy anyway, what I found hard was the ball skills. You’d come back and they were slightly out, even when I did come back it did take me five or six weeks to get back to normal. I was expecting to come back and be flying, but I was dropping balls and missing balls, it was frustrating but that was all part of it too.”

Working as a collective

There has been a lot of praise for the Mayo defence for a number of remarkable second-half displays over the past few games, that is all down to a collective effort, according to Donal. “I suppose, my number one goal is to make sure we’re defending right. We defend as a unit and it’s not about keeping my man scoreless, it’s about defending as a unit. If the other team happen to get a score it’s about making sure they have to work damn hard to get it. If you go in with that attitude, that you’re going well, you’re not going to keep a team scoreless, but if you can make them work as hard as they can to get a score you’re going to be in with a great shout at the end.”

The Ballinrobe club man was also keen to point out the level of preparation that the management have gone into this year to have the team focused and ready, no matter what’s happening on the field, such as going 1-4 to 0-1 down against Cork early on in the quarter final. “We’d gone through every scenario, be it five or six points up or five or six points down. Ideally you’d like to be five or six points up, but we found ourselves five or six points down, but we just had to keep playing which we did. We kicked over a few scores and started to win a ball or two. Then all of a sudden Kevin got the goal and we got a bit of momentum. Then Cork got their second goal and we just kept playing again and got in at half time two points down. In fairness to the management we had gone through every scenario and we weren’t shocked by it.”

Past encounters not playing on his mind

With Kerry next up on Sunday and unhappy memories of 2004 and 2006 All-Ireland finals along with a 2005 quarter final defeat at the hands of the Kingdom still strong in the minds of Mayo supporters, those games are not something that Vaughan or his team mates will be thinking about. “It’s kinda of a media thing, they have to have a story about how Kerry beat us before by this and by that. There is only a handful of lads who played back then. I was a supporter myself watching those games, I don’t think it really matters, as it’s all about the next day, and what it’s about is bringing a performance the next day, the result will take care of itself.”

He also will not be losing the run of himself if Mayo manage to pull off a win on Sunday afternoon. “When you win any big game there is that feeling afterwards, it’s what you look forward to. But at the same time, I think a lot of people would have seen we were quite calm (after the Cork game ). There are no medals handed out for winning a quarter final or even the next day. It’s all about getting a performance and getting the best out of ourselves and hopefully making Mayo people proud again.”

Vaughan and his team mates have already made Mayo people proud once again this year with their performances over the past few months and, come Sunday, they will leave all they have on the field, once again doing their best for the county, and you cannot ask any more than that.

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