As Mayo footballer supporters, one of our most important assets down through the years is our optimism. With all of the news about corporate bail outs, bank rescues, layoffs, falling stock prices, and businesses going belly up, I have to admit that it is hard to stay positive at times. We are really fed up with reading bad news, and listening to the prophets of doom. And so, I was eagerly looking forward to the start of the National Football League and some good quality football in order to see a few smiling faces for the first time in ages. I arrived in Ballina in good time and was met at the showground entrance by the ever so jovial Barry McLaughlin, who was doing his bit for the local club by managing traffic flow at that end of the ground.
A sizeable crowd had gathered early for the game and, like me, most of those were there to support the home team. I remarked to a few people close to me that the atmosphere was a little subdued. Understandable I suppose in light of the economic downturn we have endured in recent months. Normally the crowd would get a little excited in advance of a game, particularly the first real competitive match of a new campaign. But this crowd was having none of it and a few minutes later when both teams ran onto the field the crowd barely raised a clap. Sadly for all there, things didn’t improve over the next 70 minutes or so, as neither team gave any reason to supporters to get excited. This match, as far as I am concerned, was of the Vauxhall Conference standard. Now I have to be careful here because I have stood on the line on many an occasion when teams I was involved with played some terrible football.
I know the feeling of loneliness of standing on the line
And in fairness having presided over teams for the best part of 18 years I fully appreciate the loneliness of the sideline when your team is not going well. The last thing this team or management want right now is criticism from ‘bar stool’ experts or members of the media who revel in negative reporting. I was often enraged by comments from journalists and pundits who hadn’t a clue about Gaelic football. There can be no denying that Sunday’s performance was poor and, as I highlighted in my article last week, it is crucial to win home games in the national league. We are off to Ballybofey next week to play Donegal. Donegal are no great shakes themselves and Kerry apparently ran them ragged in the opening 15 minutes of last weekend’s game racing into a 2-6 to 0-1 early lead before applying the brakes. That kind of submission would suggest that Donegal might be there for the taking and were we to manage a victory away from home the mood could and would change very quickly. But I have to admit at this early stage it looks like we will struggle to survive in division 1 of the league and if last Sunday’s performance is a benchmark, there can be no doubt we will have problems with the big teams in this division. But as I said at the outset, I remain optimistic that this management can turn it around and get the team to play with a lot more spirit than they displayed against Derry.
A night to remember
Training was organised early in Crossmolina last Saturday evening so as to everyone interested in watching the opening match of the National league had the opportunity to do so. The match involving the All- Ireland Champions and the new Dubs really did live up to pre-match expectations and did justice to the occasion. This match was singled out by the GAA as the one that would be appropriate to launch the 125th anniversary celebrations of the GAA. There was something for everyone in the huge crowd of 80,000 at Croke Park. The night was filled with pomp and pageantry with both teams lining out in 1884 style gear for the pre match parade. The long baggy shorts and lumpy geansies looked quite comical when both teams paraded after the Artane Boys Band prior to the game. Marty Duffy from Enniscrone was rewarded by being selected by Croke Park to referee this match and the first thing I have to say here is that he handled it brilliantly. He was right up with the action from start to finish and when you hear both managers applaud his handling of the game, it is obvious he must have done a good job. The spotlight was on him to see how he would apply the new rules. The big problem we have with any new rules is their application by referees. It is primarily the lack of consistency and uniformity of application that really agitates players and management teams. Marty displayed a real commonsense approach to proceedings on Saturday evening. In particular I have to applaud him for issuing a ‘tick’ to Ciaran Whelan who dived to the ground holding his face in the first half as if hit by a low flying missile. From my viewpoint he wasn’t touched anywhere near his head and obviously the referee thought the same. I actually regretted that he didn’t receive a straight yellow for this attempt to have a member of the opposition cautioned. As it happened only one player was sent off during the match. Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh lasted just two minutes having come on near the very end of the match. In fact there were only 40 fouls throughout the game which is way below the average for league football and, as a result, the action flowed from end to end in a welter of excitement. Players are now becoming increasingly conscious of being sent off and as a consequence we are treated to some fantastic passages of play that augurs well for the remaining trial period of these rules. As I mentioned the game really did justice to the occasion and some of the scores from Tyrone’s Stephen O Neill in the first half will long live in the memory. I had to watch the game in a bar in Crossmolina as, like thousands more, I don’t have the Setanta station which had the rights to cover the game. It’s a pity in hindsight that the GAA didn’t organise some sort of a deal to ensure that this magnificent occasion was beamed into every household in the country. It was that good!