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Pressure on O’Mahony and Mayo to deliver

Inter-county management is a tough station. The facts speak for themselves this season.

Flying the colours from a height

The wearing of county jerseys has become extremely fashionable in recent times. It affords the wearer an opportunity to advertise his or her identity in a subtle way that often leads to a conversation about the chances of their team in an upcoming championship encounter. I was descending Croagh Patrick last Thursday morning when I noticed a family bedecked in their county colours. This Fermanagh family was heading for the summit to plant their county colours ahead of the Ulster final replay between Fermanagh and Armagh. Having stopped briefly to engage with them and to offer my best wishes I recognised a striking resemblance of the father of this particular family to that of Marty McGrath, the towering Fermanagh midfielder. He excitedly told me that he was indeed Marty’s brother and, as he would normally travel to climb on Reek Sunday, the clash of fixtures left him with no option but to travel west a few days in advance.

Puke football and poor crowds

A well known former inter-county footballer, whose name escapes me at the time of writing, coined the phrase “puke football”! He was referring to the ugly defensive style of play that became de rigueur in Ulster counties in the early noughties. Regrettably that phrase was very much in my mind as I watched some appalling fare in Croke Park last weekend. Teams are just so reluctant to kick the ball these days for fear of giving it back to the opposition. We are consequently presented with a game of handball with practically no creativity and most teams packing their defences for fear of getting caught out by a long kick into a porous defence. Perhaps it is time to look at the “off side” rule in Gaelic football?!

The manager is always an easy scapegoat

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Justin McCarthy would have had a wry smile on his face last Sunday afternoon. As you all know he resigned from his post as the county team’s hurling manager a number of months ago after a “heave” from his own players. It had become apparent, in the wake of a heavy defeat to Clare in the Munster championship, that some of the players were unhappy with McCarthy. Much was made of Dan Shanahan storming off the field that day and refusing to shake Justin’s hand when substituted. As in that game big Dan was totally anonymous last Sunday, barely touching the ball, until he was rescued from the action or, should that be non-action! I wasn’t too enamoured with the Waterford players at the time as I felt it was another example of player power being exerted, something that has become quite common this year. Remember it was McCarthy who took Waterford to three Munster titles and also to the brink of All-Ireland glory. It wasn’t his fault the players choked when so near the finishing line. They had the perfect excuse last year. The system militated against them, they said, as they had played three consecutive Sundays in a row. The manager is always the easy scapegoat after failures and these players must have felt the need to apportion blame to someone. Justin is obviously a proud man. He walked before it got ugly and, other than issuing a brief statement at the time, he kept his powder dry. I am not sure if he went along to Croke Park last Sunday, but as the game unfolded he would have felt fully justified in having walked from the job when the players had the audacity to question his methods after seven relatively successful years in charge.

A season of Sundays begins again

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Time has ticked by very quickly since Mayo took their final bow in the championship for 2008 on a warm August Saturday in Croke Park, slipping out of the championship at the hands of the eventual winners, Tyrone, by a solitary point. And with Cormac Reilly’s final whistle that day attention turned to 2009 and the talk of the pubs and sidelines as to what went wrong over the past two years. Well one thing is for sure, John O’Mahony is still in the hot seat and will remain there for the next couple of years after being given a new deal in the autumn. Who will make up his side this Sunday and for the rest of the year will be talking points for the next few weeks as a side begins to take shape as the opening rounds of the National League slip by.

Returning heroes and tight tussles

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By the time you read this the semi-final pairings for the TF Royal Theatre football championships will have been revealed with the draw taking place late on Thursday evening. But last weekend’s action in the senior championship in McHale Park was an engrosing weekend of football. Saturday started off with Breaffy looking to get one over the experienced heads of Crossmolina in only their second ever quarter final at this grade and ultimately coming up short, while it concluded in a barnstorming game of football, where Ballintubber will be ruing the fact they let a Ballaghaderreen side with posssibly the longest list of mentors ever to grace a programme back into a game.

Mayo wrap up league with visit from All Ireland champions

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McHale Park will get its first airing this season on Sunday when the All Ireland champions Tyrone come to town for the final round of the Allianz National Football League. Mayo will be looking to pick up where they left off against Galway in Tuam Stadium a fortnight ago, where a stunning second half performance saw John O’Mahony’s side overturn a six point half time deficit to squeeze past Galway by a single point and secure a one point win. The win leaves O’Mahony’s side in fourth place in the division one table on six points, equal on points with Mickey Harte’s side. A draw on Sunday would ensure both sides’ status in division one for next season, but a defeat coupled with a high scoring win by Dublin over an already relegated Westmeath and a win by Donegal over Derry could drag either side back into the bottom two of a very tight division one table.

Cork high on confidence

On the weekend of a championship match Jury’s Hotel, Croke Park is normally buzzing with animated followers of all the participating teams and last weekend was no exception. I was there early as I had overnighted in the capital and I made my way to the hotel to soak up the atmosphere hours before the game. I mingled with a number of Cork supporters chatting about the match and, to a man, they were hugely confident of their chances against Tyrone. They talked about the maturity of the team this year, the options off the bench and the aerial dominance they had at midfield. A number of them suggested that, not alone would they beat Tyrone, but that they had availed of the 7/2 on offer from most bookmakers on Cork to win the All-Ireland. After engaging them in conversation and having the crack with several of them I must admit that they had me convinced, too, that they were the team to beat this year. Jack O’Connor and Ger O’Keeffe arrived at the hotel. There was a rush of eager youngsters to Jack looking for autographs and he was as courteous as one would expect from a GAA manager, spending time chatting and encouraging all of them. Jack’s son was playing on the Kerry minor team later and he was anxious to have some food before heading across to Croker. We chatted for a while with the ever attentive hotel manager, who incidentally is a Kerryman, and had food organised for the boys. They had played golf somewhere between Kerry and Dublin on the Saturday afternoon and O’Connor was as excited as a young lad with a new toy as he described how he hammered O’Keeffe in a game of ‘skins’ (golfers will understand what I am talking about here). I suggested that a Cork victory over Tyrone wouldn’t necessarily be the result that Jack would prefer. It was widely acknowledged that the Kerry lads would have loved a crack at Tyrone in an All-Ireland this year, bearing in mind their record against the current champions. He didn’t disagree and acknowledged that if Kerry got to a final against Tyrone, his job from a motivational perspective would’ve been a lot easier.

A good win and something to build on

For what it’s worth, and irrespective of what you might have heard on the streets since, I didn’t meet a single person who believed that Mayo would beat Galway before last Sunday’s game in Tuam. That is why that one point victory had people giddy with excitement after the match. It was an incredible result. Let’s be honest here for a minute. The form shown in Ballina exactly one week earlier against a mediocre Dublin outfit was to say the least very ordinary. Yet here, a week later, 14 of that very same starting 15 are brimming with confidence after taking the scalp of the form team of 2009. It’s not too difficult to analyse the reasons for the victory. Put the maroon and white of Galway in front of a green and red jersey and you have a different attitude and approach to the whole occasion. Clearly it’s a mindset. There is no doubt that there would have been lots of smiles, not to mention a bounce in the step of all who participated in the morale boosting victory last weekend. Because the win is worth an awful lot more than the two points on offer that more or less saw Mayo scramble away from the relegation zone and into mid- table that will surely guarantee Mayo division one football next year. This victory reminded everyone that the age-old rivalry that exists between these two teams is very much alive and well. Long may it continue! Both sides just love having a go at one another, out on the pitch and extending into the terraces too.

Mayo under 21s look for final berth

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Sixty minutes is all that stands in the way of the Mayo under 21s and a place in this year’s All Ireland final. Pat Holmes collected his fourth consecutive Connacht title after a comprehensive win over Sligo which wrapped up the provincial honours following tough wins over Galway and Roscommon earlier in the competition. Standing in their way are Downwho claimed the Ulster title on Wednesday evening following a one-point win over Armagh.


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