Monday, September 18, 2006

May - D'oh!

Donaghy Caillte ag an gCasúr Ó BradaighAfter Mayo lost the All-Ireland quarter final to Kerry in 2005, John O'Mahony remarked on his radio show, in that casual, this just popped into me head way favoured by the baroque mind of that great man, that were Johnno in charge of the County Mayo, the first thing he'd do would be to camp out outside David Brady's house morning, noon and night, begging him to return to the Mayo panel.

An Spailpín Fánach is reminded of that remark on hearing this morning that the mighty Brady has announced his retirement. I would suggest that Messrs. Moran and Morrison invest in a camping stove and a tent, and immediately commence their vigil in the town of Ballina.

Mayo cannot do without Brady. Morrison and Moran must search high and low for a full back, something they did not do during the year, but in the interim they must have Brady on the pitch, enforcing. Because without him, Mayo are as innocent and helpless and Hansel and Gretel, lost in the forest.

The tragedy for Mayo was, of course, that they had only one Brady to introduce to the fray. Really, they needed a fleet of them - one in midfield, to mind Pat Harte and McGarrity, one at fullback to remind Donaghy that it's not basketball he's playing now, one at full-forward (how can you play Conor Mortimer as your only inside forward? Madness), and one or two more drifting about, to suddenly swoop at trouble-spots in the same way Superman arrives from no-where, just when the thief is about to deprive grandma from her purse.

Ciarán McDonald will suffer the brunt of the criticism of course - people don't like gods with feet of clay. But by the time McDonald's frees were curling wide the day had long been lost. And it had been lost far behind the land where McDonald roams, where Mayo's application of the defensive arts is in need of serious re-examination.

In his Seán Potts ghosted autobiography, Páidí Ó Sé remarks that when playing in senior football he could still hear in his head his childhood coach roaring "where's your man?" at him. Páidí posits that any defender must always know the answer to that question. No Mayo defender knew the answer to that question yesterday, but, were they asked to guess the location of their man, five yards from goal and drawing on the football for a rasper to put Kerry further in front would have been a good percentage answer.

Derry had a fullback many years ago who used to like remarking to his goalkeepers that any ball that came into the square was theirs, while anything else that entered the square was his. No-one in Mayo had that attitude.

Of course, Mayo getting cleaned like a fish at midfield didn't help. All year long, the footballing fullback line of Mayo have been protected by the masses of possession that Mayo have gained at midfield, thus hugely negating the pressure on the last line of defence. Yesterday, what had been a few pot shots all year suddenly became a fusillade, and Mayo had no answer. Mayo were lost will all hands after ten minutes, and the rest was window dressing.

To An Spailpín's mind after the game, 2004 was worse. It was clearly all over in 2004 after ten minutes, whereas the freakish three goals scored by Mayo before the half yesterday gave them a tiny sliver of hope. A lot had to go right in the second half to make something of it; nothing did, and Mayo slipped slowly beneath the waves, not waving, as the man says, but drowning. The only reason that second half remained in any way interesting was the extraordinary leniency of referee Brian Crowe to the punches and skulduggery that were being indulged in by both sides. If Mr Kofi Annan is thinking of sending someone to Darfur to sort out the situation there, he would want to look further than Mr Crowe who, on the evidence of yesterday's thumpage, would conclude that it's simply business as usual, and wave play on.

The customary scenes of desolation followed the final whistle, of course. The entire County Mayo were up for the final, as usual, most without tickets. God love their innocence. An Spailpín Fánach was still smiling at the remarks of a Kerryman to him, that "you got some lesson there, boy," and trying to place this defeat in the Mayo all-time top ten, when what just happened was put into sharper relief. On the Clonliffe Road I passed two little boys, maybe ten, if that old, their faces painted in green and red, and the facepaint smeared by the many tears they were crying. Welcome to your heritage gentlemen - a Mayoman's growing pain is to see the county team get wiped when you least expect them. It's stings, but it won't put you in the ground, and we'll all get over it.

Where to from here? Well, as my Lord Tennyson remarked on another occasion, that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts. We will go home and finish the club championship, hope the Champions get the Connacht title, in keeping with the high levels of achievement of the past decade, and we'll lorry down a few pints for the Christmas. Come 2007 and the FBD league Mayo need to search the badlands for a few backs, fellas that wouldn't be too bothered about football, but certainly don't care for being made fools of. They don't need the dudes with scar tissue; they need the dudes that inflict the scars, as one of the Mexicans sent to find similar bad men to mind the house remarks in The Magnificent Seven.

And then, having used the league purely for experimentation purposes, it's time for the Connacht Championship. If Mayo get out of that, they cannot play Kerry again to soon. It's like falling off a bike - you have to get back as quickly as you can, or else the bike will get notions. The notion of curses or anything like that are fatuous. The Mayo second fifteen would still beat half the counties in Ireland, and keep it kicked out to another quarter of them. Mayo will be back. Maigh Eo abú.

FOCAL SCOIR: It would be remiss of An Spailpín in his misery not to acknowledge two truly outstanding displays in Croke Park yesterday. The first was by the Roscommon minors, of course, who came back from 0-7 to 0-2 down after twenty minutes to bring a highly talented Kerry team to a replay in a fortnight's time. The Rossies stayed true to their county motto about constant hearts, and gave their ever-true supporters something to cheer them after some barren years. An Spailpín is not looking forward to Masters Shine or Keegan and a few more of their brethren rising to the senior rank, and I can pay them no higher tribute than that.

And the other outstanding performance of the day was the Kerry seniors', of course. Mayo may or may not have been dead men walking but they still had to be buried, and this Kerry did with the sort of ruthless efficiency that helps explain how exactly it is that they've fluked 34 All-Ireland titles, and counting. Kieran Donaghy is unquestionably the footballer of the year and could be the find of the decade. Right now about the only difference An Spailpín can spot between Donaghy and the Bomber is a difference of opinion in the field of personal grooming. All that's missing are the whiskers.

Technorati Tags: , , ,