Sunday, February 17, 2008

Don't Panic - It's Only the League!

Dig no briar graves. Heat neither pitch nor tar, and leave the chicken her feathers on this cold winter’s night. The sweet county Mayo languishes at the very bottom of the Division 1 National League standings and will visit Portlaoise in thirteen days’ time in a relegation eliminator, but what of it? It is, after all, only the league.

Donegal performed what is quickly becoming their party piece earlier today at McHale Park in Castlebar, scoring a last second goal to snatch the points, but so what? We learn more from reverses than successes, and as such Mayo can consider themselves to have done a full semester’s work this afternoon. All was sweetness and light last year in the League, and the team ended up going down a blind alley when summer arrived. Whatever else we may say of this year’s league campaign, Mayo do not seem likely to repeat that particular mistake. This year, they seem to be trying a completely different mistake.

Of course, An Spailpín Fánach’s equanimity in this matter is hardly unrelated to the fact I didn’t travel to Castlebar – had I had the four hours’ stewing in the car on the way back I might be feeling entirely different tonight. Your faithful narrator did try replicate match conditions by avoiding all media prior to the TG4 delayed transmission, meaning that Donegal’s Eamon McGee crashing home his winning goal in the fourth additional minute came as much as an unpleasant bolt from the blue as it did to Castlebar throng.

Your faithful narrator phoned two of the leading football minds in the county Mayo this evening for further analysis. The worry at home is real, not least in the absence of a pattern from management, any trace of a long term plan. It’s very hard to figure out what exactly Johnno is thinking as regards the Big Picture – last year he had the forwards playing off Barry Moran inside, whereas now the big Castlebar Mitchell is no-where to be seen, and Mayo played with a two (small) man inside line. Conor racked up the frees but once the Donegal backs copped themselves on a biteen in the second half, that scoring avenue dried up, and Plan B did not emerge. Vladimir and Estragon never waited on Godot as Mayo wait on Plan B.

But no matter – as no Mayo man can repeat often enough, it’s only the League. And maybe there’s no long term plan showing from Johnno because he hasn’t thought of one yet – it’s not like it’s been straight-forward before. If it takes until the third Sunday in September for it all to come together and Mayo have dropped a division in the meantime that will all be jake with An Spailpín Fánach. We’ve tried the other way, peaking in the Hyde on Garland Sunday only to run out of the gas by September. This February anxiety is a small price to pay.

That said, a spot of leadership wouldn’t go amiss out there. An Spailpín is delighted that Billy Padden had another good game at fullback – the criticism that great man gets beggars belief – but there was no-one up the field who was willing to take the bull by the horns when Donegal were listing towards the end of the first half and administer the coup de grâce by breaking the bull’s bloody neck and putting an end to the thing. Mayo are utterly reliant on Conor upfront, as the magnificent and comprehensive stats page of the Mayo GAA Blog clearly display. A few of those boys are going to have to step up there; let’s hope they do so in Portlaoise. While it may be only the League, losing can be become a habit, and that wouldn’t be a great idea either.

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