Saturday, June 26, 2010

John O'Mahony, Like Humbert, Meets His Waterloo in Longford

Longford is surely en fete tonight, and good luck and congratulations to them all. Summer days like today are why you turn out in the winter and the porter will be as sweet as the night is long in the midlands tonight.

This is the second Mayo dream to end in Longford over a space of 212 years but the men who claimed the day are Gaels like ourselves and not an army of occupation led by a genocidal butcher. Good luck Longford, and long may you prosper.

Mayo can expect a good kicking from Uncle Eugene in the Indo on Monday but it’s the least of our worries now. The only reaction to any of this is a deep sadness for the past four years of Mayo football and the confirmation that another generation has moved on without winning an All-Ireland.

Blame and acrimony will be rife from Belmullet to Ballaghaderreen over Saturday night pints tonight but there’s nothing to be gained by it. Nobody who was involved in the Mayo setup this year wanted this, to be battered by Cork, battered by Sligo and now battered by Longford in three straight games. In the end Mayo fell like a house of cards, as the League final put shock lines through the team, leaving it destroyed and in freefall by the time the Championship came around.

John O’Mahony’s previously impeccable managerial CV is now sullied by his second coming as Mayo manager. Did Johnno want the job in the first place as part of a political plan, or was he bounced into it by the sort of behind the scenes shenanigans that seem part and parcel of Mayo GAA?

It doesn’t matter. Who cares? What possible difference can it make? Johnno is heartbroken tonight, the players, the supporters. The county has all senior inter-county football finished before the end of June. We haven’t seen that in a while.

So for once, let’s not tear the heads off each other. Let’s just think of Johnno as he was in his first incarnation, when he lead Mayo to their first All-Ireland in thirty-eight years in 1989. O’Mahony’s been criticised for some of his decisions in that final, but at least he was there in first place to get it wrong.

People look back now and think Mayo left that one behind but winning the semi-final really was that team’s All-Ireland. Fat people find it hard to remember what it’s like to be hungry. Johnno did his bit for Mayo in his time. That it didn’t work out this time is deeply, deeply sad, but it’s no cause for tar or feathers.

The trick is to learn and move on. Things happen us all in life, and that will never change. It’s how we react to things that defines us and makes us who we are. For better or for worse.

And now the Mayo County Board get a chance to truly define themselves. Mayo have been knocking at the door for so long now, and have had such consistent success at under-age levels, that now is not the time to panic. The county panicked in concluding that the team that reached two All-Irelands in three years were no good – “ladeens,” in a famously withering phrase. At least those ladeens were still kicking football in July.

The negative attitude to what were two very successful summers cost O’Mahony dearly, and the sort of self-immolation that’s popular in Mayo doesn't help maintain perspective. The three losses against Cork, Sligo and Longford were the end of a cycle, but the end of that cycle does not now mean that Mayo are Carlow all of a sudden. There’s no point in over-reacting or losing perspective.

The Mayo County Board need to stay calm, take deep breaths and ask themselves what are they about before the search begins for a new manager. They need to decide what traits they want themselves in a manager. Nobody has a perfect blend of abilities. The Board have to decide how they want those traits to blend, which ones to prioritise and which ones to leave to backroom staff. Should the new manager be a better coach than a man manager, say? How will responsibilities be devolved among the team – because management is very much a team game now?

How should the Board respond to the Scared Generation? There is a belief that men have to be jettisoned, that some players are permanently wounded by the disappointments of those All-Ireland years.

An Spailpín is of a contrary view. An Spailpín believes that those reverses can be used as a motivating tool. There’s no point in pretending that half a century of history didn’t happen. Better therefore to have someone like Liam McHale somewhere on the management team to remind individual players that losing stinks and the next generation does not want to be haunted as the previous ones are.

Some people will think this puts pressure on players. There’s pressure there already, and pretending that the weight of expectation isn’t there will not make it go away. Better to embrace it and draw strength from it than to use the “you’re a fish, you’re not a steak” philosophy. That one gets found out in the end.

The process will be long and arduous, but it’s not like we haven’t been here before. An Spailpín’s shortlist has three names – Ray Dempsey, James Horan and Pete McGrath. Let the search begin. Mayo will not be down for long.