Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mayo Among the Contenders Again

The criticism of the football in the Connacht Final has set your regular correspondent wondering when the last good Connacht Final actually was. 1989 was the first date that flashed into my head, but there have been some pretty good ones over the years when you think back. The Broken Crossbar Final in 1992. The ending of the Tuam Hoodoo in 1997. Tuam 1999. 2001 in the Hyde. Salthill 2003. Castlebar 2010.

Those were all great days. Last Sunday in the Hyde didn’t measure up, for a variety of reasons. That said, Eugene McGee was let down by his subeditors a little in yesterday’s Irish Independent – the headline referred to “Dismal Efforts in the Connacht Final,” but Eugene’s own analysis was much more measured.

As has been remarked by some commenters on the excellent Mayo GAA Blog, while the Connacht Final was a poor game of football, it was a tremendous game to win from a Mayo perspective. Mayo’s heart has been questioned down the years, but that’s a little too superficial a generalization. There was any god’s amount of dog in John Maughan’s teams over his two reigns, whatever else might have been lacking. And Horan is very much Son of Maughan in that doggy sense.

It was ironic hearing Maughan speak on the discipline issue that occurred in the lead-up up the game – Maughan never had the name of a Conciliator himself, being very much of the My Way/Highway school. But it’s again a superficial analysis to say that a missing player had an effect on the Mayo performance, to suggest a player’s absence haunted the Hyde like Banquo's ghost in The Scottish Play.

The problems in the forwards have been clear since the start of the League, as Horan hunted for a combination that would click. He didn’t find it, and he’s still looking. This is normally the time for the Mayo support to rend garments and commence wailing, but Horan has time on his side. The Mayo forwards have to click sometime. If it takes until the third Sunday in September for Horan to unlock the combination, so be it.

If Mayo continue to struggle for scores they will not win the All-Ireland. Even in this hateful defensive era, the ability to score is still what separates the wheat and the chaff. But if Mayo can solve that conundrum, if they can find the balance between tactics, personnel and application they will be a force in the land.

Midfield is more a spaghetti junction in the modern game than the quiet country crossroads it was in the days gone by, but there isn’t a mouth in Mayo that doesn’t water at the prospect of Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea i lár na páirce. When O’Shea came on as a sub against Galway, a friend of the blog turned to me and said “he’s like a prize bull in a paddock, isn’t he?” When O’Shea then went and caught the first ball near him, it was all An Spailpín could do to not bellow “Mooooo!” at the top of my lungs.

There are two rounds left in the qualifiers, and then the quarter-finals. Mayo will appear the weakest of the four provincial Champions, but they will be the team nobody wants to play. Win, and you beat nothing. Lose, and you're out.

Mayo, bizarrely, now find themselves in the ideal position in any race, just off the shoulder of the pace-setter. If Mayo can hit the gas as the bend rounds into the straight, they win. If the gas isn’t there, so be it. You can't ask for more.

As for which team Mayo will draw in the quarters, An Spailpín has already been in touch with a certain whiskered party. Please Santa, let it be Kildare. I’ll be good on account for the rest of the year. Let it be Kildare.