Look, everyone knows about Roscommon’s football tradition. Kerry people certainly do, as it was Kerry who met them so often when they got to the All-Ireland Final. There’s nothing you can tell us about the pride Roscommon men take in the primrose and blue.
I remember Páidí telling me once that, when Kerry went down 1-2 after five minutes to Roscommon in the 1980 All-Ireland Final, he turned to John O’Keeffe and said “Chrisht, they must have a red-haired woman inside in the dressing room.” Páidí believed in what we call the piseog, and the bean rua was among his greatest fears.
Thankfully we didn’t meet any mná rua when we travelled up in the car from Kerry to Castlebar. It wasn’t the best day of the summer but look, Championship is Championship and it’s always good to get out and get to a game. Besides, Mayo are now one of the top, top teams in the country and you can never see enough of the real contenders.
We got to Castlebar at about half-past two, got a handy place to park there on Linenhall Street, and then in to Mick Byrne’s for six or seven pints before the match. Up the hill then and through the cinema, where they had Man of Steel on as the matinee. But the real men of steel were inside in McHale Park, wearing the green and red.
I’ve always had time for Mayo. They play the game the right way. People remember those finals where we were just lucky enough to get over the line, but they forget we’ve lost to Mayo too. We haven’t forgotten it though. When Páidí lead us back to the Munster title in 1996, the very next thing we did was lose by six points to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final.
I remember John Maughan coming in to the dressing room afterwards, to remind us about him managing Clare in 1992 as well. I meet John doing the media work now and we often laugh about what happened next. Well. I do, anyway.
Mayo were in a different league to Roscommon on Sunday. That’s no shame on Roscommon, any more than it shames Clare anytime Kerry go up to Ennis and bury them. I remember Páidí telling me about coming home on the bus from the Milltown Massacre in 1979 and Pat Spillane turning to him and saying “Banner County? Wisha, another bating like this and they’ll have to change the name to the Bodhrán County. Bodhrán – do you get it? Because of the beating? Do you not – “ Páidí just hit Pat a box and went back to sleep. I’m surprised O’Rourke doesn’t try that on the telly. It’s not like he’s a stranger to it, after all.
But look, Mayo are a different team to the one we beat in 2011, 2006, 2005, 2004 and 1997. Those teams were all the same, but this one is different. And I think I’ve spotted two reasons for that difference.
The first is Donie Buckley. Donie is a Kerryman and one of the greatest coaches in the country. Donie specialises in defensive coaching, which is unusual for a Kerryman as in Kerry we didn’t even know how to tackle until we played Tyrone in 2005, a point Jack O’Connor made on the first page of his book. Donie must have read about it in a book or something. Anyway, he’s got the hang of it now and he’s making a real difference in Mayo.
The second reason are the O’Sheas. Aidan and Séamus are in midfield of course, and there’s another brother, Conor, on the bench, ready to come in. The O’Sheas’ father, Jim, is from Kilorglin.
Kilorglin, County Kerry.
But for all that, Mayo still have some questions hanging over their heads. This is something we discussed in the car on the way home – we had to roar at each other now, as we all had our heads stuck out the windows, trying to sober up before the wives took out the breathalysers again – but we made some progress in our understanding.
The two things Mayo are lacking are goals and a killer instinct. You could say the two travel together – if you want to be big, you need to run up the big score on minnows. You can’t be feeling sorry for them or empathic for them or anything.
Look at the Gooch – isn’t he beautiful? But it’s not just that he’s beautiful, he has the killer instinct. Five more minutes, five more points, he told the boys against Waterford. That’s the attitude you want, and that’s what we’ll see in the Munster Final against Cork. Do Mayo have that same killer instinct? We’ll have to wait ‘til later in the summer to see.