Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mayo Football Is Alive and Well

William Smith O'Brien wears a Mayo flag
William Smith O'Brien sporting
a Mayo flag yesterday

If a team loses an evenly-matched game by a point, there’s no great mystery in it. The reality of the 2013 Final is that if Mayo caught or broke the next kickout after Cillian O’Connor kicked the final point of the game, thirty seconds would have been an age to either kick the equaliser or engineer a free. That’s all that Mayo lost by. A hop of a ball. Nothing else.

Would that have been fair on Dublin? No. It wouldn’t. Dublin were the better team over the seventy minutes and deserved their second All-Ireland in three years. Mayo got off to a flyer but didn’t score commensurate with their dominance. A very bad goal to give away brought Dublin back, and then Dublin had the upper hand for the rest of the game without ever really putting Mayo away. If Mayo had caught that last kickout, today’s narrative would be about how this is a different Mayo team and about Dublin’s failure to close it out against Mayo’s worst display of the year.

But that’s not what happened. Mayo didn’t field the final kickout and that was the end of them. Things could very easily have gone differently, and although Dublin deserved to win, that doesn’t mean that Mayo couldn’t have snatched a draw. Think of the events of 1996, when the shoe was on the other foot.

But this is only your correspondent’s opinion, of course. A quick flick through yesterday’s papers suggests a different analysis.

I have always, and will always, maintain [sic] that a team will not win an All-Ireland without a marquee forward.
Eoin "The Bomber" Liston, Irish Independent.

But whereas last week I said to myself that if Mayo lost this final it would be a massive setback because they were so good and well prepared, I now feel that they are certainly capable of going further – but not unless they can unearth a forward or two that could be ranked in the top 10 [sic] in the country.
Eugene McGee, Irish Independent.

Interesting, isn’t it? McGee isn’t always noted for his sympathy to Mayo, but the old buster is the only man for whom the penny has dropped about just how tantalisingly close Mayo were yesterday. Closer than even McGee himself realises.

McGee and the Bomber an the rest trot out this same old stuff about Mayo’s lack of quality forwards every year, each man going to stable to take out the same old hobbyhorses for a gallop around the paddock. These are the same people – well, except McGee; he’s always been very careful of letting Mayo support get big-headed – who’ve been telling us all summer long this is the new-model-Mayo, completely different from the one that went before. One game later, and it turns out to be same-old-Mayo all along.

But they can’t have it both ways. They can’t say that Alan Dillon has been the one shining light upfront for Mayo in ten years and then turn around and say Alan Dillon never had it. Alan Dillon just isn’t big time.

They can’t say that Mayo were crippled last year by the loss of Andy Moran and then say well, you know, Andy Moran has never been a top-ten forward.

The greatest mystery of all is that of Cillian O’Connor. Cillian O’Connor has racked up 6-22, an average of eight points a game to make him the top scorer in this year’s Championship, and then turn around and say that Mayo don’t have one marquee forward. If the top-scorer of the Championship isn’t a marquee forward, who in God’s holy name is?

The argument, insofar as an argument exists, is that many of O’Connor’s scores were put up against children of a lesser god; that is to say, that they were scored in the Connacht Championship.

You don’t see anyone holding their noses when James O’Donoghue scores 1-3 against mighty Tipperary or when Cork’s Daniel Goulding pops five points past hapless Limerick. Tipp and Limerick? Titans of football. Galway and Roscommon? Bums and makeweights. As for why O’Connor’s 3-4 against the All-Ireland Champions themselves doesn’t count, your correspondent really doesn’t know.

But it seems that football pundits just don’t care. When it comes to Mayo they are only interested in taking the hobbyhorse over the jumps rather than looking at what’s just happened.

If the Mayo full-forward line yesterday wore any jersey other than the green above the red, they would have been given the benefit of the doubt. People are second-guessing James Horan on his substitution of Alan Freeman, but look at the choice he had picking his team during the week.

Horan knows that there are issues with the form of the wing forwards, that Keith Higgins is marking a man who doesn’t need marking because he doesn’t attack and that Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor are both walking wounded.

All of that is bad enough, but then the one man who is in form becomes ill during the week and there’s now a question mark over all six of the Mayo forwards. Every blessed one of them.

What could Horan do? He did the only thing he could. He danced with the ones who brung him, and hoped for the best. Is he given any credit for it? Does anybody say it’s a medical miracle that Cillian O’Connor played at all? Does anyone say that you can’t start a totally new inside line in the All-Ireland final of all games? That not even Kerry could do that?

No they don’t. Same old Mayo, they say. If Lee Harvey Oswald had been a Mayoman, JFK would be alive today. Ho ho ho. Giddy-up there, hobbyhorse.

Fair enough. It’s all only paper talk, after all. Perhaps the real proof of the pudding was in McHale Park last night, where eight thousand turned up to see the minors and seniors come home. That’s what football means in the County Mayo.

People are saying that Mayo will never come back from this. We all believe what we must but reader, if you are from outside Mayo think on this; any team with the two O’Sheas starting in midfield will have a fifty-fifty chance in every single game it plays, and the O’Sheas have a good few years in them yet. Mayo go away? Dream on. Mayo are only starting out.

FOCAL SCOIR: Best of luck to Dublin manager Jim Gavin in his attempt to become the fourth member of the Après Match team with his post-match comments about the referee on Sunday. This sort of zaniness is just what tickles the Irish funny bone. Roll on Brazil ’14!