Mayo defender Chris Barrett has rubbished the claim that the county’s geographic location is what has, and will, prevent them from making an All-Ireland breakthrough. That claim was made by their former fitness expert Ed Coughlan in these pages in the days after Mayo’s All-Ireland final replay loss to Dublin in 2016. Coughlan stated that ‘man for man, I see no difference between Dublin and Mayo’ but said because so many Mayo players are based in Dublin, their panel is fragmented and the group in the capital need to give ‘inane commitment’.
“These are the indiscriminate inches that count at the end of a long season,” concluded Coughlan, who spent four years in Mayo’s backroom team earlier this decade.
Mayo’s failure in recent years to push hard for Allianz League success has regularly been attributed to the difficulties of pulling together a split panel but they’ve overcome the headache to reach Sunday’s decider against Kerry. Asked about Coughlan’s comments, including a claim that until Mayo’s student players opt to study ‘in NUIG and GMIT...they won’t be winning the All-Ireland’, Dublin based Barrett rejected them.
“We’ve been so close (to winning the All-Ireland) that you can’t write an article like that and expect it to hold water when we’ve been so close to doing it,” said Barrett. “It’s not ideal obviously, and if you were to choose a college for a young Mayo player to go to growing up, I think it would probably be NUIG. But you have to take the view as well that what is best for the individual and the person is paramount, rather than him as a Mayo player. So if it’s better for his career to be up in Dublin, so be it. It’s not ideal but that’s the hand that we’ve been dealt. We’re from Mayo, geographically we can’t change that.”
Coughlan stated in 2016 that a typical training week for a Mayo player between January and May involved meeting ‘as a collective unit once per week. Half the weekly amount of Kerry and Dublin, the two main protagonists that stand in their way’.
Barrett said Horan, back in charge this season for a second spell, has addressed the issue by cutting down on the amount of split sessions that occur in Mayo and Dublin.
“In terms of the Dublin thing, they’ve been very good this year in that we had a good few midlands (collective) sessions, as opposed to split sessions. We try to minimise the amount of split sessions as much as possible and try to minimise the amount of time we’re travelling down too. It’s a learning curve for the management as well, as in how do we get the best out of the guys in Dublin and also be fair to the lads at home. We have had a good few sessions in the midlands where we’re all together and that has helped.”
Barrett said a league final place, Mayo’s first since losing to Cork in 2012, came into view when Tyrone beat Dublin in Round 6, giving the westerners a realistic shot at making the decider. He also admitted that exiting last year’s Championship in June, allowing them to return to pre-season training in November, was significant.
“That gives you a head start on some teams,” he said. “We beat Tyrone early in the league and they were probably only a couple of weeks back training at that stage.”
Mayo lost to both Dublin and Galway in the league though the more recent wins over Kerry and Monaghan prompted one media outlet to suggest that Mayo are ‘rising’ again.
“We’re rising up nearly every year at this stage, I don’t know, those headlines will write themselves. There’s always a sense of enthusiasm and expectation within the support base and just by the very nature of our supporters they’re confident, very expectant and very enthusiastic so we’ll deal with it. It’s not as if we’ve risen from the ashes or anything, that we’ve risen from the dead. Look, it’s something we’re well used to at this stage, seeing the headlines and putting them to the back of our minds.”
Barrett is more enthused by the performers of relative rookies this season and name-checked Conor Diskin, James Carr, Ciaran Treacy and Fionn McDonagh.
“I think in terms of a squad, it’s the most competitive squad I’ve been involved in with Mayo,” said the Belmullet man.