John Maughan insists Mayo supporters are a forgiving type and won’t give Cormac Reilly a hard time of it when he takes charge of their crucial final round game against Donegal in Castlebar on Sunday, writes John Fogarty.
It is the Meath official’s first appointment to a Mayo league or championship game since the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Kerry in Limerick, a performance which drew the ire of several fans, including one who invaded the field and was later suspended by the GAA.
The Sunday Game analyst Kevin McStay described his officiating as “appalling”, while then manager James Horan, who stepped down after the game, lamented: “I’m not looking at refereeing decisions because it is not good for the soul.”
The decision by the GAA’s referees appointment committee to assign Reilly to the game has drawn criticism from Mayo followers on social media and former player Mickey Conroy, who came on as a substitute in the Gaelic Grounds, reacted incredulously to the call.
However, Maughan believes the county have to move on. Referring to Pat McEnaney’s controversial decision to send off Liam McHale along with Colm Coyle in the 1996 All-Ireland final replay loss to Meath when he was the manager, he argues Reilly has earned a second opportunity.
“I’m not surprised he was appointed — he’s been refereeing around the place. He hasn’t had a Mayo game since Limerick but I welcome it. Anybody can have a bad day and on that occasion — I’m sure he would be first to admit — he had a horror show.
“It’s difficult for me to look at it as a neutral but I do as much as I can and he did have a very bad day at the office.
“Everybody deserves another chance, though, and I don’t believe Mayo supporters will react in a negative way.
“I can’t imagine him having as bad a day on Sunday. It’s a very important game but the fact he’s been reffing since then will stand to him. Mayo people, we’re a forgiving lot and we forgave Pat McEnaney!” laughed Maughan. “Life goes on.
“I’m sure the GAA deliberated on appointing him. He’s been kept away from Mayo games since then and it would be interesting to find out how they decide what’s a sufficient cooling-off period and whether there’s a template for such things.
"Maybe they said they would give it two years. I have no difficulty with him refereeing the game.”
Mayo require a point from the game to retain their Division 1 status after what Maughan acknowledges has been a “patchy” campaign.
“The one performance that didn’t sit well was the Cavan one. Fair play to them, you could see the confidence they gleaned from Castlebar was brought forward to last Sunday’s game against Kerry.
"Roscommon have a good record against Cavan but going into that game you would say Cavan are fancied, so we need a point.
“It’s sure to be a championship-like atmosphere and a bumper crowd in Castlebar and we’re licking our lips at the prospect of it.
“Hopefully, it’s better than the final round performance against Down last year which we had to win and just about fell over the line.”
Mayo’s home record is nothing to write home about but Maughan is inspired by how they performed in Omagh last Sunday after their abject displays against Dublin and Cavan.
“I remember we had to go up to Omagh in 2005. I was looking over my shoulder down the bus and we had a plethora of injuries. Tyrone hadn’t lost at home in something like five years but we pulled off a great win and it gave us momentum for the rest of the year.
"This Mayo team now seem to perform when their backs are to the wall. I won’t say there’s a dying kick in them but it was amazing how they pulled off that win because it was against-the-odds although Tyrone’s mistakes led to their own downfall.
“The manliness and leadership that Mayo have came to the fore. I hope we see more of that from then on Sunday. I felt they were a bit complacent against Cavan.
"They were boring holes through the middle of the Cavan defence in the first 15 to 20 minutes but then Cavan did the same to Mayo later on. There was no steeliness or hardiness from Mayo that day but fingers crossed it, is there against Donegal.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.