COLM COOPER: Sense of direction should guide Mayo back to Croke Park

Aidan O'Shea sizes up his options as Clare's Cian O'Dea. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

We know what we’ll get from Mayo in Limerick today. But we don’t have a clue what to expect from Cork, writes Colm Cooper.

Both camps have taken grief from inside and out. From supporters and pundits. They are dog sick of it, Cork especially.

But at least Mayo know this road well. They’ve been down it before. They have experience, players who are comfortable in big matches.

Maybe we know a little too much about them. Ger Cafferkey is back but doesn’t look what he was. Up front, they still over-rely on Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran. Cillian is not playing as well as two or three years ago. The frees are grand, but the rest has stopped flowing easily.

Andy Moran is around the same age as me. Still getting scores, still winning ball, always showing up. But if they were going to win the All-Ireland, maybe he’d be coming off the bench by now. The load is heavy at this stage of his career.

We always hear Mayo are short one or two scoring forwards to be the real deal. But they could be running a deficit at the other end as well now. Goals are going in.

They must investigate cloning Keith Higgins. They want him marking at two or four, and as a spare back. I like him surging forward, taking the ball at pace and dishing it off.

There are positives. David Clarke has saved them every day out. Aidan O’Shea is finding form, though Derry and Clare weren’t acid tests.

And that sense of now or never brings urgency. However the summer unfolds, change is coming. They mightn’t be the oldest team around, but the mileage is high.

For a lot of them, there won’t be another chance. All the chips are on the table. And that brings its own energy.

They know where they are and they know how to find their way back to Croke Park.

Do Cork know where they are? Does anybody know how they are fixed?

Sitting in Fitzgerald Stadium ahead of the Munster final, I expected at least a ferocious battle. Beautiful day, good crowd. But the atmosphere was dead. I stayed stuck in the seat. Usually you’re jumping up, roaring at the ref, at somebody.

A few Cork lads behind me were the same. A bit of ball-hopping, but no bit of emotion. It summed up Cork on the day. They fizzed out pretty quickly and nearly accepted it.

I heard some of their players talk after. Honesty, disappointment, etc. And I feel for some of these guys. They’re getting it from all sides. The hurlers are flying and mopping up the interest. When they need support most, there’s not many there for them.

But the supporters feel short-changed. People are hard on them because they see more in them. I’ve played against a lot of them and know they’re much better players than we’re seeing.

It’s fine to say you’re disappointed. Everyone is disappointed, but where’s the reaction? Do something about it.

Do they have it out with each other? Has there been a row? I’ve been in Kerry dressing rooms after horror shows and it’s been rough. ‘Frank exchanges’, you might call them. Lads are called out. I’ve been called out. And I didn’t like it one bit. But you know it’s for the benefit of the team.

I saw it my first year, in 2002. We lost to Cork in a Munster semi-final at the Páirc. Then regrouped at Austin Stack Park on the Tuesday. Players and management went at it. Real no-holds barred stuff. Myself and Declan O’Sullivan were just in the door so it was a fair eye-opener. We looked at each other heading home, wondering what we’d got into. But it sparked a reaction. We won the next five games and made the All-Ireland final.

Part of Cork’s problem is a lack of clarity around what they’re trying to achieve.

They’re not committing to anything they’re doing. They played Peter Kelleher full-forward the first two days, and it seemed they were going to go direct. But they didn’t use him and he was taken off early.

We don’t know what way they’ll play and we don’t know who’ll be playing. It’s a revolving door.

Maybe Peadar Healy and company aren’t seeing what they expect in training. But they don’t appear decisive on anything they are trying. And when you lack that vision of where you’re going, what happens is everyone goes individual. You end up with a raggle taggle outfit.

Sense of direction should guide Mayo back to Croke Park

Maybe they’ve had a row. Maybe there’s a kick in them. The players are too good and they’re too proud a county to go on producing what they are producing.

Ian Maguire’s running caused problems for David Moran the last day, especially early on. They’ll be looking for a bit of magic from Kerrigan.

But in championship football, you’ll be found out if you don’t have a clear vision. Mayo’s should have four or five points to spare.

The other match is intriguing.

Donegal’s second coming has stalled. I was really taken by them in the league. Hugh McFadden, Ciarán Thompson, Jamie Brennan, these young guys coming through, were so impressive. They meant business. They were breathing new life into Rory Gallagher’s setup. They were going to have a real tilt at it.

But Tyrone steamrolled them. Unusually for Donegal, they waved the white flag very early.

And it turned out nothing had changed after all. The leaders they had three or four years ago are still the same leaders. Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, Neil Magee. And that’s asking a lot.

Same as Jack McCarron has with Monaghan, same as most young lads do, the new brigade have found the jump from U21 to senior championship very difficult.

Sneaking out of Navan by a point is an experience to fortify any young career. But when you factor in that Meath were mauled by Kildare, then consider last Sunday at Croke Park, that’s not a form line to take to the bank.

You can’t take much to the bank with Galway either. They are never a team you can hang your hat on. We were told they’d matured, turned a corner. Not at all.

Beaten out the gate in a Connacht final. They showed lack of hunger, lack of smartness, no progression. Couldn’t win their kickouts, toothless going forward. Poor defensively.

One step forward, two steps back.

Roscommon can always beat you. But they can’t come to Salthill and hammer you in the Connacht final.

Talking to one of their supporters before that game, I said ‘ye’re going well’. But he wasn’t sure. They don’t know what Galway will turn up. They had concerns about back to back performances. Twelve months ago, they win a Connacht title and they go out and get hammered by Tipp.

They’ve enough experience now to avoid that kind of thing. Paul Conroy, Damien Comer, Gareth Bradshaw, these lads are around a while. Is there a rooted complacency in there they can’t eradicate?

They’re taking a pasting in the county since that defeat. It must be very worrying for Kevin Walsh. He’ll always be in credit from his playing days, but defeat this evening will crank up the pressure. A few decisions will come under the microscope.

It’s a long time since we’ve been convinced by Galway. You go back as far as Joyce and the boys in ‘98 and 2001. They were a different level. But since then, they come with the odd spurt, then let you down. They’re a middle of the road team that can play above below themselves one day, then flop the next.

If Donegal had enough around him to free Murphy to go closer to goal, I’d fancy them strongly. But he’s needed everywhere.

They should still be streetwise enough to edge this by a couple of points.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh will remain a player’s paradise

Killarney loyalties aside, in a way I was disappointed to be at home for the Munster final. I wanted to see the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

I haven’t got up there yet, but judging by the videos and photos, the job they’ve done is magnificent. They’ve spent a lot of money, but it will stand the test of time, because it’s revolutionary.

The place is a national treasure. There’s huge history there, you can feel the nostalgia.

I even remember the buzz about Michael Jackson when I was young, though I was too small to go.

We had good and bad days there with Kerry, but you always looked forward to it.

There were no home comforts. No comforts at all. It certainly wasn’t built for 30-man squads. You’d be rooting around the poky dressing rooms, stepping over bags. Physios looking for an island of space to plant their tables. Then battling through the crowd to get out. A few fellas eager to share their opinions of you. But all part and parcel.

The stewards would always have a word too. A bit of Cork wit. ‘You won’t have it so handy today’. The usual.

But once you squeezed out into the light, I was very comfortable there. Nearly every footballer I know was.

We are lucky to have so many top stadiums. Thurles, Galway, Limerick, Killarney, Clones, Croke Park. But you look forward to certain stadiums more than others and the Páirc was one of those.

Part of it was the examination you were guaranteed. You were going into the Lions’ Den. The Cantys, the Lynchs, Billy or Conor Counihan training them. They’d check you out in many ways. The crowd would test you. Cork would test you. If you survived, you knew you were in decent shape. A good open field. A perfect surface, especially in the last 10 years. A footballer’s field. The hurlers will say a hurler’s field. A player’s field. A player’s paradise really.

The intimidation factor added to it. The crowd were nearly up on top of you. The Corkness spilling down on you. Running for a ball, your marker one side, you could nearly feel the crowd shouldering you on the other side.

Will it still hold that? I believe it will.

Sitting in the RTÉ box in Croke Park last Sunday ahead of the Leinster final, when the anthems started playing, I got that urge. That wish to be out there.

I know for sure the first time I walk into the new Páirc, I’ll get that again.

Nothing fazes lightning Dubs

It was my first time at a Leinster final in Croke Park. A chance to see the Dubs close up, in the flesh, in their natural habitat.

What struck me most was their composure. It’s hard to get an appreciation of that when you’re on the field with them. Because everything happens so quickly.

But watching them closely against Kildare, none of them ever looked flustered. They allow themselves time. Even when they are under a slight bit of pressure, when Kildare got a bit of momentum and it was helter skelter for a few minutes, the Dubs were never fazed. They never went away from their plan.

The other thing that strikes you is the sheer pace. They can inject pace from everywhere on the field. From the full-back-line if they want.

McCaffery, McCarthy, Fenton; these guys can cover 100 metres in 10 or 11 seconds. Teams can compete with that for 50 minutes maybe, but they don’t have the strength in depth to finish games. They grind you down.

And then there’s the array of match-winners. We hear about teams getting the ball to their shooters. Dublin can get it to any of their forwards and to any of the players who come off the bench too. They are all shooters.

Con O’Callaghan
Con O’Callaghan

When you can pull a guy from nowhere like Con O’Callaghan, who’ll kick you 12 points in a Leinster final, it puts the frighteners on everybody. Nobody else can look down into a well of talent that deep.

The crumb of comfort for others is that 1-17 as a big score to ship. If you’d offered it to Kildare beforehand, they’d have taken it. If you offered it to Kerry, they’d probably take it.

Yet it’s hard to see anyone getting to their level at the moment. But it’s only July, we’ll have to suspend judgment.

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