JOHN FOGARTY: Mayo 4 Intrigue - What does this season hold for GAA's kings of heartache?

A REQUEST to Mayo supporters. No more “Mayo 4 Sam”. No more public displays of affection. We get that your longing for an All-Ireland is stronger than most if not everyone else. 

So many would love to see 1951 truly consigned to the past if only that you are put out of your misery. 

But spare us this tedious annual exercise of feeling the need to show you care.

When Old Moore’s Almanac gave them the thumbs-up for 2016 we despaired. No other group in Gaelic games loves to make themselves hostages to fortune.

Understandable given their plight but didn’t the same publication assure Mayo would get their hands on the Sam Maguire Cup in 2014?

And we all know how that ended up. 

That dreaded vote of confidence from Ireland’s version of Mystic Meg was the last thing their desperate hearts needed.

The vote of no confidence in Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes in September wasn’t ideal either. It may have shown a sense of leadership and ownership by the players but isn’t there enough on their plate in shouldering the hopes and fears of generation upon generation?

The most optimistic among Mayo’s following may draw parallels between the appointments between Jim McGuinness and Stephen Rochford: how both were shunned before they were eventually anointed. Whatever floats your boat.

At least the goodwill that exists for the county hasn’t expired. 

Tony McEntee is no sucker. 

He wouldn’t be prepared to make six-hour return drives from Armagh to Mayo from the end of next spring if he didn’t think they could make the elusive possible. 

“I felt over the last three years that they were the best team in the country for any number of reasons,” the selector said recently. 

“They are certainly a team you can be drawn to. They play attractive football, they’re an honest bunch of players. They’re a team I feel I can work with. 

“I don’t think it would be a huge strain mentally to take on a team like Mayo.”

That Rochford has assembled quite the group around him should also provide you with grounds for optimism. 

At this stage, Donie Buckley has become something of a Terry McDermott at Newcastle United-like character: the man you want to be standing beside when the bomb goes off. 

The third Mayo management team he has worked with, the widely respected coach had been sounded out about succeeding Peter Creedon as Tipperary manager in the off-season but as long as Mayo was an option nothing else could compete.

There is encouragement too in the continuity provided by Arsenal’s Barry Solan, so admired by the players, as head of strength and conditioning with ex-panellist Gavin Duffy providing assistance as well as the greatly appreciated Dr Sean Moffatt as team medic. 

The restoration of the physiotherapy team of Liam Moffatt, cousin of Sean, and Martin McIntyre that worked under James Horan will be hugely welcomed by the panel.

As a selector, Kiltane’s Sean Carey is a long-time associate of Rochford’s but will also garner respect from others for the manner in which he remained relevant as a forward for so many years. 

As it was for Horan who had his brother John in the backroom team, Rochford has persuaded his brother Eoin to organise logistics. 

An army captain, military precision can be expected.

Rochford has also shopped local in appointing men from his current club Ballinrobe to his band in the shape of Maurice and Liam Horan, another pair of brothers. 

Tralee-based former Limerick manager Maurice Horan will take care of video and opposition analysis having enjoyed a relatively good season in charge of Kerins O’Rahillys this year. 

The appointment of former Evening Echo sports editor Liam Horan as the media liaison is a shrewd one too. If any man knows how hype has damaged Mayo in the past it’s him. 

After two regimes where local media has been kept at arm’s length, Horan will appreciate helping them to fill pages and radio air is more conducive than creating vacuums.

For a man whose strategic action plan for Mayo GAA fell on deaf ears in the county board in 2011, it should hearten plenty that he is involved in some capacity. 

That being said, it may interest Horan that no management team has more of a social media presence than Mayo’s (at least Rochford, McEntee, the Moffatts, the Horans and Solan have Twitter accounts). That sort of access is manna for Mayo supporters.

With such an accomplished team of facilitators put together, those of a green and red hue can almost be rest assured they won’t wake one morning in late 2016 to read about a team tactics document being left in a hotel as was the reported charge made against Connelly and Holmes.

Rochford, already referred to as “Rochy” by some of his new charges, promises security but above all else a high performance environment that the players so crave. 

It was Aidan O’Shea’s cryptic tweet – “Logic and @MayoGAA rarely go together” – prior to the no confidence vote in Connelly and Holmes that suggested all was not well in the camp. However, a week earlier he had given an indication in an interview carried in this newspaper that things weren’t right.

Recalling Dublin’s second goal in the semi-final replay, he remarked: “The second goal, on replay it’s quite obvious Bernard Brogan throws the ball but he shouldn’t also be allowed to run in along the sideline. 

(Philly) McMahon with momentum coming in on top of Robbie, it was always going to be difficult to stop. Barry (Moran) had just gone off, Seamie (O’Shea) was off with a black card. 

If you look at the video, Cillian (O’Connor) is marking Brian Fenton for that first goal. You’d have to wonder why we had Cillian on their midfielder.” With the benefit of hindsight, it was a shot across the bow for Connelly and Holmes. 

Amid the despondency after losing to Dublin, there was anger too. For a man of Alan Dillon’s standing to be kept in reserve in both games against Dublin was a mystery. 

Arguably the best All-Ireland semi-final performer since 2004 and the bane of Dublin teams under Paul Caffrey and Pat Gilroy, his reading of a game and ability to unlock could have punctured their defence. Instead, he was held in cold storage.

E

arlier this past summer before those games, we asked the question in this newspaper if Connelly and Holmes wanted it as much as the players. We argued Mayo were possibly the most self-motivated group in the country. 

With Horan, they had divorced themselves from the county’s vicious circle of self-pity. His successor or successors, whoever they were, were always going to find it difficult to escape his shadow. 

He had empowered the players to think and act for themselves.

To remove the coil to the county’s bittersweet romantic past. New Roscommon manager Kevin McStay discovered that last year when he heard that some of them baulked when they learned of his brother-in-law Liam McHale joining him as a coach on his managerial ticket.

“Apparently, some players and members of James Horan’s managerial structure had a problem with some of the comments he (McHale) made over a period of time in a local newspaper,” said McStay. “God love them if their sensitivities were a little bruised.”

McHale represents an older version of Mayo the current crop of footballers believe they have outgrown. 

Rochford, like Horan, is regarded as more of a forward thinker.

The fact remains, though, that several of them have suffered as much heartache as the aforementioned trio.

Dillon, with four All-Ireland final defeats, even more so. 

But what separates them from their predecessors is what McEntee points to: their consistency. 

No other Mayo team has put more into wearing the jersey.

No other Mayo team has shown an ability to recover as these men.

It’s with those facts in hand that Mayo supporters can look ahead to 2016 with more than hope even if their behaviour – their self-fulfilling prophetic quietness when games are in the balance, their over-elaborate, sweetly-sick PDAs – indicates that’s all they have.


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