Pride spurs on Maughan and O’Mahony

SUNDAY’S Connacht final once more brings together the two defining footballing personalities in the province over the past decade.

Both John O’Mahony and John Maughan have met on this road too often for yesterday’s press conference in Bank of Ireland centre to reveal anything out of the ordinary.

There was talk of both teams having an equal chance of winning from the opposing managers; light-hearted banter about how well the other team seem to be going in training, and a brief stumble into a sort of mutual appreciation society.

It may be a little-known fact, but long before Maughan was destined to wear the tag of “unluckiest manager” in football, he was taught some of the ropes by his adversary on Sunday.

This was a good 10 years before O’Mahony’s legend became national and the Galway manager was still plying his trade with his native Mayo.

Maughan was an on-field lieutenant with a stubborn knee.

After a stint in the Leb, Maughan came back to realise that a place on the sideline was a surer way of extending his career in football.

O’Mahony brought Maughan into his back-room. “John was always a terrific manager,” Maughan recalled.

“What always struck me about him was that he had superb organisational skills, and you just have to look at his record.

Managers are judged on success, and John has gone on to prove that he is one of the very best around.”

Not to be outdone, O’Mahony then recollected the obvious talents of the younger Maughan. “He always had tremendous leadership qualities.

He was one of those players you wanted in the dressing-room, because he led. And when he picked up the phone and asked me to be involved in 1989, I had no hesitation in giving him the chance.”

Maughan’s enduring passion is football, that is why he keeps coming back. Last week, he was heavily involved in the Special Olympics as a volunteer through the civil defence and in his hometown of Castlebar.

Present at both the opening and closing ceremonies, those two All-Ireland finals which his Mayo side will forever be remember for losing were put in perspective.

“It put football in perspective. I do football because I love it and enjoy it. Being involved with the Special Olympics was a very humbling and enjoyable experience for me because it showed that sport was not all about winning. And it’s not, I will gladly be unlucky for the rest of my life, if I was involved in more All-Ireland finals, because it is great just to be there.

“There will be 34,000 people in Salthill on Sunday and they will be there because they love football. People are talking of the air-show being a distraction, I think it adds to the attraction of the game.

"With all due respect to the other three counties, Mayo and Galway games traditionally have the sense of being the real Connacht final.

"There is an incredible rivalry there, a purity about the football whenever the teams meet. It will be the same in Salthill.

“For years, Connacht was the cinderella province. I played in Connacht finals against Galway when there was only 15,000 people in Tuam or Castlebar.

"Even in ’96, when we played them, there was only 17,000 people there. But, this has become a really significant provincial final.”

While some might be surprised to see Maughan and Mayo there, Galway’s presence hasn’t raised one eyebrow.

Despite O’Mahony’s tendency to play things down, Galway continue to be amongst the perpetual All-Ireland favourites at the beginning of every championship.

In many ways, they are paying for the ’98 success. Last year’s U21 All-Ireland illustrated that the conveyor belt is moving seamlessly, young Galway lads who might have drifted away from football are staying because they see the bigger prizes Corribside.

“It does help to have players who have been in the heat of battle before,” said O’Mahony, who made the decision to stay on for two more years before Galway captured the intermediary prize last year.

“But, we had five of those U21s in the panel last year. We have ten now, and it is an evolving team all the time. There is a nice blend of youth and experience there, but it is a similar story for Mayo, they have a number of players who have a few Connacht minor medals.

O’Mahony doesn’t think Connacht’s showpiece has been devalued because of a bigger game this Saturday looming on the horizon.

“To my mind, it is great that the spotlight is off the Connacht final. Let ye lads talk all you want about Armagh and Dublin, and just give us a small paragraph at the end of the page.

"Just because we have this big game on Saturday doesn’t mean that the provincial finals mean less.

The only day provincial championships will become devalued is when a team makes the conscious decision that they are going to concentrate on the All-Ireland and not worry about their provincial championship. That day hasn’t come yet.”

The verbal sparring continued. “Well, like in ’99, we are going to travel down more in hope than in confidence,” Maughan said, as the Galway manager smiled.

All good fun. The real business, as the cliche reminds us, has to wait until Salthill.

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