After Mayo’s All-Ireland final replay defeat in 2016, former Mayo coach Ed Coughlan put the difference between winning and losing in stark terms — geography.
“Until Mayo’s students settle for courses in NUIG and GMIT, and their bankers, accountants, teachers and engineers move home to make a crust, I can’t see them ever winning the All-Ireland title,” he wrote in this newspaper in October 2016.
It would appear a global pandemic — rather than any limited professional ambition — has changed life for Mayo footballers.
Ahead of Sunday's Connacht final against Galway (throw in 1.30pm), there’s only two Mayo players facing that grind regularly — Breaffy duo Rob Hennelly and Conor O’Shea. Cillian O’Connor splits his working time between Mayo and Dublin.
Remote working and students based at home has changed the dynamic considerably, in marked contrast to how things were for much of the previous decade.
Tom Parsons, Chris Barrett, Séamie O’Shea, and Jason Doherty made those 500km round east-west trips for the guts of 10 years. More players like Paddy Durcan, Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen Coen, Matthew Ruane, and Conor Loftus know the journey intimately from their student days.
In the first half of the year in the old normal, Mayo would only gather collectively for training once a week — on Friday evenings, with the Dublin-based cohort rushing west to make it on time, while they would gather in Dublin for training midweek.
Come summer, and with the students back at home, all the squad would train midweek in Mayo, with the Dublin-based crew completing an exhausting up and down journey in the one evening, often getting into their beds well into the early hours.
As far as Coughlan was concerned, and he wasn’t alone, this was curtailing Mayo’s efforts to land Sam Maguire more than any other single factor. Especially when no such challenges faced their greatest rivals, Dublin.
“There was a time when there was maybe 10 of us up in Dublin but it wasn’t just any 10, it was 10 of the starting team. It was very difficult,” recalls Séamie O’Shea, who was one of those soldiers for nine years prior to his retirement in the new year.
He can’t help but wonder how a different outlook on working from home might have helped him and his colleagues at the peak of their careers. “When you look back on some of the travel we did, you wonder why didn’t we travel home on a Thursday night, work from home on a Friday and we could easily have done that but it wasn’t the culture at the time so you just had to do it,” he said.
“Maybe one of the good things that might come out of Covid is it could potentially change that a little bit.”