If Mayo hoped the GAA would do them a favour after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay staging in Limerick, the message came back loud and clear when they were drawn away to Kerry first day out in this year’s league.
Although they owed Kerry a game, it’s another season when Mayo will try hard to forget — but will anyone let them?
The Gaelic Grounds, Cormac Reilly, that Shane Enright non-black card... as if Mayo didn’t have a persecution complex already. But stripping away those matters and there are shortcomings closer to home.
It’s not as if the players haven’t recognised them. Earlier this month, Aidan O’Shea spoke about their concession of supposedly comfortable leads. But there are more nagging issues.
“I’m not one to buy these hard luck stories,” says former goalkeeper John Healy. “The reason Mayo haven’t won an All-Ireland since 1951 is because they haven’t been good enough to win an All-Ireland.
“The best team wins and you can blame referees, sendings off and poor decisions but it doesn’t come down to any of that.
“Mayo just weren’t cynical enough against Dublin two years ago to win that game. Against Kerry last year, we had them beaten twice and weren’t cynical enough to close out the game.
“That’s been the overriding problem with Mayo teams over the last 10, 20 years.
“When we have the Kerrys and Dublins on the ropes we need to finish the job.
“(James) Horan brought a bit of that dimension to it but I don’t think it fully got there. You’re talking about small percentages and that final percentage will get you over the line.
“When you get to an All-Ireland final you’ve got to do whatever you can do to win the game within the rules.
“Games have to be closed out whether a man is brought down or double-teaming another player.
“That’s what other teams are doing. Kerry don’t have all their All-Irelands for no reason. Or Dublin. They do their homework, set out a game-plan and the game-plan is carried out.”
As a player who endured his dollops of All-Ireland heartache, two-time All Star Ken Mortimer knows there will be baggage on a couple of fronts for the existing group from last year and the previous couple of seasons.
“You’re looking at the physical aspect of it, that the level of consistency over such a long period it will ultimately have a bearing. It’s very hard for players to keep going and maintain the consistency year-in, year-out.
“What’s more difficult is the psychological aspect of it. From bitter personal experience, it does weigh on your mind.
“But one of the big problems Mayo have faced over the last of years has been the lack of competition within our own province. Galway and Roscommon are improving quickly and the likelihood is they will provide a better challenge which can only help them providing they keep their standards.”
Healy sees it the same way in the province. Earlier this week, Seamus O’Shea said that Connacht hasn’t been a cakewalk. “People seem to think we have waltzed out of Connacht in the last few years. I think 2013 was the only year we actually won convincingly.
As the neighbours’ garden grows, Mayo’s own is need of some fertiliser. In a rare media appearance, new managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes identified there was inertia in personnel over the last couple of years.
Healy was at the recent FBD Connacht League game and recognised just three of the starting team. “To be fair to the two boys, they’re giving a chance to everyone to stake a claim. Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly would be strong characters and I don’t think names and reputations are going to give players jerseys. They won’t be afraid of upsetting people. They’ll pick the better players no matter who they are”
Having played both as well as being managed by Holmes, Mortimer can testify to their characters and passion for Mayo.
“There’s good chemistry between the pair and that was borne out by the success they had at U21 level. Unfortunately, success at U21 level eight or nine years ago and at senior level now are oceans apart in terms of both workload and commitment required to deliver it.
While there is satisfaction with Donie Buckley staying on and the appointment of strength and conditioning coach Barry Solan, players have privately expressed concern about the constraints in medical support this year.
For such a yearning county, can something so important be spared? Can anything?
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved