Parallels, uncanny and unavoidable.
This weekend Galway will travel to Elvery’s MacHale Park bidding to end the provincial reign of a Mayo side still picking up the pieces following two consecutive All-Ireland final defeats. The Tribesmen have been a peripheral resident at football’s top table these past years but the injection of new blood has once more raised expectation out west.
1998, a similar tale.
A mentally fragile Mayo, having twice fallen on the final climb to football’s summit, squaring off against an emerging Galway force. Parallels, uncanny and unavoidable.
The result on that fateful May afternoon. Galway 1-13, Mayo 2-6.
As you’d expect, Liam McHale’s memories of that bruising Connacht quarter-final are not particularly fond.
“In 1998 we were mentally and physically fatigued,” reflects McHale.
“Under John Maughan in 1996 and ’97 we put in a massive effort, left no stone unturned. By 1998 we were gone off the boil.
“I do see similarities to this team, similar roads travelled. A lot of the team, especially the older guys, looked jaded against Roscommon. The sparkle does seem to be gone. 12 months ago we beat Roscommon out the gate. This year Roscommon should have beaten us. You could see Mayo were trying hard, but the drive simply wasn’t there.
“I know I found it difficult to come back in 1998. Obviously it is more difficult for the older lads, Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and the likes, who have played in four All-Irelands and have no cigar. I know what they are going through and how difficult it is to come back and enjoy your football. If you are not enjoying your football you will not play well. You need to be looking forward to every training and every game to be at your best. That is where the difficulty lay for us and the difficult which now faces this team.”
Galway’s two-time All-Ireland medal winner Ja Fallon spotted a familiar All-Ireland final hangover in Dr Hyde Park last month.
“For Mayo it was a wake-up call. Back in 1998 they didn’t have that luxury to see where they were at. There was no backdoor and so they were done for the summer. The fear now as it was back then from a Mayo viewpoint is that they haven’t recovered psychologically from the two defeats. It is very hard to stay going when you are not getting any change.”
The crop of 1998 was laden with newcomers — John Divilly, Pádraig Joyce, Derek Savage and Tómas Meehan, a group of players who had enjoyed reasonable underage success. Fast forward then to the class of 2014. The quartet of Tom Flynn, Fiontán Ó Curraoin, Shane Walsh and Danny Cummins, graduates of the 2011 and ’13 All-Ireland U21 winning teams, have enjoyed a seamless transition to senior level.
“Definitely Flynn and Ó Curraoin are two top class footballers. They are ambitious. You know that by the way they play. That is a throwback to our time and the way we played. It is the first time in a long time there is excitement going to Galway games. They do have a little bit to learn, but if Galway can get the selection right you never know. We could do with a Connacht title.”
Added McHale: “Those young forwards, much like what they had back in 1998, are the kind of players you know will thrive in Croke Park.”
Given it was Galway who triumphed back in 1998, we’ll leave the parting comment to Fallon.
“There is only so long you can stay up at the top and keep the freshness. There are a lot of crossroads in play here, reminiscent of 1998, and long roads to be travelled after.”
Parallels, uncanny and unavoidable.
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