All-Ireland semi-finals have become the norm for Kevin McLoughlin.
A maths and science teacher in Rice College, he strikes you as the calculating type that would never take seven consecutive years of All-Ireland semi-final appearances, nine games in total, for granted. Not when Mayo have won only three of their previous eight matches at this stage.
Even for a team as fortified as Mayo, this latest journey to the last four looked fearful after losing to Galway for the second successive season in Connacht, but the players again dusted themselves off. In the knowledge of Stephen Rochford, a panel meeting was arranged and some home truths were mentioned.
“We just reassessed, ‘are we all in alignment’, ‘are we all trying to do the same thing’, our goals. We sat down, we basically decided we needed to improve in many aspects,” said McLoughlin.
“We probably didn’t show the hunger and desire in that game that was needed. The most frustrating part is we know what we all want, we are all a very determined group, that is the most that came out of that meeting.”
From the outside, it may have looked that their bucket was leaking having gone to the well too often, but that was never the sense in the camp.
“From the start of the year we’ve had a serious appetite, maybe it doesn’t always show that in our performances, but you can be assured that we have,” said McLoughlin.
“Probably the last day (replay vs Roscommon) it was a combination of things, one or two tactical things, we upped our workrate to a far superior level than the previous day.
“To be honest, a small bit of luck came our way too. We got our goals fairly quick, Roscommon hit the post twice on the one shot; little, small things allowed us to get ahead early, probably a mixture then of them giving up earlier than expected.”
McLoughlin himself was fortunate not to be whistled for a double hop on the way to scoring Mayo’s first goal too.
“When I scored I wasn’t 100% sure, I know that sounds funny because I did it, but I wasn’t 100% sure. But nobody called me on it, so I thought maybe I didn’t. To be honest, it was only after I was told (that he realised).”
That rasping start last Monday week couldn’t have been more different to the slow build-ups they delivered in the drawn game and qualifiers. “I’d say it was more frustration, that is the emotion I would use, because we know how good a team we can be. We just weren’t showing it. We were trying to do the right thing, it just wasn’t always working out for us.”
Much has been made of the ageing profile of this Mayo group. Sunday will be their eighth game, two having gone to extra-time, but the 29-year-old McLoughlin maintains that he wouldn’t care had they to play Kerry last weekend. “Honestly, I don’t mind, if you ask any player, playing games is what you want to be doing. So games are always a good thing to be doing.”
Aidan O’Shea spoke after the Roscommon win about Mayo’s numbers improving, which may relate to their GPS running totals. McLoughlin said: “We do have GPS, but it is probably more from a coaching aspect than it is from a player aspect. It is very easy to say a team looks out of energy if things aren’t going well for them. It maybe looks like a team is a bit more sluggish or don’t look as fast, but when a team has their tails up and are playing well it looks like they are really fit. If you were to compare both in terms of GPS I would say there was very little between it.”
Mayo’s sluggish starts can be traced as far back as their Division 1 win over Kerry in Austin Stack Park in February where they managed to secure a win having coughed up four goal chances early on. “We had a pretty poor start. It was only after 15 minutes that we got a grip, we clawed our way back into it. I think we won it narrowly enough.”
It’s those games that have more relevance for McLoughlin than the infamous All-Ireland semi-final replay in Limerick. “I’d put it this way, all of our analysis and stuff, we won’t be looking back on that game. We have played them a good few times since then, in the league even this year, down in Kerry. So they are the types of games we will be judging this on, we are taking this as its own game, it is no reflection of 2014.
“It was one of those games where everything felt it was like 100 miles an hour. The game, to a certain extent, is a bit of a blur to me, I just remember it being a warm day and a very fast pace, a very physical type of game. It was one of those days, it was disappointing, that is the only thing I really remember from it.”
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