These treacle-slow championship starts of Mayo’s are not a new phenomenon.
Although Stephen Rochford has guided them to just one win in four Connacht outings, there was the one-point scrape past Roscommon in 2014 and two years before that the extra-time scare in Ruislip.
The reasons have long been cited: As a camp geographically split between Mayo and Dublin, the opportunity for cohesive and meaningful training is not as easy as it would be in counties like Dublin, Cork, and Kerry.
Former forward Alan Dillon spoke in the Irish Examiner in February of the need to keep players closer to the county and Rochford is adamant something has to be done in the long term for the betterment of Mayo football.
“Mayo isn’t going to get any closer, geography wise, to Dublin. So we need to look at what we can do within it, certainly in terms of those players who are students. We should look to attract our guys to Limerick or consider the opportunities that are in Galway, Sligo, and Athlone. We must try and build that.
“The time lost to travelling is reflected on the lack of coaching time we have with those players over the winter period. We’re trying to accommodate that by travelling to the midlands a bit.
“I know the board are keen to look at doing something in relation to a training facility and that’s another element.
“Those are all long-term for Mayo, but it’s something I think is a priority and would be something I would think they need to invest time and effort into if Mayo are to, in the long-term, sustain a top eight, top four position and look to continually challenge.”
Currently, 14 of the 33-man panel are based in Dublin and would have been in the capital up to the defeat to Galway.
They would have trained under selector and coach Tony McEntee in Dublin once a week up to mid-April before returning home to train as a collective unit on Fridays. As exams finish for third-level students and terms conclude for Dublin-based teachers like Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor, more will return home for the summer.
The latter will miss the qualifier against Limerick game after his second sending off this year against Galway and while the group have spoken about the fact they’ve lost a player to a red card in each of their last three SFC defeats, the manager feels “in many ways they’re isolated incidents”.
Agreeing O’Connor deserved to be sent off earlier this month, Rochford said: “There was nobody more hurt about the way that it played out than Diarmuid and he’s eager to right the wrongs of showing himself on the field and that’ll be the challenge, that we give him the opportunity to get back into the team hopefully for a round two qualifier if we’re good enough in round one.”
After a third consecutive SFC loss to Galway, the question asked of Mayo again is do they have the hunger.
“That question has been asked over that team since 2014 and maybe even on the back of the 2012 and 2013 All-Ireland final losses so really it’s external noise. We’ll look at whether we have the appetite to beat Limerick now. We’ll take it game by game and week by week and try and get ourselves in a physical and mental state of mind that gets us up for each and everyone of those challenges that will play out.
“The efforts and prep we put into that Galway game — I think it’s fine margins in that game that decided it. We played that game for 45 or 50 minutes with a man down and created numerous (unconverted) scoring opportunities. So I don’t think all is lost.”
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