Mayo fatigue is being experienced across the country but this team doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. That belligerence has to be respected yet the question is, can they transform doughtiness into dominance? John Fogarty looks at the arguments for and against.
Five reasons why they can
It was in Rochford’s second season in charge of Corofin that they went on to win an All-Ireland title. Now, we’re not suggesting there is more chance of Mayo walking up the Hogan Stand steps because Rochford is similarly acquainted with his current brief but given what had happened in the months prior to his appointment, his succession was hardly straightforward. What he inherited was hardly a mess yet it was something that needed to be handled with kid gloves. How Mayo exposed Tyrone’s straitjacketed tactics in the quarter-final last year was a credit to Rochford and his management team, not to mention the chinks they exposed in Dublin’s armour.
Don’t expect the players to publicly utter how much motivation they gleaned from the Noel Connelly/Pat Holmes interview in December, but it has been banked. Whereas last year they might have felt they had to justify themselves having hurt the pair, they now perceive themselves as the ones who have been wronged. Then there’s the fact that almost every pundit seems to be writing them off.
This Mayo group won’t be giving back any of their five consecutive Connacht titles in a hurry. However, were they to win this year’s one, it would likely rank ahead of the others given Galway now provide stronger opposition in the province. Sligo obviously have to be dealt with tomorrow but it should be quickly apparent that the Nestor Cup has new and greater meaning for Mayo. Not only should Galway test them but should they claim provincial honours again, it means they will enter an All-Ireland quarter-final tested and tantalised.
It might not seem like a positive that Mayo have exited the championship at the hands of the would-be champions in each of the last five seasons but it is. It not only illustrates consistency in performance — as much as Mayo’s critics rally against that argument — but a close proximity to the top. On three occasions, they have forced the winners to replays, extra-time in one of them. Kerry may think otherwise but the record shows Mayo remain Dublin’s closest challengers.
Twelve months ago, Mayo pulled off a fine victory in one of the most entertaining U21 All-Ireland finals. Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus were to the fore that day and while Coen is expected to become a permanent part of the Mayo backline this summer, there will be more of an onus on forward Loftus to come good given that the need for strength in attack is greater. Brendan Harrison and Diarmuid O’Connor have shown the way forward to them.
Five reasons why they can’t
Colm Cooper wasn’t dismissing Mayo’s All-Ireland chances earlier this month when he said it was a make-or-break year for them but he did point to the growing age profile of the team. Alan Dillon (35 this year) and Andy Moran (34 in November) may not start every game but they are among the oldest playing the game, and then there are David Clarke (33), Keith Higgins (32), Colm Boyle (31), Ger Cafferkey (30), and Barry Moran (31).
How many times can Mayo go to the well only to come back and find there’s a hole in their bucket? The resilience of this group is something to behold but one must wonder about the cumulative heartache of these past five seasons. Is there a point when players become institutionalised by coming so close and yet so far from ultimate glory?
What was so noticeable and disappointing about their heavy league defeat to Dublin in March was how much Mayo seemed to spoil for a fight. They are just as cynical and aggressive as their All-Ireland rivals but if they are to keep on trucking they must keep their heads. Foul play cost them 1-7 in last year’s final replay. Their tackling prowess is renowned but they have a habit of getting sidetracked. It’s simple but the longer their best players stay on the field, the better their chances are of consigning 1951 to history.
Mayo have done tremendously well to challenge for the top honour when they have to compensate so much for a lack of a proven scorer in attack. Three points from play in last year’s final replay was a dismal tally for a forward unit. As previously mentioned, Loftus could be just what is needed up front this summer but options from the bench aren’t exactly plentiful, particularly when Mickey Conroy and Alan Freeman have stepped away in recent times.
When Dublin managed two goals without putting the ball in the net for either of them in last year’s drawn All-Ireland final, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the westerners. Even some Mayo supporters’ sense of self-perpetuating doom looked accurate, only for Cillian O’Connor to rescue them. That only delayed what those pessimists would say was the inevitable in the replay when O’Connor wasn’t able to save Mayo for a second time. Is 1951 just meant to be a millstone around their necks?
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