It’s an age-old magic trick of management which Seamus Lawton hopes to reproduce in Croke Park today: how to treat Mayfield’s All-Ireland final like any other game, when everything around it is so new and different.
It’s the same game, with the same players chasing the same ball, but everything else is scaled up times ten. The journey is longer, the stadium bigger and the buzz around Cork’s northside louder than ever.
Even Croke Park’s green rug presents an amplified challenge. Mayfield made a trip to UL’s all-weather pitch last Saturday in a bid to replicate the conditions and have been making use of Mayfield United’s AstroTurf facility too. Two trains will carry their fans from Kent Station straight to Drumcondra, one of which will include the players. They’ll have their own carriage, though, and maintaining routine amid the excitement is Lawton’s mantra.
“We’re expecting a huge crowd up there. It’s a job in itself to keep the lid on it but this is our fourth final this year, so they’ve been through the mill,” says the Castlemartyr native.
“There’s a lot of experience there at this stage. I’m hoping that’ll stand to them in coping with all the hype.
“It is different but the trip to Tullamore (for the semi-final) was probably a trial run. We went by bus, while on Saturday we’re going by train. But it was a trip away and the food side of it was done, so it’ll be much the same from that point of view. We’re trying to keep it along the same routine.”
All the talk of routine is well and good, but Lawton acknowledges that he won’t know how it’s all worked out until they hear the first whistle at three o’clock.
“We’ve trained consistently well, we’d two or three weeks between nearly all our matches, bar a break at Christmas, but we’ve kept a lot of the same routine all of the time and we’re trying to keep it grounded. You just try to keep up the standards.
“Obviously, we practise the skills in every training session and keep an eye that we’re doing the right thing. But you just don’t know until the ball is thrown-in how we’re going to react.”
For solace, Lawton knows that the further Mayfield have travelled from the city, the more convincing their performances have been. Their closest dice with elimination came in their first final of the season, back in August, when nearest neighbours Brian Dillons came within an added-time super-save from Richard O’Keeffe of denying Mayfield the City title.
Then, their eastern neighbours Sarsfields, looked likely winners in the County final when leading by a goal as Mayfield’s captain and centre-back Shane O’Donovan and corner-forward David Malone were withdrawn with injuries. They overcame that test too, with their younger players stepping up to the plate in the closing stages.
Since then, Mayfield blitzed the Limerick champions by 32 points, the Clare champions by 20 points and the Waterford champions by five points, despite conceding two late consolation goals.
Sligo and Connacht champions Calry St Joseph’s also scored a late major to secure a mere single-digit, seven-point loss in the semi-final.
Nicky Kelly leads the scoring charts with 2-74 (including 0-37 from placed balls), while his brother Shane, who missed the semi-final, has 4-24 to his name.
David O’Neill (1-25) and midfielder Kevin Punch (0-21) have been among their most consistent scorers, and they’re not wanting for goals either — Duggan brothers Shane (6-18) and Podge (5-7) have combined for a goal-a-game average.
A challenge game against the Offaly U21s has kept them sharp for the final against Mooncoin, who are looking to become the fifth Kilkenny club to win this title in the last six years.
“It’s a fantastic honour for me to be with Mayfield on this journey,” says Lawton, ahead of their 12th championship game since training began 13 months ago.
“I’m with them now two years, they’re a fantastic bunch of players and we’ve a great management team with Joe Sheehan, Martin Cronin and Jim Walsh, and our backroom staff.
“At this stage, it’s one big happy family. There’s a great spirit in the camp, which is very important.
“There’s a great buzz around the place too. Mayfield United soccer club have given us their all-weather pitch for the last few weeks to train on. Previous to that, we were above in St Vincent’s training on their pitch.
“There’s been a lot of goodwill and everybody has got behind us.”
Today: AIB All-Ireland club JHC final: Mayfield (Cork) v Mooncoin (Kilkenny), Croke Park, 3pm, (C. Cunning, Antrim).
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