independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Martin Breheny: Mayo sanity needs national solution

WHO has been the most consistent county in the Allianz Football League over the last 15 seasons?

Cork: four-time Division 1 winners, including a triple success in 2010-11-12?

Kerry: three-time winners, plus runners-up once?

Tyrone: dual winners, plus twice beaten semi-finalists?

Derry: dual winners, plus twice beaten finalists?

Mayo: one-time winners, plus three-time runners-up?

Yes, it's the green-and-red.

Others have won the title more often, but slip down the consistency ratings because they all dropped into Division 2 at some stage, whereas Mayo are the only county to have been ever-present in the top flight since 1998.

That's quite an achievement when compared to the high League achievers listed above, plus Dublin, Galway, Donegal, Meath, Armagh, Kildare, Down and Laois, all of whom spent spells in Division 2 or lower.

In the circumstances, one title is a poor return for Mayo. Even then, there's an asterisk against their 2001 win, since Tyrone, who had been the form team throughout the group campaign, were denied a place in the semi-finals when forced to withdraw due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Tetchy

Some Mayo supporters get tetchy when it's pointed out that the county has a dreadful record in national senior finals, winning only one (2001 league) from 13 attempts since the early 1970s. Sorry folks, those are the facts. Being reminded of them might be unpleasant, but it will continue until the losing cycle ends.

However, that's the past and shouldn't be taken as a guide to the future. Indeed, it could well be turned into a positive on the basis that the longer any sequence lasts the more likely it is to end.

So, why not next April? Of all the counties in Division 1, Mayo need to win the league title most of all. They built up an impressive momentum last year and while second place in league and championship didn't get rid of the awful hunger pangs which have nagged them for so long, it was still a high finish overall.

The test this season is to translate that progress into a title. It's a crucial year for manager James Horan, who last July presided over Mayo's first Connacht double since 1996-97 and later steered them to the All-Ireland final. It maintained an upward graph, but, in his third season, expectations will be even higher.

It was somewhat surprising that earlier this month he chose to pick a fight with Joe Brolly, which he could never win. Horan was unhappy over comments made by Brolly about Mayo prior to last year's All-Ireland final.

Horan felt they might have raised a red flag in the referee's mind about aspects of Mayo's game.

It's unlikely – although not totally beyond the bounds of possibility – that loose talk from noisy pundits would influence referees, but since Horan was clearly irked by Brolly's comments, why didn't he refute them immediately rather than wait for four months, by which stage it didn't matter a toss anyway?

If Horan thought that referee, Maurice Deegan and his officials might have their views on Mayo tainted by Brolly-talk, he should have counteracted it before the final.

It would have been the ideal opportunity to present Mayo as victims of a dastardly plot, involving an Ulster-based pundit making wild allegations on the national broadcaster about a team who were to play the Ulster champions in the final.

Even if wasn't remotely that sinister, Horan – or some other Mayo spokesperson – would have been able to not only present it as a shocking attack on Mayo's character, but perhaps even raise questions about Donegal.

At the very least, Mayo would have balanced the books when it mattered.

Instead, they remained in communications lockdown in the days before the final and only chose to air their grievances four months later, by which stage it was best ignored.

Still, that, too, is in the past and as Mayo head into a new season, the big question is how they will react to last year. With Galway first up in the Connacht championship in Pearse Stadium in May, there will, no doubt, be those in Mayo who advocate a less than driven approach to the league.

The fact that they are only fifth favourites (9/1) behind Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Donegal to win the title, suggests that the betting public don't believe Mayo will make much of an impression in the league. That's odd, given their consistency in the spring campaigns, plus their championship advance last year.

Surely, Mayo will go all-out to win the league in an attempt to maintain momentum and finally end the national drought. Their sanity requires it.

Leitrim celebrations so refreshing

IT'S okay to smile. It's fine to celebrate too in the January mud while pretending, however briefly, that what has been achieved is more than a mere pre-season prize.

Pictures of Leitrim footballers and their supporters heartily enjoying victory over Sligo in the FBD Connacht League final on Sunday made for pleasant viewing, not just because it provided an energy boost for a county which hasn't won much silverware, but because they were prepared to publicly display their delight.

It was in marked contrast to the usual reaction of most prep-season tournament winners, who immediately stitch on their surliest countenances in case, heaven forbid, anyone would think they considered it remotely relevant.

Leitrim know the truth about pre-season success too, but, hey, this was a rare occasion when they were summoned to the winners' podium and openly embraced it.

Well done for publicly enjoying themselves and not giving a damn what anybody thought.

Counties must end code of silence

Declan Kidney announced the Irish rugby team for Saturday's clash with Wales at 1.30 yesterday afternoon, exactly 96 hours before kick-off. It was carried live on RTE radio and on TV on RTE News Now.<

Apart from satisfying public interest, it was a solid promotion for rugby.

Contrast that sensible approach with the growing trend in the GAA where many county teams are (a) announced on Fridays, often quite late, (b) not named at all in advance of games, or (c) named and then changed.

There are times when teams can't be announced until late on but, in the main, the delays are down to trick-acting by managers who clearly don't believe they have any responsibility to promote the games by naming teams and generating debate among the public.

On the contrary, some of them give the impression that they would be just as happy if there was no coverage at all.

Bizarre.

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