Sunday 23 October 2016

Comment: The heave has paid off - but Mayo's year will be 2017, not this season

Declan Bogue

Published 15/09/2016 | 11:21

IT was the night of last year's All-Ireland final that the story of Mayo 2016 was born. Or at the very least, conceived.

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Don't attach overt symbolism to the date. A player's letter to the county board expressing a motion of 'no confidence' from that group in the management team of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes would have actually been delivered a week earlier, only they were aware Connelly was out of the country.

It took the group a mere week to act on feelings that only grew stronger as the season went on. Say what you want, but you have to admire their certainty and unity of purpose. If there was a Dark Night of the Soul, it must have just been the one night.

The definition of 'Heave' is; 'to raise or lift with effort or force; hoist.'

For players that had just taken the eventual (and comfortable) All-Ireland champions to a replay, providing them with their greatest test of the year, it took effort, it took force. Add to that, decisiveness and determination.

For those that wonder how 'player power' is so prevalent in the GAA, it is rooted in their amateur status.

Simply put, inter-county football and hurling takes over several strands of a player's life; practically all their leisure time, affecting relationships, work and family. When you get a highly-motivated group of men together and they can't see their ambition being matched by others, rebellion is inevitable.

There have been a few Great Heaves of Our Time to offer up as evidence.

Cork alone have spilled a lot of blood on Leeside, with three player strikes due to their county board's lack of willingness to cede important decisions to team management.

We have Cavan's revolt against Liam Austin before the calendar year of 1999 got underway in earnest, and the Fermanagh footballers abandoning ship en-masse during a miserable 2011 campaign that ended in defeat to London in the qualifiers.

The footballers of Mayo could not have waited. They watched how what was a 'High-Performance Unit' under James Horan was eroded, while they didn't feel the same warmth and respect from the new management.

This November, Andy Moran and David Clarke turn 33. Alan Dillon will reach that age two weeks from now. Keith Higgins is 31.

Time is running out, so a work-to-rule policy this season was not an option. In doing so, they knew it would initially be extremely unpopular. Judging by the reception they have got in recent weeks after Croke Park wins, it was only fleeting.

How this group must envy other counties who have succession plans and broad ideas of where their footballing philosophy is going.

Instead, they had to put themselves out there. In serving the papers in late September, it gave enough time to get a suitable replacement in Stephen Rochford who arrived just the right side of December.

To do that, displays oodles of leadership. Leaderships that produces results like in 2011 (Cork), 2012 (Dublin) and 2013 (Donegal), when they beat the previous year's All-Ireland winners. Since then, they have taken the eventual champions to a semi-final replay - Kerry in 2014 and Dublin last year.

That unfair and ludicrous tag of 'losers'? Yeah, sure. But for a referee's decision here and there, they would already be All-Ireland champions.

Down in Westport two weekends ago, this correspondent noticed an alarming lack of hype. Talking to another Ulster man who landed in Louisburgh this week, he reported the same. Hardly any flags out, in a county that is supposed to go mad.

Has the 'Mayo for Sam' glorious madness just migrated to online? Is the hype just a media creation, with the Western People's 72-page and the Mayo News' 64-page supplements? Either way, the players will not be affected.

Now, with all that said, you have to ask, can they win? And the answer to that, is a resounding no.

And the reason for it, is that they are just not playing well enough. Stephen Rochford and Tony McEntee are getting it right, but it will not be enough in time for Sunday.

If there is to be 'Mayo's Year', then it will be 2017. Can the veterans hang on that long?

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