Mayo face a twist in drive for five
Published 16/05/2015 | 01:00
CHAMPIONSHIP season in Connacht and the dawn of a new summer campaign brings a pep in the step of team managers, players and supporters.
It's human nature to look ahead and hope for better than the previous year and that's what keeps the diehard GAA followers turning up in their thousands.
And so to Mayo, Connacht title winners in each of the last four seasons, All-Ireland semi-finalists every year since 2011, and two All-Ireland final appearances.
The problem with an All-Ireland 'appearance' is just that - nobody wants to just 'appear', they want to emerge as champions.
No matter that the margin of defeat to Dublin in 2013 was a mere single point, or that Donegal's early two goals in 2012 gave the McGuinness Machine the edge they needed to grind on for ultimate victory.
Do or die in a final - and Mayo died, albeit that they went down fighting to the last breath on both occasions - just as they did last year in the epic All-Ireland semi-final and replay against Kerry.
Tiny margins of luck and some ill-fortune, allied to the impact of that man-mountain Kieran Donaghy and the will o' the wisp James O'Donoghue, helped sway the eventual verdict in favour of the Kingdom.
Mayo were reduced to 14 men in the first match when Lee Keegan lost his discipline and aimed a silly kick at an opponent.
Kerry should have been down to 14 in the replay after just 18 minutes when ref Cormac Reilly inexplicably failed to give defender Shane Enright a black card to go with the yellow he had already incurred.
Would a 14-man Kerry have beaten Mayo on that night in Limerick? We will never know, because fate decreed that Eamonn Fitzmaurice's team were destined for glory in 2014.
And that begs the question: have Mayo got the credentials to mount another run to the last four and even the last two of this year's championship?
The players and their new joint-managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes will strive might and main to do, so but first they need to protect their home patch in Connacht.
Dublin gave them a lesson in the league at Castlebar and that was: 'don't try to match us man for man'.Idealistic football in these times is a recipe for having your house burgled.
It's the same as leaving the alarm off and the front door ajar and granting easy access to predatory raiders, a description which, in football terms, accurately describes the Dublin forwards.
We know the homework has been done on that one.
The defeat by 14 points was facilitated by what Connelly described as a "naive" approach.
"We were a bit naïve in that respect. Dublin are the team to beat, there is no doubt about that," says Connelly.
Mayo, whatever defensive style they choose to adopt, will stand idle until June 14 when they meet the winners of Galway or Leitrim.
All concerned with the Mayo camp will hope that will allow enough time for Cillian O'Connor to recover from his knee problems. Mayo will need all hands on deck to win their first Connacht five-in-a-row since 1906-1910 inclusive.
And Galway are on the up. Kevin Walsh's team showed enough in their progression to the All-Ireland quarter-finals after an emphatic victory by Mayo in the Connacht final last year that the Tribesmen will have more to offer this season.
Leitrim, under new management in Donegal native Shane Ward, the former county U-21 team boss, will most likely prove a difficult enough proposition for Galway to break down at Carrick-on-Shannon, but are unlikely to cause a seismic shock to Galway.
Roscommon, under the guidance of wily Kerry native John Evans, also expect to have a say in the destiny of the Nestor Cup.
A second successive promotion and completing the league as Division 2 winners over Down in Croke Park injects a strong level of optimism into the county, although caution away to London is the watch word.
The Exiles manager Paul Coggins hails from Roscommon. He is proud of the county's achievements, but warns: "We will be ready for them."
Assuming Evans' team progresses to the next stage, Sligo await at Markievicz Park with every intention of flushing Roscommon's elevated status down the drain.
Former Kildare stalwart Niall Carew, who replaced Pat Flanagan as manager, has been received favourably by supporters and players, and a clash against high-flying Roscommon would be Sligo's All-Ireland final.