Mayo's first qualifier tie since 2010 is 'kill or cure' - O'Mahony
Published 07/07/2016 | 02:30
Mayo's first All-Ireland football qualifier tie since 2010 could be a "kill or cure" encounter, according to John O'Mahony, who has experienced both ends of life on the 'back door' circuit.
"When a team starts this far back in the qualifiers, the first game is crucial. If you get it right and you win, the show is back on the road and momentum is restored quickly but it's also easy to get caught in the opening game and suddenly your season is over," said O'Mahony.
He was in charge when Galway 'cured' themselves in the qualifiers after losing the 2001 Connacht semi-final to Roscommon and went on to win the All-Ireland in what was the first year of the new championship format.
Nine years later he was at the helm in Mayo when, after losing to Sligo in Connacht, they were 'killed' by Longford in their first qualifier outing. It was O'Mahony's final game in his second stint as Mayo manager.
It was also Mayo's last qualifier engagement as they went on to win five successive Connacht titles before being dethroned by Galway in dramatic circumstances last month.
They return to the qualifier route against Fermanagh in Castlebar on Saturday under the most intense pressure.
"They've got a lucky break with home venue, which is a help. Galway had to travel to Aughrim to play Wicklow in 2001 and we (Mayo) had to go to Longford in 2010.
"They will have had three weeks to get themselves right for the relaunch so it's a question of how they react to the defeat by Galway. As a group, they will have done all the talking, all the confronting, all the looking at issues but it's only when they start playing they will know what's there," said O'Mahony.
In 2001, he actually thought that Galway were eliminated from the All-Ireland race when they lost to Roscommon, only to discover to his delight that a second chance awaited.
"It was the first year of the qualifiers and I didn't pay much attention to how they were going to work. To be honest, I thought they applied to first round provincial losers only and since our game with Roscommon was a Connacht semi-final, I assumed we were gone. I'd say a lot of the players were the same.
"When we realised there was a second chance, our mood changed. But that would have counted for nothing unless the attitude was right and, thankfully, in our case it was.
"Having said that, we were very apprehensive going to Wicklow for the first round because you can't be sure how you'll react until the first test comes.
"Teams might be at different levels in the league or in previous championships but when you come into the qualifiers after being beaten in a provincial semi-final, you're there as a loser against a team that's won a Round 1 game so things are evened up to a large degree.
"Fermanagh are coming to Castlebar on Saturday after a win whereas Mayo have had to come to terms with a poor performance against Galway. As well as that, Fermanagh did well enough in Division 2, including drawing with Galway in Tuam so they will see this as a big chance," said O'Mahony.
One significant difference between Galway in 2001 and Mayo now rests in their respective backgrounds.
Galway had won the 1998 All-Ireland, which resulted in a confidence carryover even three years later, whereas Mayo have failed to make the big breakthrough.
And after losing to Galway in a game they were odds-on to win, it raises doubts about how the players and new manager Stephen Rochford will react.
"There's no doubt that having won the All-Ireland in 1998, the Galway players felt they could do it again in 2001 if they got their game right. Mayo are slightly different but at the same time one defeat doesn't make them a bad team.
"It changes the direction they're headed but that's all. The All-Ireland is still there to be aimed for. Mayo might have to take the wild Atlantic way as opposed to the direct route but the season is still very much alive.
"It's important for them to get their confidence back, win on Saturday and take it from there," said O'Mahony.
Inevitably, there have been calls from Mayo supporters for widespread change in the team but O'Mahony counsels caution.
"Some change is good in these situations but it's also important to remember that a lot of players who didn't play well against Galway are desperate to make amends. They can't do that sitting on the bench," he said.
Galway (2001), Tyrone (2008), Kerry (2009) and Cork (2010) won All-Ireland titles from a Round 2 qualifier starting base so it's definitely an achievable goal, provided a squad is good enough.
If Mayo beat Armagh, they will be in a draw with the winners of Monaghan v Longford, Cork v Limerick, Kildare v Offaly and, if they survived there, would face the losers of either the Ulster or Leinster finals for a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
It's a much longer road to Croke Park than over the past five years but, if safely negotiated, it could leave them better prepared than if they went through Connacht again.
"They will be worried about Saturday and understandably so but if they win there with a good performance the season will open up for them. I'd expect that to happen," said O'Mahony.