Wednesday 26 July 2017

Peter Canavan: Only one way for Mayo to silence the noise

Winning the only way to stop the nonsense every ‘bridesmaid’ faces

Mayo’s Chris Barrett poses for ‘selfies’ with fans after Mayo’s
victory against Sligo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Chris Barrett poses for ‘selfies’ with fans after Mayo’s victory against Sligo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

Nature abhors a vacuum and so, it seems, does parts of the GAA. We saw it over the last week or so. In this case, the vacuum was Mayo's lack of an All-Ireland title. And in trying to find the answers, the space was filled with all sorts of nonsense.

When it comes to Mayo, Aidan O'Shea is the central figure for all sorts of criticism. That Mayo team is full of big characters and brilliant footballers who have been on the front line as long as O'Shea, and in many cases longer. But he's the lightning rod to which everything is drawn.

You had Bernard Flynn having a pop at him for signing autographs and getting in selfies with children after a challenge game. Then you had a Sunday newspaper interview reckoning that he shouldn't be doing endorsements or anything of the sort because he hadn't won an All-Ireland.

It's a lot to take for an amateur player. Too much if you ask me. He's not pulling in €200,000 a year from the interviews he does but there was a feeling over last weekend that he's somehow public property and therefore fair game.

Lambasting

Criticism is fine. It's part of it all. But public lambasting of our young stars isn't on either.

I've met Aidan a couple of times down through the years. The first time I ran into him was at a summer camp in Breaffy. He was modest and approachable and seemed like a well grounded lad.

And having met him at different functions since, I never got the impression that he was someone who had lost the run of himself.

But that doesn't mean I can speak with authority on his character in the Mayo dressing-room or articulate in depth what he contributes to the panel.

I can't say what he does or does not bring to the team because I am not at Mayo training sessions. I am not in the dressing-room with them. I don't see how he works in the gym.

His managers are in a much better position to do that, and James Horan and Stephen Rochford have only good things to say about O'Shea. James always speaks highly of him in terms of his willingness to learn and improve.

What Mayo have learned in the last week, if they didn't know already, is that people need an explanation for everything, especially when it comes to losing All-Ireland finals.

I know that myself because Tyrone were in a similar position. We were the bridesmaids, the nearly men for many years. In 1995 we lost an All-Ireland final. The following year and went out in the semi-final.

We were the subject of ridicule for not being able to see the thing out. People wanted answers as to why we weren't getting over the line. And when there was no satisfactory explanation they would get, well, creative.

People would tell you stories about what they heard had happened at training. They'd tell you with authority that there was a row in the camp. That someone would have fallen out with the manager or a fellow player. I remember hearing once that I wanted certain players in the team.

The rumours were beyond ridiculous, to the point where you couldn't even start to tell people why they were wrong. You'd learn quickly that trying to put people right was a waste of energy.

After we won in 2003 it was amazing how things changed. Lose narrowly and they talk about this wide or that or a bad kickout or a turnover.

I remember being sent off in an All-Ireland quarter-final against Derry. I hadn't played well and walking off the pitch you could hear the grumbling. My preparation that season was no different from any of our winning years. But we lost that day and the rumours whirred. That's just how it works.

Win and all those things are forgotten. Only the good stuff is recalled, like the big score or the great save. Everything else just fades away. When you're part of a winning team, no-one is looking to stir things up. Winning glosses over so much stuff. Defeat in big games helps stories gather legs.

Mayo know that. And it's the big players, like O'Shea, who take the brunt of the criticism, in the same way they get the bulk of the praise on a good day. It comes with the territory. That's where Mayo find themselves now, surrounded by noise and what-ifs.

They can't change that until they go and win but there are still question marks over them and there are still (fair) questions that can be asked of O'Shea.

A year ago I wrote that I wanted to see him be more ruthless, like Michael Murphy. Murphy will unashamedly do whatever it takes to get over the line. When O'Shea won that penalty against Fermanagh last summer, I saw it as a sign he had gone to that place.

I still think it's fair to ask that, as a player of his talent, has he done enough for Mayo in the biggest games? I also agree with the common consensus that Mayo need to find more of a threat up front, but I'm not sure how much of that blame can be laid at O'Shea's door.

They need another way to hurt teams. Last Sunday against Sligo they converted 16 of 27 chances. That's not enough. They need to do more damage too when they do get their purple patch in games. Tyrone could do it back in the 2000s. Dublin and Kerry do it now. When they get on top, they make it count.

To the Mayo players' credit, they don't whinge. When we were falling short we had one or two fellas who looked for things to blame but I can't remember these Mayo lads pointing the finger at anyone but themselves.

I sat beside an aunt of one of their players at the All-Ireland final in 2013. When they lost, she had tears in her eyes asking how many times they had to come back and experience that sinking feeling.

But in fairness the players keep coming back, the supporters keeps coming back. Resilience is their greatest asset, which is just as well, because they'll need every bit of it.

The good news for Mayo is that after the week they've had, and with Galway on the horizon, Rochford's side will be easy to motivate as they try once again to fill that vacuum with silverware.  

Irish Independent

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