Seven lucky moments that suggest this may well be Mayo's year to lift Sam
Is rookie boss Rochford the lucky green-and-red general finally chosen for a smile from the gods?
Published 24/08/2016 | 02:30
Stephen Rochford could never admit it but when he arrived home from Croke Park last Sunday night and sat down to reflect on the day's activities, he must have felt an excited tingle that something different is happening for Mayo.
As of now, Mayo are enjoying a lucky streak, the likes of which they haven't experienced for a long time.
And since few All-Ireland titles are won without some good fortune along the way, Mayo will feel that, at long last, the planets are aligning in their favour.
Wretched luck hit them in several of the All-Ireland finals they lost, including 1989 v Cork, 1996 v Meath (draw and replay), 1997 v Kerry, 2012 v Donegal and 2013 v Dublin. It was also a factor against Kerry (twice) and Dublin (twice) in semi-finals over the last two years.
In all of those games, there were moments and events where the gods frowned sternly when a smile was needed.
Not this season or, more accurately not since the Connacht semi-final loss to Galway in Castlebar on June 18.
Bad luck had nothing to do Mayo's defeat that evening - they played abysmally in the final quarter and deserved to be beaten.
It left them exposed to the vagaries of the qualifiers, complete with all the risks that entails. It was worrying territory for a county with no great history of making progress through the 'back door'.
However, that's where Mayo's luck changed and, ten weeks later, they are first into the All-Ireland final and waiting to find out whether it's Dublin or Kerry that join them.
The lucky sequence is quite extensive.
Mayo could have been drawn away to Fermanagh in Enniskillen in their first qualifier game, increasing the pressure on a squad feeling a heavy strain after losing a Connacht game for the first time in six years.
Instead, the game was in Castlebar but when home advantage wasn't doing its trick, fortune intervened in the form of Mayo being awarded a very controversial penalty after Aidan O'Shea's theatrical fall to earth won a penalty six minutes from the end.
Mayo were a point down at the time but Cillian O'Connor's goal from the penalty spot sent them on their way.
"The penalty was a match-defining," said Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath.
Actually, it may have been season-defining for Mayo.
Mayo could have drawn Cork, Kildare or Longford, who had beaten Monaghan, in the next round. They would not have fancied Cork at that stage and certainly not in Páirc Uí Rinn, where they had lost heavily in the Allianz League.
Instead, Mayo drew Kildare and, once again, got home advantage.
The Round 4B qualifier could have paired Mayo with Donegal, who had come so close to winning the Ulster title, but instead matched them with Westmeath, who had lost the Leinster final heavily to Dublin.
Because of their good record against Tyrone, Mayo would have preferred to meet them, rather than Dublin, in the All-Ireland quarter-final and, once again, the ball bounced their way without even having a draw.
Donegal, who had already played Tyrone, could not be paired with Mickey Harte's men in the quarter-final, leaving Mayo to take that slot, while Donegal played Dublin.
Mayo would have fancied a clash with Tipperary ahead of a rematch with Galway in the semi-final and, sure enough, they got their way there too after Tipp upset the odds in the quarter-final.
Tipperary lost centre-back Robbie Kiely to a dubious black card just eight minutes into last Sunday's game, robbing them of one their key influences.
It was a double negative for Tipperary, who missed Kiely's defensive excellence and his attacking enterprise.
Mayo have reached the final without playing any Division 1 opposition. Tyrone will be a top-flight team next season but were in Division 2 this year.
Some Mayo supporters will, no doubt, be outraged at suggestions that good fortune has backed the comeback bid. They shouldn't.
Instead, they should welcome the clear evidence that the breaks have overwhelmingly gone Mayo's way.
The team has proven over six seasons just how good they are but they have not enjoyed much luck.
Perhaps that has now changed, in which case, Mayo have an excellent chance of ending their 65-year All-Ireland drought.
Irrespective of who wins next Sunday, they will be rank outsiders in the final, which is no bad place for a squad like that.
It would be different for All-Ireland newcomers, but this will be Mayo's third final in five seasons so they know the territory well.
Besides, they have a better record against Dublin than any other county in recent times and drew twice with Kerry two years ago before losing in extra-time, so their confidence should be quite high, irrespective of the opposition.
They have got a lot right over a long period but obviously could not influence the fortune element.
That's still the case, only now the signs are good. The adage that's it's better to be born lucky than rich comes to mind. Mayo are wealthy in football terms but have remained unblessed by fate. Until the last two months, that is.
Now, all they need is it for it stay with them for another four weeks.