Tomás Ó Sé: Mayo won't win an All-Ireland unless they demand more of themselves
Published 30/07/2016 | 14:00
I was out in Westport not too long ago and I organised to meet up with Liam McHale. And over a few pints the craic started up and we swapped a couple of war stories.
It was a great night, but with a fair amount of regularity, people would approach Liam to have a chat.
No matter where we went there were people up shaking his hand and looking for a quick word on how he thought the team was going. They love football up there and they love Liam. But, as I sat there, I thought to myself, 'Jesus, Gooch wouldn't get this sort of adulation in Killarney.'
Mayo footballers are held in high regard by their public and rightly so. Football is king there as it is down at home.
But their love for their footballers is almost unconditional, even when they don't win. And I wonder does that seep into the mindset of the Mayo players a little?
That night in Westport I thought to myself that Mayo people should demand more from their team than a load of near misses and great players like Liam who never got over the line. And shouldn't this current team demand more from themselves?
That notion struck me again as they managed to whip up a storm for 20 minutes the last day. It was good enough to put Kildare on their arses. In fact, in that period they were good enough to stick it to anyone in the country.
But either side of that purple patch, they were pretty ordinary. And, more worryingly, they didn't have the ruthless streak you'd like, or expect, to see from a team that have been so close so many times without ever getting over the line.
They didn't strike me as a team who were frothing at the mouth to make up for the Galway game or a team rabid to prove that they were right to oust last year's management.
In that period of dominance, Aidan O'Shea was brilliant. He was winning ball, laying it off, turning fellas upside down like they were skittles. You were looking at him then thinking, 'If he could put it together for 70 minutes, he'd be an unbelievable player.'
But that's what you think when you see Aidan at the minute. Potential. And there's nothing worse for a player that been labelled as someone with 'potential'.
Teams look at Aidan now and they think they need to get into his head. Rightly or wrongly, they think he can be got at and be put off his game.
And you know what? People think the same about Mayo at the minute.
You saw it with Tom Cribbin this week. His Westmeath team are decent but they are not in Mayo's league. And along with Clare, they are the biggest outsiders on show in Croke Park this weekend.
But Cribbin was still brave enough to come out and say Mayo weren't going well and said they don't have the same 'aura' as Dublin.
Now, I'm fairly certain he's up to a bit of mischief there. But you can't imagine him coming out with that if they were playing one of the other big teams, can you?
The fact is that the rest of the country just don't take Mayo as seriously as they did last year or in the years beforehand. And that's not a good place for a team to be.
That's why I think this weekend is an important one for Mayo. They need to win and do it with a bit of style. Winning a game by playing for 20 odd minutes shouldn't be good enough for this side.
They should be looking to play for at least 50 minutes this weekend to show that they are improving and building towards a performance that will be good enough to take out one of the big guns.
I know myself it's possible. We were sent though the back door in 2009 when we lost to Cork after a replay in Munster. And I can tell you now it was the making of us.
We might have scraped through against Cork in the drawn game. And if we had, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have won the All-Ireland that year. We wouldn't have been given the chance to learn the things we did.
It mightn't have looked like it but we were making small adjustments and improvements along the way. In the games against Longford, Sligo and Antrim, we had our fill of scares. In fact, we were flat-out lucky at times. But we took heed of the lessons too. And by the time we drew Dublin in the quarter-final we were ready.
It was the right team and the right time. In the build-up, we were told by everyone we had no chance.
It was perfect. And that day we played with a fury that had been built up on long bus journeys all around the country. As soon as we got a whiff of blood we pummelled the Dubs for every second of the 70 minutes.
I think Mayo can do the same but they have plenty to work on. Diarmuid O'Connor has been excellent along with Colm Boyle. But after those two how many can you say are playing up to their potential?
Midfield was shocking at times the last day. Full-forward too seems to be something of an issue but I like what Andy Moran gives them. He'll at least hold up the ball and bring others into it. There's much more to come from Cillian O'Connor. They'll need it all too.
They'll probably persist with Kevin McLoughlin in his new sweeping role and you wouldn't blame them for doing that at this stage of the season.
But I'm still not convinced. That role requires a lot of concentration and a serious positional sense. Cian O'Sullivan makes it looks easy but it's far from it.
Sometimes McLoughlin is too far forward to be covering his full-backs and at others he sits too deep and isn't involved in the play.
They should have enough to win this weekend but the big test is coming down the tracks very fast. Of all the teams coming to Croke Park this weekend, Mayo have the most to prove.
Because if they are happy with where they are at the moment I can tell you they won't even come close to winning an All-Ireland
And down the line they could find themselves having a pint in Westport wondering at what might have been. . .