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Vincent Hogan: ‘It’s all about the winners – everyone else is just an add-on’

Mayo have been accused of surrendering to a sense of Mardi Gras before previous finals, is there any palpable sense that it's different this time?

JOHN MAUGHAN: "It's definitely different. Maybe the supporters have hardened and matured a little. With the exception of bunting and a few flags out of cars, I haven't seen any of the crazy stuff this time. Cows aren't being painted, they're being allowed graze in their natural colours!"

So is there an element of role reversal here then, a sense that all the hullaballoo this time centres on Mayo's opponents?

JOHN O'MAHONY: "I detect a big difference in Mayo now. I suppose the supporters have walked down Jones' Road disappointed so many times, now they want to hold in their emotions until the final whistle."

All that stuff is outside the control of a manager anyway, isn't it?

JM: "You've no control over it whatsoever. Jim McGuinness would already have discovered that with the homecoming row in Donegal. He was in fairly quickly to nip it in the bud, but the damage had been done."

JOM: "The other thing that is slightly different is that this team is based around the U-21 side that won the All-Ireland in '06. So they have already won an All-Ireland, albeit an underage one. That makes them different to most of the other Mayo teams in this position."

In '89, Mayo famously tried to keep reporters off their flight to Dublin, only to discover a journalist on board. Did that sum up how impossible it is to control the hype?

JOM: "It is impossible. It came in a wave that time and you couldn't prepare for it because it hadn't happened before. I remember the old dressing-rooms in McHale Park. You had 30 in the panel, so we used the two rooms. But, after training, it was impossible to get from one dressing-room to the other.

"For the last three weeks, there was two or three thousand at every training session. So there was that feeling of preparing for something that no one in the county had prepared for in 38 years. It's much different now."

The '96 defeat to Meath seemed to have an awful impact psychologically on the county.

JM: "It did. Immediately after the drawn game, I remember just an emptiness. We had blown it. Coming out, you're thinking about how you're going to pick these guys up for the replay. We came down on the train that Monday and that was what we were trying to figure out.

"Psychologically, these guys had to be damaged by the manner in which Meath came back. And someone suggested getting in Hika Reid, the former New Zealand rugby hooker, who was coaching in the UK. Just something different to freshen things up. So he flew in to Knock, we gave him the whistle for the weekend and he did lighten the load somewhat. But, look, that was the hardest one. That's the one that got away."

JOM: "I think if ye had won in '96, Mayo would have won another. I know in Galway, we wouldn't have won in '01 if we hadn't won in '98. The real plus was once you got the momentum going again and got closer to the final, these guys knew they'd done it before."

Does the memory of that ball bouncing over the bar to draw the first game with Meath still haunt you John?

JM: "Oh it does, it still hangs over me. Then Liam (McHale) getting sent off the next day, you just end up feeling the fates might be conspiring against you. Liam was arguably our best player, Man of the Match in the drawn game. To lose him so early was an absolute disaster."

You were both involved in the 1983 U-21 win as manager and player but by the time Mayo made the senior final in '89, John (Maughan) your inter-county career was effectively over. How frustrating was that?

JM: "It broke my heart. Here I was at 26 and the thing had just been taken away from me. We played Longford in a challenge around May and I played quite well. But I just had this little thing bothering me in the knee and thought this is the perfect time to get it done, so I'd be available for the championship.

"I went in for what I thought was a pretty routine operation and, unfortunately, it didn't go too well."

So you end up managing Clare to a fairytale Munster title just three years later and you John (O'Mahony) guide Leitrim to the Connacht title in '94? Were those experiences reaffirming in terms of what sport can do for a small community?

JOM: "Absolutely. If you win a Connacht title in Mayo or Galway, you don't know where the cup is the day after. But we all met in Jimmy's of Dromid the day after Leitrim's win, the national press were there and the bus was ready to tour the county."

JM: "I had the same experience in Clare. I came home after the Munster final and was in bed at 12.0 that night. The landline started ringing the following morning at eight. Eventually I think Noel Walsh got through to me. 'Where are you?' he asked.

"I said, 'I'm here in Galway.' I had the Monday off. He said, 'You'd better get down here, this place is gone absolutely crazy.' That was about midday.

"So we drove down and I don't know how many thousand people were around the West County Hotel. It had galvanised the whole county. We took off on this tour that took about 48 hours. I remember coming into the likes of Kilrush and Kilkee in the early hours of the morning.

'll never forget looking down off the stage and seeing a mother with a buggy at half two or three in the morning. It was mad."

When you (John Maughan) then guided Mayo to the final of '96, was that sense of marvellous innocence from '89 still there?

JM: "Oh it was. I had that sense. And I felt embarrassed afterwards. I felt almost apologetic towards the people of Mayo. Six points up with about 15 minutes to go in the drawn game. The feeling you get after a defeat like that is absolutely horrific. The previous two weeks, you've slept very little. You're emotionally drained, your brain is working overtime.

"And once the game is over, you're absolutely spent."

JOM: "It's all about the winners, everyone else is just an add-on."

JM: "Exactly. And you really feel embarrassed going into the lunch they used have for the finalists on the Monday. You didn't want to be there. I wished we could just kind of have limped back into the county after and hidden."

Had you got a sense of history weighing on the players?

JM: "No I never got that impression from any of them. But Mick O'Dwyer talked about wishing he could have taken Kildare out of the county for 10 days before the '98 final. And I certainly felt, in hindsight, if I could have put them into a boat, headed for Inishturk and just switched off everything, it would have made a huge difference. I genuinely feel that."

Hence you took them to Maynooth College the weekend of the '97 final?

JM: "Yeah I did. I don't know if it made any difference. We were always conscious that you'd have a huge crowd gathering in the team hotel and you wouldn't be able to move. You feel almost as if they'll have their football brains polluted in advance of the final.

"So that was my thinking in getting them down to that kind of monastic scenario in Maynooth. Look, I've heard people saying that maybe it wasn't an appropriate place to stay. I had no difficulty with it. I slept well. I felt it was fine."

Then, in '98, John O'Mahony's Galway beat Mayo in Connacht and end up going all the way to win the All-Ireland.

JM: "Oh I was hurting. Not that it was Galway, as a Connacht man I'd be thrilled to bits they won the All-Ireland. But Galway went up and stole the plaudits."

John, in Galway did you find a psyche discernibly different to the Mayo one?

JOM: "Well, the Wednesday night before the '98 All-Ireland final, it was an open session in Ballinasloe and only about a couple of hundred people showed up.

"And all of them were waiting to meet the county secretary to get tickets. They weren't there to get autographs. There was no-one out on the field. I remember saying to somebody at the time 'This is absolutely fantastic...'"

That kind of sums up how, in Mayo, it's football or nothing, doesn't it? The following year, John (Maughan) you were chaired off the field on supporters' shoulders after beating that Galway team in Tuam?

JM: "That's right and, again, that little bit of craziness had started. The cheering and shouting and yahooing. It is well-intentioned, but a little bit embarrassing."

So to the game, how will Mayo cope with the Donegal system?

JM: "The big thing is what do you do with Mark McHugh. I had Mark in NUIG for Sigerson and he was very, very ordinary. A lot of guys in Donegal say that, if you went to a club championship game up there, he wouldn't stand out. But he's got a fantastic football brain.

"I would sit a player like Donal Vaughan right up on him, put McHugh defending."

JOM: "I've never seen a team break so quickly from defence. The challenge for Mayo is to deal with that. They're going to have to impose themselves early on the game to do it."

JM: "Absolutely, the start is crucial. If Donegal get a lead, they'll lock up shop."

Should Conor Mortimer have stayed?

JM: "He should have. I advised him to stay."

Would you have gone after him to come back?

JM: "I certainly wouldn't go after him, no. He made his decision and walked away. It's a shame. I must admit I feel for the guy because I know he's hurting this week. He has to be. Above anybody, he would love this week."

JOM: "He would, yeah. I'd be of a view that a player should never walk out in the middle of a championship. But it's important to say, we don't know what went on behind the scenes."

What would it mean to see Sam Maguire coming here?

JM: "I don't know. I honestly don't know how I'd feel. I mean I had a fantastic feeling coming home after the semi-final. I was rocking, buzzing immediately after. So how would I feel if they do this? Obviously over the moon, thrilled to bits, whatever... I'd be emotional, no doubt about that."

JOM: "It would change the county. And it would change the lives of the players and management. I saw it in Galway. It puts you in a new direction and opens up all kinds of possibilities."

JM: "Sure aren't you the proof? Got the soft job up in Dublin, didn't you!" (laughing)

Irish Independent