Wednesday 24 January 2018

Close shave in Ruislip still cuts deep in Mayo mindset


Ballintubber fingerprints are all over James Horan's Mayo team. Alan Dillon starts against London today, Cillian O'Connor could feature after working his way back from a dislocated shoulder, and Jason Gibbons has served Horan well in his time as Mayo and Ballintubber manager.

But Horan's childhood friend and clubmate, selector Tom Prendergast, is perhaps the strongest Ballintubber influence on this Mayo side. Every year in the last 62, Mayo have faced into the championship with the same question reverberating in their eardrums: 'Is this the team that'll win the first one since 1951?'

Many think this could finally be their year, so it is fitting that the direct link to that team captained by Seán Flanagan is solid. Tom's uncle Paddy was full-back on the successful Mayo teams of 1950 and '51. His father Murt and uncles Ray and Tom also donned the green and red shirt.

"I've been involved since the start," says Prendergast, "when James started in 2011. I was involved with Ballintubber when James was manager there previously. We are both from there and we both played for the club. So when James came into the management set-up with Mayo, I came in and I have been involved with it since."

Being steeped in Mayo footballing tradition, it must have been a huge thrill for the duo to take over from John O'Mahony in 2011. But what should have been a joyous occasion on their first championship outing, turned out to be the game from hell.

"Yeah, we were on the precipice that day, we came unbelievably close to losing against London. But we got ourselves right after it, we went out a few weeks later and put in a good quality performance to beat Galway and went on from there.

"It was a big learning experience for us. It is one that you can look back on now with a wry smile, although nobody was smiling at the time," adds Prendergast, who worked with Horan in leading Ballintubber to their maiden county title in 2010.

This afternoon, a hugely altered Mayo will meet Paul Coggins' side for the first time since their extra-time escape from Ruislip. "No, it wasn't an enjoyable flight home," he says of that day. "It was quiet. The bus from Ruislip to the airport was about as sombre as any bus containing a victorious team is going to be. But we did a bit of soul-searching after it I suppose. It was what we needed obviously. At the time it was a reflection of where we were.

"That certainly told us that on any given day if we didn't perform and the other team did, that we could be beaten. We learned quite a bit that day and have put it to good use. Since Donegal we've continued the general template that we've had from the start; we're continuing to work really hard, ultimately with a view of being good enough to win the big prize.

"Look we'll be expecting London to come the next day and they'll feel that they've performed against us once and they'll hope to bring something similar to the table the next day. We'll be hoping that our progression over the two years since will mean we can deal with whatever they throw at us."

Irish Independent

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