Confidence boost can fire Mayo to All-Ireland glory
Kerry's disarray offers a golden opportunity for their rivals to step up, writes Páidí ó Sé
THERE are those who accuse me of being too partisan in my belief in Kerry football, but I'm afraid the signs so far this year are ominous.
It's true that it's only the league, but the gaps in the Kerry team are so big and their form has been so patchy that, right now, I wouldn't have a bet on them winning the Sam Maguire.
There could well be, however, a renaissance in the west and if the All-Ireland final were played next week, I would put my money on Mayo.
People ask me every day whether Mayo are merely flattering to deceive. They are certainly in superb form at the moment and it is my opinion that all they have to do is to break through the psychological barrier of nearly 60 years in the wilderness, after which, like Roger Bannister beating four minutes for the mile, a wealth of success could follow.
I don't have to remind readers of the great Mayo teams in the 1950-'51 halcyon period, with players like Seán Flanagan, the 'flying doctor' Pádraig Carney and Tom Langan. But in football terms, this Mayo team is probably as good as they were and all they need now is the confidence and mindset to do it. As always, success breeds success and I feel in my bones that Mayo are going to break that jinx this year.
The interesting thing about this Mayo team is that the emphasis is on the collective. Too often in the past, Mayo have had a couple of gifted players and when they have bombed, the whole team has too. Now, there doesn't appear to be that reliance -- even though they have the likes of Conor Mortimer and Aidan O'Shea to produce flashes of brilliance too.
Galway have been stop-start in the league, but I'm sure they will give Mayo a thorough testing in the Connacht championship. Roscommon are another side starved of the sweet elixir of success, but at least they should be good enough to make sure that, whatever team comes out of the west this year will have been thoroughly tested. (One of Roscommon's greatest footballers of all time is army chief of staff, my friend Dermot Earley, who has been ill recently and for whom I wish a strong return to full health.)
In Leinster, Dublin have been working very hard, but I feel they put too much emphasis on physical training at the expense of ball work. If a team is not able to do the ABC things, good catching, accurate kicking and the ability to pull the trigger from 30 yards out, all the training in the world is of little use. It is quality, not quantity, that counts.
Mick O'Connell had a great philosophy -- leave the table with just enough eaten and leave the training ground before you're trained into the ground. It is all very well to train until you're at the point of collapse, but there should be a clinical self-questioning: what has been the benefit?
Tom O'Riordan, the athlete, once told me that, when he was feeling stale and listless for a period of months, he took a short break in Ardfert, near his native Tralee, and returned after a complete break from training to break the All-Ireland record in the Phoenix Park that Friday night.
That elusive freshness of mind and body is the holy grail and there has to be a proper and wise balance in training methods if that is to be achieved and reproduced when needed on the big occasion. Great horse trainers know a lot about this, as do great football managers.
Back in Munster, if Cork win the league, as I think they will, it will have immeasurable benefit for their self-confidence.
I anticipate that Kerry will be given buckets of attrition from Cork in the Munster championship and that, if they're there
at the shake-up, it will be through the backdoor. Kerry's defeat at the hands of Tipperary in the Munster U21 final last Wednesday night in Tralee is another poor omen.
I had a few players on that team earmarked as potential seniors this year. Edmund Walsh from Knocknagoshel, whose grandfather Eddie Walsh played in the 1946 All-Ireland, did well, as did Paul Geaney from Dingle. But another of my tips for the top, Johnny Buckley of the Crokes, will have to step up on this performance if he is to make it this year.
One intangible asset in Kerry that must never be left out of our assessment is the depth of football wisdom in the county. I believe that, in this tradition, the management will not be too overwhelmed by the U21 setback and, if they feel a player is good enough, they'll bring him on.
All in all, though, these are interesting times.