Saturday 16 December 2017

Alan Brogan: Mayo need to circle the wagons but I fear their time has passed

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford.
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

My Kerry connections on my mother's side are well known, but not many people will be aware that I have strong family connections to Mayo as well.

My dad's parents are both from Mayo and my second cousin, Pádraig Brogan, played for the county in the 1980s. I have many childhood memories of playing on the banks of Lough Conn just outside Foxford.

So, in common with a lot of GAA people around the country, I would genuinely like to see Sam Maguire spend a winter in that neck of the woods. But winning an All-Ireland doesn't work like that and if anyone in Mayo or elsewhere thinks that they are 'too good not to win an All-Ireland' well, they'd better think again. A stone-cold temperament and steely resilience in times of adversity will be required many times throughout the year.

Losing to Galway last weekend isn't the end of the world, it's not even the end of the summer. Lee Keegan and Co have a bucket load of Connacht medals and, not unlike Dublin from 2006 onwards, all that matters to them is the Celtic Cross.

My fear is that this Mayo team's time may have passed. As I say, losing to Galway is not the problem, it's the manner of that defeat that concerns me. Galway are no world beaters by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I don't expect them to beat Roscommon in the Connacht final. Maybe Mayo's semi-final loss to Dublin last year was one defeat too many for the great stalwarts like Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle and Andy Moran to go to the well once more and find the desire necessary for another push.

In the replay last year when we hit our purple patch after Bernard's goal, Colm Boyle came back to mark me. Sensing the energy had been sucked out of him, I tagged him aggressively for the kickout. He didn't react, which isn't like him. This guy is a fierce competitor who never takes a backward step, but after that goal he did and I knew Dublin had broken Mayo's spirit. Three or four minutes later he was taken off. In normal circumstances, Colm would sow it back into me twice as hard.

Against Galway, when the game was in the melting pot after a good period for Mayo, the Tribesmen scored a goal from nowhere and there was no response from Mayo. Again, it looked like their spirit was broken. Maybe they lost the heart for the battle.

I hope I'm wrong and we see Mayo back in Croke Park this summer, but they need to get back to basics and work as hard as they can over the next few weeks - that is presuming there is not something inherently wrong in the camp.

After the management fiasco last year, I wouldn't be sure all is 100 per cent in terms of Stephen Rochford's control over the team. I have seen nothing from Mayo from a tactical perspective to persuade me that anything has changed.

Mayo will get a couple of games in the qualifiers to regroup, but they will need to show huge resilience and belief to come back from here. It's a great opportunity to galvanise and develop the siege mentality that could take them a long way. Now is the time to stay closer than ever and fight like hell for their county.

I don't expect Dublin to suffer the same fate as Mayo today, although Meath will battle as hard as they can and have some young blood in there which bodes well for the rejuvenation of the Meath-Dublin rivalry that has petered out in recent years.

Six years on from Dublin's humiliation in Croke Park when Meath put five goals past us, the Royals have hardly been on the radar. Most of the current crop of Dublin players now rely on guys like myself or older to relay tales of great Dublin-Meath games. Most have probably never seen the great games of 1991 which I watched on video when I was a kid. Jim Gavin will no doubt try to use this rivalry as a tool to motivate the Dubs against any complacency.

Meath are a proud football county and will be hurting that Dublin have dominated the Leinster limelight for so long. Whether they have the players to do anything about it now remains to be seem, but expect bodies to be put on the line from Mickey Burke and the like; expect direct running from Graham Reilly and Eamonn Wallace; and Mickey Newman is always good for a few scores.

Ironically, Meath's problems today may stem from the frailties Laois exposed in the Dublin defence three weeks ago. You can be full sure Dublin will have worked relentlessly to cut out the opportunities which coughed up two goals in Nowlan Park. The origin of those goals will have been reviewed very closely by Jim and his players to ensure lightning doesn't strike twice.

Dublin will not concede the middle to any Meath runners; Cian O'Sullivan and Brian Fenton will protect this central channel at all costs and I'm predicting this will result in normal service resuming and a clean sheet for Stephen Cluxton.

The wide open spaces of Croke Park will be a welcome change from the tighter Nowlan Park and I expect the likes of Bernard, Kev Mc and Paul Mannion to get change from the Meath full-back line and deliver the scores for the Dubs.

A great decision by the Leinster Council to put the throw-in back was welcomed by the fans, but maybe not by the players. It will be a long day waiting for the game, with the emotional distraction of Ireland's match as well.

Both management teams face a challenge on how best to deal with this and ensure players don't expend too much mental energy in the build-up to the game this evening. Throw-in could never come quick enough for me when I played and wishing the day away can cause some mental fatigue. But I don't expect it to impact the result whatsoever.

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