Saturday 24 February 2018

Castlebar need to end Mayo's final hoodoo

Ballina Stephenites goalkeeper John Healy shows his disappointment after their defeat to Crossmaglen in the 1999 All-Ireland club SFC final (SPORTSFILE)
Ballina Stephenites goalkeeper John Healy shows his disappointment after their defeat to Crossmaglen in the 1999 All-Ireland club SFC final (SPORTSFILE)
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Castlebar Mitchels arrive in Croke Park today, praying that Mayo's dismal record in major finals doesn't make another mischievous intervention.

In one of football's great conundrums, few counties get as many teams into finals as Mayo but several have an infinitely better big-day record.

It's deeply frustrating for Mayo, whose success rate in county and club finals runs at just under 20pc over the last 30 years.

It's by far the lowest of the big football counties, leaving Mayo in 10th place on the overall title list.

They have won five, drawn three and lost 25 of 33 finals in All-Ireland senior, U-21, minor, Allianz League and senior club since 1986.


It's a miserable return, made all the more painful by having lost no fewer than ten senior Championship and League finals since 1989.

The All-Ireland final defeats were in 1989, '96, '97, '04, '06, '12 and '13, while they lost League deciders in '07, '10, '12.

Mayo's only wins were in the League ('01), U-21 ('06), minor ('13), plus Crossmolina ('01) and Ballina Stephenites ('05) in the club championships.

Mayo's '01 League win was achieved by beating Galway in the final but that season's competition was weakened by Tyrone's forced departure, due an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Tyrone were favourites for the title at the time of their exit and subsequent form (they won the next two Leagues and ended their All-Ireland drought) suggests that nature's intervention in '01 was indeed an unlucky break.

Prior to that, Mayo hadn't won a senior county title since the 1970 League.

Despite the string of failures by so many Mayo teams, Castlebar are strong favourites (4/9) to beat Ballyboden-St Enda's (5/2) today.

Clearly, the markets are convinced that having eliminated Corofin, last year's champions, and Crossmaglen Rangers, long-time All-Ireland specialists Mitchels will be too good for the Dublin champions.

That remains to be seen but if Castlebar win, it will be a huge boost to the broader Mayo scene after so many big-day setbacks.

Mayo's final day figures are quite mystifying. Only Kerry, Cork and Dublin have been represented in more deciders than Mayo over the last 30 years, but the win-lose differences are massive.

Kerry (23), Cork (21) and Dublin (19) lead the title haul, followed by Tyrone (15), Galway (12), Derry (11), Armagh and Meath (10 each).

Dublin reached only five more finals than Mayo but won 14 more titles. Cork reached six more finals that Mayo but won 16 more titles.

What's especially galling for Mayo supporters is that Tyrone, Galway, Derry, Armagh and Meath have won considerably more titles from fewer appearances in the finals.

Tyrone have a particularly high yield, winning 15 and drawing two of 25 finals; Galway have won 12 and drawn one from 21. Derry picked up 11 titles from 19 appearances while Armagh and Meath each won ten from 16 and 22 finals respectively.

Donegal and Laois, whose combined final outings are 11 behind Mayo, each won four titles. Roscommon, who reached 23 fewer finals than Mayo, are only three behind on the success scale.

Quite why Mayo display such a poor big-day record is baffling and while Castlebar will do their best to ignore such an apparent negative, it could still become an issue in a close contest.

Ballyboden will certainly be aware of it and, in the circumstances, are no doubt wondering why they are regarded as such long outsiders after winning a very competitive Dublin championship, followed by a Leinster success and a win over Munster champions Clonmel Commercials.

They will also have studied how St Vincent's beat Castlebar by seven points in the final two years ago.

In fairness to Castlebar, they suffered an early setback when the influential Richie Feeney was sent off on a black card and they also came up against Diarmuid Connolly (left) on a day when he was virtually unstoppable, scoring 2-5 from open play.


On the plus side, Castlebar picked up valuable experience, whereas Ballyboden are playing in their first All-Ireland final.

Castlebar also lost the final to Nemo Rangers in '94 while Mayo's other losers over the years were Garrymore ('82), Knockmore ('97), Ballina Stephenites ('99) and Crossmolina ('03).

Mayo's low-yield return in finals is one of the more striking features of the 30-year table, which also shows how much power is vested in the top third.

The leading ten counties have taken 89pc of the major national titles, leaving the rest with only 11pc, which was shared between Donegal, Laois, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary, Antrim and Wicklow.

Monaghan, Carlow, Kildare, Cavan, Clare, Limerick and Wexford were all represented in various finals, without winning, while Louth, Longford, Leitrim, Sligo, Fermanagh, Waterford and Kilkenny missed out on all the glamour occasions.

The failure by Kildare and Cavan, in particular, to win any title in any of the main grades the last 30 years is especially bleak for two counties with such a noted football pedigree. Both reached three finals but lost them all, whereas Tipperary (minor), Antrim and Wicklow (club) won one each.

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