Friday 20 September 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Horan remedy has Mayo in good health'

Mayo’s Rob Hennelly makes a point-blank save from Kerry’s David Clifford last Sunday — a stop that not only rescued Mayo in the league final but perhaps saved their season as well. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Rob Hennelly makes a point-blank save from Kerry’s David Clifford last Sunday — a stop that not only rescued Mayo in the league final but perhaps saved their season as well. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

What about these Kerry jerseys? This new psychedelic design is hard on the eyes. Paul Galvin is the man responsible for a rig-out that looks more suitable for a local disco.

There was a time when Kerry wore blue as a second kit. Now Mayo have literally stolen their clothes. The Kerry jersey reminds me of the time Alex Ferguson made the Manchester United players change jerseys at half-time as he felt that they could not see each other wearing grey jerseys in the bright sunshine. Maybe that's what went wrong with Kerry last Sunday.

Hopefully Mayo celebrated their league victory long into night and day. There is a feeling abroad that players should maintain a low-key approach to the league and go home quietly afterwards. That is all right with Dublin, who have so many medals that they have enough gold to keep it in Fort Knox. For Mayo, who have strived and failed and strived all over again, the Allianz League is a chance for them to celebrate with families, friends and supporters. Those who have remained loyal after the darkest days of defeat deserve this win. That following will be even greater for the summer ahead.

At times in the past the Mayo supporters proclaimed loudly on Monday that they would never follow the team again. By Tuesday, they had changed their mind and by Wednesday were planning the next voyage - whether it was from Mayo, Dublin, London or New York. Such a bond is hard to get. At least this win was some reward for such loyalty. Seeing Mayo supporters in Dublin after a big game in high spirits has been rare, so more power to them if they lived it up. The world seemed a better place for this victory.

The exciting finish should not cloud the fact that the first half was poor with many mistakes. The second half was tense and exciting, and to almost the last minute there was the fear that Mayo would somehow contrive to lose a game where they were much the better team.

It nearly happened too. Rob Hennelly saved the day with a brilliant reaction save from David Clifford and the ball went up the field for Ciarán Treacy to provide the finishing goal. All of Mayo were shouting 'punch it over the bar' so just as well for Treacy that it hit the net.

Rob Hennelly, left, and Aidan O'Shea of Mayo celebrate following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match against Kerry and Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Rob Hennelly, left, and Aidan O'Shea of Mayo celebrate following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match against Kerry and Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

This has been a great league for Mayo. Apart from winning it, James Horan's rotation policy means there are more options this year. Mayo have operated off a hardcore of players for the last five or six years and the reluctance to change seemed to indicate that there was no new talent in the county. Now it appears quite different.

Horan deserves a lot of credit for the way he approached the games, using each match as an opportunity to throw in five or six different players. It almost looked as if teams were picked for the seven games at the very start of the league. Naturally, this meant they had to stick with it even if things were going wrong. A few early wins helped but the policy was predicated on the fact that 'old' Mayo were not going to win anything. So, credit to the Mayo management for holding their nerve. It certainly worked.

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The old hands had to sit patiently on the bench at times but without giving plenty of game-time to the likes of Matthew Ruane, Mark Plunkett, Fionn McDonagh, Mark Coen, James Carr and a few others, Mayo would not be in a position of strength now.

They also have the bonus of two good goalkeepers. I thought Hennelly felt a bit too sorry for himself after that All-Ireland final meltdown a few years ago but he has since proved his worth. He was magnificent against Dublin and last week made one of the saves of the year after Clifford palmed the ball towards goal. It looked certain to go in but somehow Hennelly got it away.

That one stop saved not only Mayo on Sunday but perhaps an entire season. How could they have faced a championship on the back of a last-gasp loss? Those who believe in banshees would think this was just further proof that Mayo were jinxed forever. Now they may even think that luck is on their side.

Not having a bench has hurt Mayo in the past. It looks different now, as having players like Andy Moran to come on adds something to the cause. If Cillian O'Connor, Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons make it back then all will look rosy in the garden.

However, there are notes of caution. Dublin gave Mayo a mauling in the league only a short time ago and Mayo could not put Galway away when they had them on the ropes in Castlebar. So making major pronouncements based on the league is dangerous.

The only certainty is that Mayo are in rude health, preparation for the championship will be easy, the players are re-energised and the natives are happy, even if a little giddy again at the prospect of a summer campaign. If we could avoid Brexit and Mayo could win the All-Ireland then it might not be a bad year. I think I would trust James Horan more than Theresa May.

Kerry really went home with their tails between their legs. There was not much in this game for them. They only scored five points from play in the whole match and their defence was ropey to put it mildly.

Matthew Ruane's goal was a carbon copy of the goal two weeks previously in Tralee. All the defenders were sucked towards the ball and left a man free inside. It happened several times.

Kerry have a lot going for them but long-term survival this year means having defenders who can mark and half-forwards and midfielders who don't mind doing a lot of covering, which will never get them their name in the paper but are essential to winning All-Irelands. Kerry have a lot of good ball players yet are short a few dogs.

The chaotic nature of their defending was summed up by Diarmuid O'Connor's goal. A mis-hit shot for a point from Paddy Durcan dropped short and the last man back for Kerry was Seán O'Shea, Kerry's best forward in the league. Goalkeeper Shane Ryan did not cover himself in glory either - he did not get ball or man.

O'Shea also got a welcome to the real world of senior football. Lee Keegan did a number on him similar to what he has previously carried out on Diarmuid Connolly. All is fair in love and war and if O'Shea thinks it is going to be anything different from now on then he needs to wake up and smell the coffee. He is a potential match-winner every day for Kerry so he has to live and deal with that. That is what all great players do.

Aidan O'Shea had another very good game for Mayo and seems in better physical shape than ever before. It was good for him to play in every league game. Yet doing stupid things, like getting a second yellow card, is hardly any benefit to him or Mayo. There could have been a very heavy price paid for getting sent off.

Michael Murphy sailed close to the wind against Meath last weekend and Donegal and Mayo would be much lesser teams without their main men.

It is mixing metaphors but people who skate on thin ice tend to fall in occasionally. Anyway, it was a good week for the GAA - Mayo deserve their time of celebration without caveats about their players or another hard-luck story.

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