Tuesday 11 December 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Sour Mayo mood is a sign of decline

Relegation scrap will not define season but they still desperately need to unearth new players

‘The biggest concern has to be Lee Keegan as his dislocated shoulder rules him out of the opening May date with Galway’. Photo: Sportsfile
‘The biggest concern has to be Lee Keegan as his dislocated shoulder rules him out of the opening May date with Galway’. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Sometimes I feel like a dog howling at the moon when it comes to the GAA. The last couple of weeks have thrown up a lot of issues which would test the patience of Job, a man noted for perseverance in the face of overwhelming hardship. The GAA has many of this type.

To start. Why could the times for the club finals in Croke Park not have been moved to ensure that the football and hurling finals did not clash with the big game in Twickenham? The country watched the rugby and it was only the very loyal supporters of the four teams who showed up in Croke Park while the viewing figures on TG4 also suffered. Would evening games under lights not have worked much better?

Then there is the whole promotion of the club finals. On occasions in the past I have written about Fáilte Ireland and how they do not know that the GAA exists. It does not seem to be on their radar that one way of giving foreign visitors to this country an authentic experience is to encourage them to go to a big match in Croke Park. The St Patrick's festival is an ideal opportunity to give the thousands who are around Dublin at this time an exposure to the national sport.

Whenever I travel abroad I always like to tie it in with some sporting event and I'm sure that there are plenty in Dublin for St Patrick's Day who could be encouraged to attend football and hurling matches. I don't know whether it is the GAA or Fáilte Ireland who are at fault but you have to work hard on the Fáilte Ireland site to find out that the GAA exists, never mind that it is the national sport. They obviously have decided that it is a hidden gem and want to keep it well hidden.

Now to the leagues. I'm amazed that there is a not a complete outcry from counties who have to play out of sequence this weekend in order to facilitate the finish of the leagues. For what? So as to leave April free for clubs? As if that is going to happen anyway. To ensure fairness in the competition the games should have been played in their proper order even if it meant losing a Sunday.

The Croke Park angle on this is that the final game may be of no consequence and this has not been challenged. Take Division 2, for example. Meath, on three points, were supposed to be playing Louth, who are already relegated, in this round with a final game against Down, who are on four points. Down should be playing Tipperary in this round but that match has been shelved, Tipp play Cavan today.

Most people do not understand what is happening but if Meath had played Louth as they should, and won, it would leave the last game against Down a different proposition. As it is, if Meath and Down draw, the postponed games will have to be played anyway as there are implications for several others in terms of relegation. Doing it in the order today is unfair and completely wrong.

There are other permutations at the top of the division in terms of promotion but a smart-arse way of doing something like this should have been resisted by all who are involved. Louth, Meath, Down and Tipperary county boards should have insisted on completing their fixtures in the proper way.

In the top division the continuing travails of Mayo is a bit like Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, it just runs and runs and plays itself out in front of big crowds at every venue. The Mousetrap is going strong for 66 years in London and Mayo have a similar long-running experience. For many years Mayo have been a constant like the North star in Division 1 and after the poor showing against Tyrone last week they face Donegal in the last-chance saloon, the loser heads south.

At this stage of their careers the Mayo players should not worry in the least about today's game. What difference does it make if Mayo are in Division 1, 2, or 3 next year. That is a lifetime away and it won't bother many of the present players anyway. Their race will be run by the time the harvest moon appears. If there is no Sam then staying in Division 1 is the least of their worries.

Mayo must gamble that the championship and May 13 against Galway will define their season. There is hardly any chance this year of going around the houses, so winning Connacht is the best way to the Super 8. On the basis of current form that is a long shot anyway and the fall-out from last week's defeat could have repercussions down the line.

The biggest concern has to be Lee Keegan as his dislocated shoulder rules him out of the opening May date. Cillian O'Connor could yet also find himself sidelined with a bad hamstring injury, and the absence of these two might hole the Mayo ship below the water line.

In this league Mayo have gone fishing but no outstanding forward has put their hand up. Maybe they should try and get Diarmuid Connolly a job in Westport as he seems to be surplus to requirements in Dublin. Stephen Coen could fill a half-back position and when Patrick Durcan reappears he could move forward, while the return of Keith Higgins and Chris Barrett will add a bit of speed and steel. Yet even at that there is a great need for an injection of new blood, Mayo cannot hope to win with the same players doing the same thing again and again. The absolute definition of groundhog day.

An old warrior can get a new lease of life when a young voice appears. The difference between the life experiences of a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old is considerable and nothing makes a seasoned player laugh more than listening to the exploits of a younger group. And there will be plenty of times when they say to themselves, "did that young fellow really say that?"

So the thing for Mayo now is not to panic and take today's match for what it is, a league game in March which will not define any player and certainly not Mayo. The mood of the Mayo players recently has been cranky and confrontational which is a sign of decline and a break after today is needed to get away and prepare quietly for the big test ahead. This has been a bad league for Mayo no matter what happens today, poor performances, losses, sendings-off and a snarling approach. At times it has looked like a team falling apart. The good news is that it is not too serious.

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