Saturday 25 January 2020

Comment - It is simply ludicrous to question Mayo's bottle

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor runs out ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mayo's Cillian O'Connor runs out ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The same result, but this is not the same Mayo.

Everything from "that's their last chance" to "they must be cursed" to "there's three certainties in life: death, taxes and Mayo losing All-Ireland finals" has been thrown at them in the last three days.

Post mortem after post mortem speaks of their demise, with some even ludicrously questioning their bottle. Show me another side who could respond in similar fashion to the concession of three horrible sucker punches over two games.

To conjure a draw the first day despite two freakish own-goals, coming from five down to level before later battling back from three behind to draw with a last-gasp Cillian O'Connor point, is an extraordinary feat.

And to bounce back from Rob Hennelly's unfortunate blunder to come within an O'Connor free of forcing extra-time on Saturday evening again shows their fighting qualities again. No-one can possibly question their bottle.

In the past they were undone by slow starts in finals, not producing their best and being filled with regret that they'd have to wait at least 12 months for the opportunity to atone.

The only thing they could regret in this case is the result. They couldn't have done much more between the white lines, leaving everything on the pitch and dying with their boots on.

To question their character after pushing what many regard as the greatest team of the modern era to the brink twice this year is ludicrous. All that's standing between them and their destiny is a magnificent Dublin side.

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Twenty-nine games unbeaten, they're a once in a generation side, yet Mayo have come within a hair's breadth of taking them out two years running.

Contrastingly, the current Kerry crop have fallen to the Dubs four times in succession, with no championship win against them since 2009, but their substance or quality is rarely questioned, whereas Mayo's 65-year barren spell makes them an easy target.

This side is not crippled by history, however, and if anything, they've made the Dubs look fallible, something few others have achieved since Pat Gilroy broke their 16-year wait for Sam Maguire five years ago.

With six straight semi-final appearances, making three of the last five finals, Mayo have been consistently brilliant this decade and having come closer than ever before to their holy grail, this defeat can galvanise them rather than breaking them.

Last winter they were in turmoil and pelted from all angles when player power forced the resignation of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes but that was a statement of intent.

They knew what they wanted, where they wanted to go, and despite not reaching their destination just yet, that doesn't make them any less honourable.

And they're now in a strong position heading into the off-season. Vibes around the squad suggest delight with Stephen Rochford's set-up and they head into 2017 with renewed optimism regardless of the replay result.

Quite what Rochford was thinking by introducing Hennelly as an 11th hour replacement for All-Star-in-waiting David Clarke is unknown - the X-factor was needed at the other end - and it backfired badly, but for people to say they're never going to win an All-Ireland is the easy option.

They have a brilliant half-back line, led by Lee Keegan, who inspires all around him, while Cillian O'Connor (24) and younger brother Diarmuid (21) will only get better.

While they are admittedly missing that marquee forward who can regularly kick three four points from play or convert a goal from nothing, they have so much in their favour, and this year's All-Ireland U-21 success, following on from their minor win in 2013, is just what the doctor ordered.

Getting more from Aidan O'Shea, who has been peripheral on the biggest days and needs to remove the moniker of 'quarter-final king', is key, but adding in the likes of Evan Regan, Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus can only help their cause.

Anyone questioning their ability to bounce back should take note of Hennelly's heartfelt Instagram post yesterday

"What I was expecting to be one of my best days turned out to be the opposite, and it breaks my heart that I didn't come through for my team and county," he said. "It is not a good place to be, but I know I have to come back from it.

"I still believe I have something to offer this team and my county, so now is not the time to relent. I don't know where I'll be in a year's time, but I do know that I'm not going to give up. I love Mayo and this team too much to do that."

And Mayo won't give up. They didn't win, but all is not lost.

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