Saturday 18 November 2017

Comment: Scorn, not sympathy, is what Mayo footballers need to finally end All-Ireland drought

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford following his side's defeat
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford following his side's defeat

Orla Bannon

If a pat on the back is only a few vertebrae away from a kick in the you know where, then it is time to deliver a collective boot in the direction of the Mayo senior footballers.

Their latest shattering All-Ireland final defeat provoked an outpouring of sympathy and three days of national mourning that has been predictable, and entirely unnecessary.

How can you continue to feel sorry for a team that keeps finding new ways to lose?

When I said as much on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' on Monday, the truculent reaction was along expected lines.

It was not an insult, more a helpful suggestion that sticks and stones - as opposed to hearts and flowers - is what they need. In fact, it's the only pathway left towards ending this bloody misery.

Is it supposed to be a coincidence that the one year Mayo were dismissed as a beaten docket and took most criticism ends up being the year they come closest to the fairytale we all want to see happen? I think not.

Former Mayo manager John Maughan. Photo: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE
Former Mayo manager John Maughan. Photo: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE

The desire to prove people wrong is the biggest catalyst there is in sport. Think back only to the 2014 All-Ireland final when in a pitch-side interview seconds after Kerry's victory over Donegal, the only thought in Kieran Donaghy's head was to deliver a smug riposte to the pundit who had written him off that summer.

Internally, Mayo have done all they can to drag their minds and bodies into the winning enclosure.

It's not that they deserve to be there - they have earned it.

This brave and extraordinary group of men have given everything and we marvel at their guts as they serve up one gripping encounter after another, year after year.

No team has given us as much entertainment or as many memorable games. While it may be a harsh sentiment given their contemporaries are Dublin's exceptional five-time All-Ireland winners, in many ways Mayo have been the story of the decade. But it has not been enough. So we must help them.

After the latest convoluted concession of a winning hand in Sunday's outstanding All-Ireland final against Dublin, Mayo made it clear they do not want our sympathy.

Mayo don't want it, they don't need it, and in fact it is probably the biggest stumbling block hindering the realisation of their dream.

On these pages yesterday former Mayo manager John Maughan who has had his fair share of heartache, said: "We're not looking for sympathy but there have been a lot of nice things said and plaudits directed towards the team from football people around the country".

Therein lies the problem. The players nor their brilliantly stoic supporters are not the ones having a pity party. They are not the ones doing the complaining or reflecting on the 'what-ifs'.

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Mayo's Cillian O'Connor. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It's the rest of the country doing it on their behalf and it's not helping.

Scorn - not sympathy - is what will finally get them over the line and surely they have given us plenty of scope for that.

Dublin were a busted flush after 45 minutes and had played pretty much all of their trump cards ahead of schedule.

But the missed chances of the first half when they had Dublin on the ropes, the poor game management from the 63rd minute, when they contrived again to blow a winning (two-point) lead, were the warning lights signalling an imminent chronic malfunction.

Bad enough as it was that Cillian O'Connor again missed a crucial free at the worst possible time, his team-mates' inertia in reacting to the ball off the upright was more frustrating. David Drake was closest but too slow to read the break.

Two bizarre own goals in last year's final followed up this time by a third OG of sorts - Donal Vaughan's reckless dismissal being another self-inflicted wound.

However, this was a defeat like no other. And it will be the hardest to recover from, simply because they were so damn good.

Think of Tom Parsons's incredible run, first to catch and then to dispossess James McCarthy in the first half, Chris Barrett's two inspirational turnovers late on. Those were the moments when it seemed 'this is on'.

As they regularly do, they tested and stretched Dublin in ways not visited upon them all year, least of all by Tyrone in what should be remembered as the 'stage-fright semi-final'. Yet Dublin, as they regularly do, found a way to win.

The drawn final in '96, when Colm Coyle closed his eyes and punted the ball in the direction of Hill 16 to snatch a freaky - and sneaky - draw for Meath, remains Mayo's most sickening defeat. If they had won that one, how many would have they have won since?

The 1997, 2004 and 2006 losses are no barometer. Kerry outclassed them on each occasion by an average of eight points.

This current group, though, have edged closer and closer. At times the one-point losing margin in those semi-finals and finals has appeared wide and it has appeared small. Sunday's was non-existent.

They've now equalled Galway hurlers' painful nine All-Ireland final defeats which began in 1924 and ended in 1979. Know what happened the next year? They won the All-Ireland.

If Mayo are to do the same, tough love is what's needed now.

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