Thursday 18 January 2018

Declan Bogue: When push comes to shove, a heave can lift a county

Mayo's former management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. Picture: Ray Ryan / SPORTSFILE...ABC
Mayo's former management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. Picture: Ray Ryan / SPORTSFILE...ABC

Declan Bogue

It was the night of last year's All-Ireland final that the story of Mayo 2016 was born. Or at the very least, conceived.

Don't attach overt symbolism to the date. A players' letter to the county board expressing a motion of 'no confidence' in the management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly would have been delivered a week earlier, only the panel were aware that Connelly was out of the country.

It took the group a mere week to act on feelings that had grown stronger as the season went on. Say what you want, but you have to admire their certainty and unity of purpose.

If there was a Dark Night of the Soul, it must have just been the one night.

The dictionary definition of 'heave' is "to raise or lift with effort or force; hoist.'

For players who had just taken the eventual All-Ireland champions to a replay, providing them with their greatest test of the year, it took effort, it took force. Add to that, decisiveness and determination.

For those that wonder how 'player power' is so prevalent in the GAA, it is rooted in their amateur status.

Simply put, inter-county football and hurling takes over several strands of a player's life: practically all their leisure time, affecting relationships, work and family.

When you get a highly-motivated group of men together and they can't see their ambition being matched by others, rebellion is inevitable.

There have been a few 'Great Heaves of Our Time' to offer up as evidence.

Cork have spilled a lot of blood on Leeside, with three player strikes centring on their county board's lack of willingness to cede important decisions to team management.

Then there was Cavan's revolt against Liam Austin in '99, and the Fermanagh footballers abandoning ship en masse during a miserable 2011 campaign that ended in defeat to London in the qualifiers.

The footballers of Mayo could not have waited. They watched how a 'high-performance unit' under James Horan was eroded, while they didn't feel the same warmth and respect from the new management.

Andy Moran, David Clarke and Alan Dillon are all about to turn 33. Keith Higgins is 31.

Time is running out, so a work-to-rule policy this season was not an option.

They knew their heave would initially be extremely unpopular. Judging by the reception they have got in recent weeks after Croke Park wins, it was only fleeting.

How this group must envy other counties who have succession plans and broad ideas of where their footballing philosophy is going.

Instead, the Mayo players had to put themselves out there.

In serving the papers in late September, it gave enough time to get a suitable replacement in Stephen Rochford.

To do that, displays oodles of leadership. Leaderships that produces results like in 2011 (Cork), 2012 (Dublin) and 2013 (Donegal), when they beat the previous year's All-Ireland winners. Since then, they have taken the eventual champions to a semi-final replay: Kerry in 2014 and Dublin last year.


That unfair and ludicrous tag of 'losers'? Yeah, sure. But for a referee's decision here and there, they would already be All-Ireland champions.

Down in Westport two weekends ago, this correspondent noticed an alarming lack of hype. Hardly any flags out, in a county that is supposed to go mad.

Has the 'Mayo for Sam' glorious madness just migrated to online? Is the hype just a media creation, with the Western People's 72-page and the Mayo News' 64-page supplements? Either way, the players will not be affected.

Now, with all that said, you have to ask, can they win? And the answer to that, is a resounding no.

And the reason for it, is that they are just not playing well enough. Rochford and Tony McEntee are getting it right, but it will not be enough in time for Sunday.

If there is to be 'Mayo's Year', then it will be 2017.

Can the veterans hang on that long?

Irish Independent

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