Wednesday 24 January 2018

Martin Breheny: Mayo's seven-season itch needs to be scratched

Colm Boyle scores an own goal in last year’s final. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Boyle scores an own goal in last year’s final. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Seven seasons on and Mayo's itch continues. Year by year, it has become ever more nagging, now reaching intolerable levels.

It needs to be scratched firmly and decisively, which can only happen if Sam Maguire is in the county.

Seamus O’Shea reacts to his black card in 2015. Photo: Sportsfile
Seamus O’Shea reacts to his black card in 2015. Photo: Sportsfile

Confirmation that the current Mayo squad holds the record for being the most consistent in football history without winning an All-Ireland or Allianz League title has long been established, even if it's not exactly what they want to be remembered for.

Of course, the full story is not yet complete and that unwelcome tag may be torn off and replaced with a mighty accolade for becoming the first Mayo team to win the All-Ireland title since 1951.

Who would have thought in 2011 when Mayo lost to Kerry in the semi-final that it was the start of such a lengthy period of high hopes and wrecked ambitions? Mayo weren't ready for a major All-Ireland challenge six years ago, but every season since then has offered genuine openings, none of which were taken.

They have beaten and twice drawn with Dublin, drawn with Kerry and beaten Donegal and Tyrone, yet the grand prize still eludes them. Reflecting on the past won't change anything but it can provide an insight into why it unfolded as it did, which is essential if mistakes are to be corrected.

Lee Keegan leaves the field after being sent off against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Lee Keegan leaves the field after being sent off against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

Mayo's defeats by Galway in the two most recent Connacht Championships haven't proved fatal to their All-Ireland bid so it's the other losses that need to be scrutinised for patterns.

Most of them share a common theme: a combination of errors, some of which were not learned from, and a run of bad luck that makes 'the curse' almost seem plausible, rest beneath the sad saga of why they have not made the breakthrough.

Will their fortunes change over the next four weeks or is there more pain to come? The starting base must be to eradicate the mistakes that undermined them so often. As for luck, surely it's got to swing in their favour sometime.

2016: CALAMITY CATALOGUE

Bernard Brogan scores Dublin’s crucial goal in the 2013 final. Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan scores Dublin’s crucial goal in the 2013 final. Photo: Sportsfile

Where to start on Mayo's misery list? How about two own goals by Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle in the drawn All-Ireland final? Freak scores, no doubt, but no less wounding for that. Dublin players scored nine points, a return which would have lost every previous All-Ireland final back to 1952, when Cavan beat Meath (0-9 to 0-5 in a replay).

That game was ten minutes shorter than last year's final, further underlining how fortunate Dublin were that Mayo made such a generous contribution to their haul.

Having survived that self-inflicted damage, Mayo did it again before the replay when, for some unfathomable reason, management dropped goalkeeper David Clarke in favour of Robert Hennelly, who lost his place after the Connacht semi-final defeat.

Hennelly's second-half error in the replay, when he conceded a penalty and was black-carded for dragging down Paddy Andrews after spilling a routine catch, was probably the turning point as Dublin scored a goal at a time when Mayo were going particularly well.

Even then, Mayo had a late chance to equalise and send the game into extra-time, but Cillian O'Connor, who had pointed nine frees up to then, pulled a game-saver wide on the narrow side.

Michael Murphy celebrates Donegal’s victory. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Murphy celebrates Donegal’s victory. Photo: Sportsfile

So, over the course of the two games, Mayo had created history by conceding two own goals, dropped the country's best goalkeeper and missed a relatively simple free to draw a replay.

Despite all that, they were only a point behind a vaunted Dublin outfit after 140 minutes. That's what made it all so frustrating for them as they were left with the feeling that they had been overly generous contributors to Dublin's double success.

2015: DUBLIN BLUES

Between the 60th minute of the drawn All-Ireland semi-final and the 53rd minute of the replay, Mayo outscored Dublin by 2-16 to 0-11, by far the most comprehensive period of control that any team has exerted against Jim Gavin's men.

Colm Cooper was Mayo’s chief tormentor in 2011. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Cooper was Mayo’s chief tormentor in 2011. Photo: Sportsfile

It enabled Mayo to wipe out a seven-point deficit in the first game and secure a draw before opening a 1-12 to 0-11 lead at the three-quarter stage of the replay.

Dublin were rattled. However, all of Mayo's good work was undone in the final quarter as Dublin hit them for three goals. Once again, bad luck intervened against Mayo.

Dublin's first goal came after Brian Fenton's drive was zinging wide, only for Bernard Brogan to poke it to the net. It was Brogan's poaching at its most effective but there was also a high element of luck involved.

However, Mayo could not blame the gods for an earlier incident which was hugely significant too. Séamus O'Shea, who had been playing well, was sent off on a black card after clash with Jonny Cooper, a moment of indiscipline which proved costly.

2014: LOST LEADERS

Any wonder Mayo have concerns over Kieran Donaghy tomorrow? They appeared to have the 2014 semi-final won when leading by 1-16 to 0-14 after 66 minutes, only for a goal, created by Donaghy for James O'Donoghue, ignited a revival which earned Kerry a draw.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice had introduced Donaghy to the action around the hour mark in what looked like a desperate last throw of the dice after 14-man Mayo (Lee Keegan was sent off just before half-time) had outscored Kerry by 1-11 to 0-5 in the first 25 minutes of the second half.

If Mayo were deflated by failing to seal the deal, they didn't show it in the early stages of the replay in the Gaelic Grounds when they galloped into 2-3 to 0-2 lead after 22 minutes. It should have been enough to set them up for a productive afternoon but it wasn't. The game finished level before Kerry won by three points in extra-time.

More misery for Mayo, who had lost leads of five and seven points respectively over the two games. More material for introspection.

2013: A GAME OF INCHES

The 2013 All-Ireland final was probably the biggest lost opportunity endured by Mayo in modern times. They lost to Dublin by a point, leaving them with a whole series of bitter regrets.

They were better than Dublin in general play for much of the way, strikingly so in the first half. Yet, they led by just one point at half-time, having not only missed several clear scoring chances but also gifted Bernard Brogan a crucial goal.

Despite being two inches smaller than Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly and full-back Ger Cafferkey, Brogan beat both to the punch, scoring a goal that sustained Dublin through a half where they were second in most of the exchanges. It was a costly giveaway and yet another example of an instability that has undermined Mayo so often.

2012: ERRORS BACK AND FRONT

Twelve minutes into the All-Ireland final against Donegal and Mayo were trailing by 2-1 to 0-0, having been hit for goals by Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden.

Poor defensive work had made it easy for Murphy, while bad luck flowed Mayo's way for the second goal, with McFadden pouncing after a Paddy McBrearty shot for a point rebounded off an upright.

Despite that double setback, Mayo battled back. Indeed, early in the second half, they missed three easy point chances which, if scored, would have brought them within a point of Donegal, who eventually won by five points. In effect, it was Mayo's errors rather than Donegal excellence that decided the game.

2011: FIRST STEPS TOWARDS BIG TIME

On the first leg of a journey that's still ongoing, Mayo eliminated Cork, the defending All-Ireland champions, in the quarter-final before losing to Kerry by nine points.

Colm Cooper did most of the damage (he hit 1-7, 1-3 from open play) but, significantly, the Mayo attack scored only 1-2 between them from open play. It wouldn't be the last time that problem hit Mayo.

Irish Independent

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