Mayo suffered one of the worst defeats in their history in Castlebar against Dublin on Saturday. The 14-point margin in itself was bad enough but even more depressing for the huge home crowd was the manner of this debacle.
Having failed to win an All-Ireland from three glorious opportunities in recent years, the one thing that could help the team to eventually finish the All-Ireland deal was maintaining confidence.
The players, and indeed the followers at home and around the world, needed to know that they had the belief to go that one step further and it had to be done this year because several of the players must be reaching the end of their tether, if not on age grounds certainly because of wear and tear over several hard years of training and games.
But where is the word confidence in the Mayo football lexicon after Saturday night? The team and practically all the individual players on the field were totally demoralised with as comprehensive a defeat as we have seen between two teams in the top five in the country.
Mayo were simply atrocious and I hope Mayo people really accept that because relying on excuses or how brilliant Dublin were is just escapism. There is no excuse for the way most of the Mayo players played in this game.
They must have known that Dublin were badly stung by criticism over the past few weeks regarding their performances and that a good team like Dublin would react. The recall by Jim Gavin of several top-class players such as Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn showed that Dublin were on a serious mission and that is the way they played.
They simply destroyed one Mayo player after another in the opening quarter to such an extent that they scored a staggering 1-5 in just six minutes from the 6th to the 12th minute and the game was over as a contest even at that stage.
There was never the slightest chance of a revival from Mayo and if anything they went from bad to worse as Dublin rattled in another 1-5 in the space of 14 minutes this time. So where do Mayo go from here bearing in mind they also lost another home game against Tyrone recently?
Well, some myths were debunked from the start including the notion that Mayo had a powerful panel of players. They did not have one last year or in the two previous years and their lineout on Saturday proved this without any doubt. Which means that Mayo will line out practically the same players for summer football this year as operated under James Horan. It looks as if they have no alternative.
Contrast this with the Dublin situation where they have at least half a dozen players who while not as good as the best 15 still have pivotal roles to play in the big upcoming championship games. They have been used judiciously in this league to give them self-belief and it is paying off.
McManamon, Bastick, Kilkenny, Brady, and Rock are typical examples proving beyond doubt that these ‘reserves’ are improving all the time and providing Dublin with the strongest panel in the country.
Mayo do not seem to have many reserves capable of matching regulars when required. So when joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes survey the wreckage of this latest defeat they are more likely to resort to revamping the lineout of the team from last year but with the same personnel.
An obvious such switch is moving Aidan O’Shea to full-forward and redrafting the Mayo attack around that move. The common belief in recent years has been that the full-forward line was lacking in power so something will surely be done to rectify that.
But of course there are risks to changing the sort of settled team Mayo have had and serious repositioning can backfire as well. And that is the dilemma now facing Mayo mentors, players and supporters – whether to broadly stick with the team of last year that went so close to beating Kerry or to revamp the team in an effort to restore confidence and instill fresh enthusiasm. Saturday’s result seems to have made such a development almost inevitable.
For Dublin, this was their most important result since being beaten by Donegal last August.
They played like real competitors on Saturday, showing ruthless efficiency in even the minutest thing like winning the hard contests, reading the game superbly and quite simply showing far more ruthless determination in every single aspect of the play as required. This is not rocket science but seemed to be beyond Mayo.
Where Dublin are ahead of Mayo at the moment is in their panel strength. They can experiment in the knowledge that the players being used are almost as good as the hardened warriors like Bernard Brogan, Cluxton and O’Carroll. Clearly, Mayo do not have that luxury.
There has been a lot of talk in the past couple of years about burnout in Gaelic football in particular and it usually refers to the abuse through over-playing and training of players between the ages of 17 to 30.
But in the past year or so there has been a trend of senior inter-county players walking away from county panels and one wonders if it is really burnout that is the problem – or could it be disillusionment with the current inter-county system?
Leitrim’s star player Emlyn Mulligan is currently taking a year off from the game which is a colossal blow to his county. Last week two members of the Cavan panel pulled out halfway through their league campaign.
Already there is talk of several leading players heading for America in the next few months.
Remember all the hullabaloo there was about a handful of players trying their luck at Australian Rules in recent times – well the drop-out rate among regular team members around the country is far more serious and looks likely to continue.