Friday 19 April 2019

Not even geography can stop Mayo - Barrett

Chris Barrett. Photo: Sportsfile
Chris Barrett. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The geographical difficulties of being a Mayo footballer based in Dublin become a reality for Chris Barrett when he is staring at the ceiling in the early hours of the morning.

THE geographical difficulties of being a Mayo footballer based in Dublin become a reality for Chris Barrett when he is staring at the ceiling in the early hours of the morning.

Six hours - and nearly 500km - on the road from his capital base (where he works as a civil engineer) to midweek training in Castlebar offer unique challenges to Barrett and a dozen Mayo team-mates.

Getting back in time for training is one thing, but the toll which those efforts take on the subsequent days is another matter altogether with the former All-Star defender offering a unique insight into the problems he faces.

"It is tough. As you get older, sitting in cars after training sessions, you're that bit stiffer and it takes you a while to get recovered and the worst is the Tuesday session," Barrett says.

"You had to go down to Castlebar, that was really the thing I found the hardest and still find the hardest, that you get back at half one, one o'clock at night and you're staring at the ceiling for another hour.

"Your mind can't shut off that quickly so you mightn't get to sleep until half two some nights. You're up then again at seven for work and you're like a zombie for the day. That's what I would struggle with most."

A podcast or a Spotify playlist will pass most of Barrett's journey while the trek isn't a worry during the summer months when a bus is usually laid on for Dublin-based players to ease the burden.

With Mayo falling agonisingly short of ending their 68-year All-Ireland SFC famine in recent seasons, the logistics of overcoming such geographical disadvantages have been thrown up as a contributing factor but Barrett doesn't buy it.

"It's not ideal but that's the hand we're dealt. We're from Mayo. Geographically, we can't change it so we just have to learn as you go and learn what works better and we've been so close to doing it," he adds.

Early-season sessions in the midlands help to alleviate such issues while the disappointing Allianz League campaigns of recent years have been blown out of the water this spring with a first league final appearance since 2012.

Verge Last year's early summer exit has been used as a positive with an earlier return to training - combined with James Horan's second coming at the helm - leaving them on the verge of a rare national title, their first since 2001.

A Kerry side with many similarities to Mayo - a new manager in Peter Keane and a host of new faces - stand in their way but the Belmullet defender insists silverware wasn't their main target.

The "complete anomaly" of their comprehensive eight-point defeat to Dublin in round four was parked with developing squad depth their sole focus as Horan tried 34 players throughout the league.

Barrett laughs at the notion that Mayo are rising once again - "we're rising every year nearly at this stage, it's not as if we've risen from the ashes and risen from the dead" - but the 32-year-old is delighted with their progress this spring.

"In terms of a squad, it's the most competitive squad I've been involved in with Mayo. Even in terms of back in the day, when the thing was to get in the first 15 and if you weren't in the 15 you were disappointed," Barrett says.

"Whereas now it's to get in the 26. There's a real, real clamour to get in the 26 and there are guys who have started and then the next day they're out of the squad. So, it's got to a stage where you're happy if you're in the match-day squad travelling to the league matches."

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