Friday 23 March 2018

Peter Canavan: Why I would love to get my hands on this Mayo team

Leadership void can be filled from within as Westerners bid to bounce back from Galway shock

Aidan O’Shea attempts to break free during Mayo’s defeat to Galway in the Connacht SFC semi-final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Aidan O’Shea attempts to break free during Mayo’s defeat to Galway in the Connacht SFC semi-final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

If I was asked to manage any county besides my own, Mayo would top my list. Okay, some of you might say that I need my head examined, but there are several reasons why I wouldn't mind getting my hands on them - not least because of the similarities with Tyrone pre-2003.

As a player who soldiered on Tyrone teams that became known as the 'nearly men', I know what it's like to cope with repeated failure.

There's nothing worse than the disappointment of leaving Croke Park with a wounded tail between your legs, and then bracing yourself for the 'knockers' to jump on your back. I can tell you it's a lonely place, particularly when you have a bunch of fanatical supporters who you feel you've let down.

Mayo now carry that unwanted tag. They've knocked that many times on the door of Sam Maguire that it's in danger of collapsing back on top of them, but it's time they realised that the only way is to just storm through the door and pull the hinges off.

Aside from having a soft spot for them, another reason why Mayo are such a tempting prospect from a coaching point of view is because of the huge well of talent they possess.

Talent, however, only gets you so far at the highest level. Last month's defeat to Galway emphasised that point for the umpteenth time.

I watched the game in Castlebar live and I've got to admit that, for most of the match, I just couldn't see Mayo losing. The problem was I think the Mayo players thought the same thing.

Read more: Buoyant Galway to see off depleted Rossies

It's easy to forget that, despite not having played well, they still led by three points with 15 minutes to go. Then, they're hit by a Tomas Flynn goal (well-taken but badly defended) and, within seconds, they find themselves trailing after Paul Conroy wins the kick-out and drives over a fantastic point to give Galway self-belief that they didn't know they had.

From here, Mayo do their best impression of a rabbit caught in headlights. Composure is lost, and so is the game.

I've since watched the game over and while there's little doubt Mayo played to only 60pc of their potential, they still put themselves in a position to win the game. They got a lot of criticism - some of it deserved, some of it a bit over the top - yet this can't have come as a surprise.

What took place over the winter has put extra heat on them. The move to get rid of the management of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly put the players firmly in the firing line, and the snipers in the stands were waiting to fire the bullets.

But the good thing from the players' point of view is they still have it within their own control to answer their critics. Have they got the stomach to?

I'd be astonished if we don't see Mayo go out and lay down a marker against Fermanagh tomorrow. In many ways, this is the ideal draw for them because their opponents are a well-organised unit whose unflinching honesty will ask questions of Mayo.

Read more: Roscommon boss McStay happy to have swapped television studio for dugout

The biggest question facing this Mayo team is where are the leaders? With the sole exception of Colm Boyle, there was a glaring absence of leadership against Galway.

Admittedly, they weren't helped tactically by the sweeper system they tried to employ and the abject failure of their forward line (their starting attack managed a miserable two points from play), but there is no excuse for players going missing.

However, I believe there is a remedy. There's an old maxim about leaders being born not made, which has an element of truth to it.

But if the second part of it were true why would armies across the world invest millions every year teaching new recruits to be leaders? They want their cadets to become leaders in battle, try to prepare them for every eventuality, and put them through hell.

I can only reflect on my own experiences. Back in 2005, we were gutted to lose the Ulster final replay to Armagh. Yet before we left Croke Park that day, fellas like Brian Dooher, Philip Jordan and Ryan McMenamin left no-one in any doubt in the dressing-room that we had unfinished business. Instinctively they stood up to the plate.

The most important thing after that was the next training session. We had to show Mickey Harte that we really meant business. And that meant turning up to training ten minutes earlier than we had before, training 10pc harder than we had before, and drilling into each other as hard as reason would allow.

The real motivation came from within and we never looked back.

You see, more often than not, the most effective leadership is in deeds not words.

Time now for Mayo to show they have the troops, and the courage, to go to war.

Irish Independent

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