Monday 20 November 2017

'They will come again'

More heartbreak for Mayo but Noel Connelly has no doubt that his side will be competitive next year

Mayo’s dejected Keith Higgins sits on the Croke Park pitch after the game
Mayo’s dejected Keith Higgins sits on the Croke Park pitch after the game
Cillian O’Connor steers the ball past Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton and Rory O’Carroll to score Mayo’s only goal during Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final replay at Croke Park
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

They say it's the hope that kills you but for Mayo, maybe it's the familiarity. They danced this dance before with the half-smiles and lingering handshakes.

For four years now they have been right at the sharp edge of football. In those four years they have lost two All-Ireland finals and two semi-final replays. It's hard to imagine a more cruel few seasons, but it's their reality.

The players piled on to the team bus underneath the Hogan stand. Most are moving slowly past the assembled media but interviews aren't what they want to do.

Cillian O'Connor usually obliges but there's enough pain in his eyes that it makes you feel bad for asking. They've been to this place before. Revisiting the heartache only slows the healing process.

For joint-managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes, it's their first time to the well, but for most of the side, the path is well worn. The age-profile looks good and the vast majority of that panel will be around for another few years yet, but you wonder how often they can keep coming back.

Or how much more they can give of themselves in pursuit of something that just doesn't want to be caught by Mayo.

"They are disappointed but as we have seen before, there is great character in that dressing-room," Connelly said.

"They will dust themselves off, go back to the clubs and they will be a few months away from Mayo set-up, and when it comes to next spring, they will come again - have no doubt about that.

"Most of the lads in that dressing-room are the right side of 30, wouldn't be worried about that."

Mayo were left to rue the period after they went four points up but failed to build on that lead.

"We were four points up and we were well in the game. And we ran at them quite a bit in the next four or five minutes and we turned over easy ball around the middle of the field. And at this level, it cost us," added Connelly.

"We had opportunities to go five, maybe six points up, and maybe at this level it would have made the difference.

"But look, everyone goes out there to do their best. Turnovers happen. Everyone makes mistakes. That period when we were four up, we just let ourselves down a little bit in the offensive side.

"And in fairness to Dublin, they picked it up from there and ran at us, and got the crucial goals at the crucial stages."

"You can't allow Dublin to get ahead of you, full stop. The aim of every team that plays Dublin is not to concede goals because they flourish off that, and their confidence is up and they kick on from that in most games.

"We saw that today. When they got ahead, it was very hard to break them down. They kept the ball well, moved it through the phases very well and we found it difficult to get it back off them."

With the tide going against them late in the game, Mayo suddenly looked heavy-legged. The exertions of the previous week started to exact a heavy toll.

"They did look out on the feet, there's no doubt about that but in fairness to Dublin, they had the same turnaround as us. It's very hard to put your finger on the pulse with that one," said Connelly.

"But with 15 minutes to go, we seemed to be lethargic in a lot of areas in the field.

"We only trained Wednesday night and the lads looked fresh, but inside their bodies, last Sunday's game would have taken a lot out of them. Maybe more than we thought."

It's likely there'll be some form of overhaul in the set-up. Eyes now will turn to the likes of Alan Dillon and Andy Moran to see if they'll come back for more.

The backroom could be shook up too as Donie Buckley's future will have to be sorted. The highly-rated strength and conditioning coach Barry Solan is set to join Premier League side Arsenal.

Diarmuid O'Connor will be there. On Saturday he showed that not only is he the man of tomorrow for Mayo but he's also very much the man for today. He was the find of the season for the Connacht champions with two points and another tireless display capping a fine first full season for Ballintubber man.

"The year as a whole I have come on as a player but it's a team game and unfortunately we weren't able to go a step further than last year," said the younger O'Connor sibling.

"I'll watch back the game and see where we can improve and take my mind off football for a while. We are just devastated.

"The first goal killed us - they got momentum then and we weren't able to stop them. We are devastated. I'll try not think about football for a few days and get back into it with the club and concentrate on that."

His youth means he's been shielded from a lot of the heartache that has gone before. But he's on the front line now, he has a new appreciation for what those around the panel have gone through.

"I suppose you have no other choice but to go at it again. This is only my second year involved. Some of the lads there have picked themselves up year after year for six, seven, eight years and they're a credit," he said.

"You have no other choice but to pick yourself up. If you're not going to pick yourself up and try and go a step further there's no point in playing.

"There's no point playing if you're not going to work on your weaknesses and go a step further than you did the year before. But it's going to be a tough one to take. We'll come back again."

What else can they do?

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