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Time mayo did more than talk the talk

I saw it in print yet again this week in a national newspaper. "It's a new Mayo this year." We have heard about a 'new Mayo' every few years since the late Sean Flanagan collected the Sam Maguire Cup on the double in 1950/51 and each time the great hopes dissolved into oblivion.

For a county with a perennially high reputation as a footballing force at national level, it is worth noting what Mayo have missed out on since 1951.

Mayo have won three All-Irelands in their history, but since 1951 no less than eight different counties have won three or more Sam Maguires: Kerry 20, Dublin eight, Galway six, Meath six, Down five, Cork four, and Tyrone and Offaly three each.

Why have Mayo football teams at senior level failed so often over the past 60 years, especially when we consider that their passage to the closing stages of the All-Ireland series has often been easy in comparison with counties from Leinster or Ulster?

This year, for example, Mayo had only to beat Leitrim (Division 4) and Sligo (Division 3) to get to the quarter-finals, while Donegal had to beat Cavan, Derry, Tyrone and Down.

And, population size -- which often decrees that smaller counties can never hope to win the Sam Maguire Cup -- is not a reason, with Mayo having about 130,000 people, according to the 2011 census.

The off-the-cuff image of Mayo football is that while they often produce stylish players, they seldom have the killer streak required to win All-Irelands -- certainly based on their record since 1951.

But is the reason really that precise? Why should Mayo footballers be any less determined in Croke Park than their neighbours Galway, who have taken Sam Maguire to the west six times since Mayo last did?

And, Mayo have won five All-Ireland minors since 1951 -- which is only one less than Kerry in the same period -- while they have won more U-21 titles than Dublin.

So, if, as seems to be the case, Mayo continue to produce very good underage teams, what happens when they hit the senior grade? Obviously, Mayo manager James Horan -- one of the new breed of youthful men with no baggage -- believes he knows the answer, as he seems convinced that this time it really is a "new Mayo this year".

However, it is very hard to change the impression GAA followers and players have of a particular county team. In modern times, the most common excuse for Mayo's failures is that they lack the mental strength to win All-Irelands.

This is the quality that has been credited with the rise of Tyrone and Armagh in the past decade, in particular, and, of course, Jim McGuinness feeds the Donegal players with mental strength for their breakfast, lunch and dinner all year round -- and with excellent results so far.

So, have Horan and his back-room team really come up with the winning formula? Have some of the present players who have flopped in the past really become so mentally strong as to beat Dublin and Donegal?

Teams like Dublin have really latched on to the use of psychology in recent years and, in the process, changed a group of players unable to reach All-Ireland finals into a winning team last year.

Uncanny

The comparison with Mayo is almost uncanny, as Horan too is relying heavily on the sports psychologists to change the course of the county's football history.

Then we consider Mayo's minors in last Sunday's semi-final: they were leading Meath by seven points but, somehow, managed to blow their chances as Meath closed the deal with a late and lucky finish.

So, is this a permanent malaise in Mayo football or can Horan stop the rot? Tomorrow's game should tell us. So far, Dublin have not been the intimidating force they were in 2011, so Mayo may not get a better chance.

There always seems to be a bit of controversy surrounding Mayo selections over the years and, this year, Conor Mortimer's absence for a big match such as this is the latest example.

He was, of course, the author of his own downfall by not being prepared to be a sub, but it is still disconcerting that a player of his worth will be a mere spectator tomorrow.

No doubt if Mayo win, it will be a watershed in the county's football history, as it could banish so many complexes. Time will tell.

Irish Independent