Tomás Ó Sé: When the pressure came on, where were Mayo's leaders?
They have the quality to save season but Saturday's poor show has been coming
As I watched Galway thunder into Mayo on Saturday night, my mind drifted back to when I wandered down to Páirc Uí Rinn to watch them play Cork in the league.
Cork won that game handsomely and maybe it was to be expected. Mayo were missing a few that day. A good few. But, as I left, it wasn't the result that stuck with me. It was what I saw in the Mayo attitude in general and the warm-up in particular.
I saw lads laughing and messing and smiling. These were senior lads and they had a load of young newcomers with them that day.
And this was the example they were setting.
If you were a player or a manager you'd have grabbed a hold of them in the dressing room and asked what the hell was going on. Players who were leaders in a club team would have jumped on that sort of thing. There seemed to be no focus or purpose in what they were doing. God almighty, I nearly roared in at them myself.
It should have been a day for them to lay down a marker. Things hadn't gone well in Mayo in the year or so before that with a messy management appointment process that eventually saw the players oust their managers.
And in that context they went and put in a no-show in Cork in their first game back. Jesus, do they not have enough pressure on them after the winter from the media, from Mayo people and from themselves without putting in those sort of performances?
And you know that focus and drive isn't the kind of thing you can switch on and off and they found that out to their cost on Saturday night.
When the pressure came on, where were their leaders? Cillian O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea are fine footballers when things are going well for them but you'd have expected more from them on Saturday night.
In fairness, Cillian was showing for ball all night but he missed a free you'd have expected him to get. It's not just on those two however. Apart from Colm Boyle in particular and the half-back line in general, which of the Mayo players hurt Galway? They had one forward score from play. One! That's just not acceptable from a team talking about winning All-Irelands.
It was as if something else had taken their attention and it reminded me of that league game against Cork. Things were just off.
The talk during the week surprised me too. James Horan said the gap was getting wider between Mayo and Galway. Mickey Conroy, who was part of the panel until recently, predicted an easy win for Mayo over a Galway team that didn't "believe it could win".
Kevin Walsh must have been licking his lips when seeing that kind of thing. His team talk was done for him. And Galway didn't look like a team that didn't believe.
Conroy and Horan are two guys who are so close to the Mayo set-up that you'd wonder is that they way the think themselves? Or if some of that attitude had seeped into their mindset? And if it is they have no business at all in looking at winning an All-Ireland.
That isn't the respect Galway deserve. All-Ireland winners don't operate like that. Mayo have dominated Connacht to their credit. Five in a row is good going and they have been very close to winning an All-Ireland. But Christ even a team who had won an All-Ireland wouldn't be talking like that.
Last year I said Cork lacked leadership. People said it was out of order but I believed it and I still believe it but it turned out to be true. They put in a performance against Kerry in Killarney alright but they didn't cross the line and that was shown when they went down to Kildare.
I firmly believe attitude will bring you a long way in football. That if you're tuned in, the football and all the things you've been coached will follow. Galway's attitude was more along the lines of what you'd be expecting to see from a hardened team like Mayo.
They had two debutants in the full-back line. Declan Kyne was hopping off Mayo lads. He didn't give a damn about who he was playing against, reputations, five-in-a-row or any of that. He went at everything that came his way and a few other things as well.
Mayo normally have answers but on Saturday they didn't. Before Saturday, you'd always have trusted them to show up and perform. You can't say that now.
The backroom team and management will have to take some blame. Tactically, I'm not sure what they were trying to do with Kevin McLoughlin. They had that training camp in London but they've gone away from something they have been doing very well for so long and it didn't seem to suit - though you'd have to reserve final judgement on that because their attitude was so off. On another day they might carry out instructions better but it just struck me they expected to coast to another Connacht title.
I still do think Mayo are a better team than Galway. But one is having a better team, another is having the right attitude. They expected that game to fall into their lap and it didn't. It generally doesn't in championship football.
Look, this isn't the end for Mayo. Not even close. We went through the back door with Kerry. We gave worse performances than Mayo in the championship and found a way back, but it forced us to look inside ourselves and see what we could find.
In 2009, we were doing everything right in training but we couldn't do it on the day of the game. We nearly lost a qualifier to Sligo in Tralee but gradually things came right.
Mike McCarthy went centre-back and started driving forward. Other lads did too and I remember feeling when we beat Antrim that year that things were starting to turn.
In those scenarios a grain of rice can tip the scales. And then we got the right team at the right time in Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final that year and it set us up brilliantly.
Mayo can do something similar. They have the talent to come back from this even if I still wonder if they have the forwards to win an All-Ireland. Who knows, maybe they were just caught on the day.
They are still one of the best teams around. They are heading for the qualifiers and it can be the making of them.
But wherever the draw sends them, they'll have to help themselves a lot more than they did in Páirc Uí Rinn in the league and on Saturday night in Castlebar.
For Mayo, the leaders need to lead.