Friday 23 August 2019

'If I had the answers I' d have told them already' - Hanley on Mayo woes

Pearce Hanley at Ireland training in Melbourne’s Wesley College yesterday. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Pearce Hanley at Ireland training in Melbourne’s Wesley College yesterday. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Pearce Hanley smiles at the suggestion that he is Mayo's mystery man, the missing link that might have completed the chain required to pull them out of their All-Ireland misery.

He has just completed a run-out with the Irish International squad in Wesley College, Melbourne, but before he engages on the challenge awaiting them when they play Australia in Adelaide next Sunday and in Perth on Saturday week, there's the Mayo conundrum to be addressed.

If, instead of playing with Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast as a well-paid Australian Rules professional, he had been aboard the Mayo team in recent years, would it have made the crucial difference? Obviously, it's a question he cannot answer so the response is suitably diplomatic.

"It might but then again it might not. It's heartbreaking what's happened to them. Every year, they keep turning up and playing the way they do but it just hasn't taken them where they want to go.

"Mayo supporters love them but unfortunately they can't seem to cross that final hurdle. They are a special bunch of lads - I know that much," he said.


As an experienced professional, he must have some theory on why his fellow county men continue to come so close to landing the ultimate prize, only to have it snatched away.

"Not really. I haven't been around the panel. If I had the answers, I would have told them already. I've no idea to be honest.

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"What I do know is that they have a lot of good young footballers coming up through the system so hopefully they can add one or two to the team they already have, lads who can step up and make a difference," he said.

Watching this year's All-Ireland final against Dublin - the latest example of a close call that went against Mayo - was as hard for Hanley as for green-and-red supporters who had seen it all before.

"I love watching them play but obviously that (All-Ireland final) was hard. We always seem to come so close but just can't get over the final hurdle.

"There are always a lot of 'ifs and buts'. All I can say is that the boys back it up every year and hopefully they can go one step further next year."

He made his senior championship debut with Mayo under John O'Mahony in 2007 before later departing for Brisbane Lions to test his case in the AFL.

A decade on, he is still plying his trade at the highest level, now with Gold Coast, where he joined last year.

It's a tough and rewarding career but there are times when he reflects on what life might be like if had ignored the Australian option and remained at home to play for Mayo and Ballaghaderreen where Andy Moran, newly-crowned Footballer of the Year, was among his club colleagues.

"I pretty much looked up to Andy all through my underage days. It was great to see him go so well this year.

"I think it was the first proper kind of pre-season he had when he wasn't injured. Maybe that is the answer (to Mayo's drought).

"If he was that fit for the last five years, maybe Mayo would have won (All-Ireland). It was great to see him win the (Footballer of the Year) award. He's a super character and I couldn't be happier for him," he said.

Hanley (28) is just coming out of his off-season with Gold Coast, having had eight weeks off but with two international games ahead in the next 11 days, his focus has switched to Ireland duty.

"It's something to look forward to. It's the only opportunity I get to play among the best footballers in Ireland.

"Obviously, I'd love to be playing with Mayo but it doesn't arise. So playing with the other Irish lads is a great experience for me," he said.

Australia have named a powerful squad for what will the first two-game series since 2013.

"It's pretty much as good as you can get so you can see how serious they are taking it. I think they're missing only one (top star), Dustin Martin, the best player from this season.

"Apart from that, they pretty much have their best team," he said.

Australia have publicly identified physical strength as a potential advantage area but Hanley does not believe it will present Ireland with insurmountable problems.

"Australia have big boys but nothing our lads can't handle. They have done it before. Some of them are new to this game but they'll adapt very quickly."

He expects a high-tempo game from the Australians all of whom he knows from AFL jousts over many years.

He expects them to "throw their weight around'" but not to a degree that will cause any problem for the Irish players or indeed the referees.

"They will want to make a high tackling (rate) and use their physicality but we can cope with that. We've got a pretty strong team too," he said.

Meanwhile, Hanley's younger brother Cian (21), who moved to Australia in 2014 to try his luck in the oval-ball game, has been retained by Gold Coast. Reports that he was to be released were wide of the mark.

"For the first two years, he was riddled with injuries but he played last year and got a good base. I think he's going to have a break-out year," said Pearce.

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