Following Mayo's footballers

2013 could be our year but only if we’re ready to grasp the opportunity

AIF 2012 Mayo flag

This time last year, I did a preview (of sorts) of the 2012 football season, expressing the view then that it was reasonable for us to expect further progress this year on the encouraging start James Horan had made as manager of the county team in 2011. Aside from the rather caustic dismissal of Donegal’s chances in 2012, what I had to say then wasn’t wildly off the mark so I guess it makes sense to have another go about what might lie in store for us in 2013.

I’ve been turning this idea over in my head for a few weeks now and the more I think about it, the more I feel that next year could well be a do-or-die one for us. What I mean is that 2013 affords us an unusually good opportunity of finally claiming Sam but that, if we’re not up to the task, this chance may not come around again for quite a while. In other words, 2013 could well be our year but only if we’re ready and willing to take full advantage of this opportunity and that if we fail to do this we may have to wait a fair while for the next one.

It’s relatively easy, I know, to be dismissive of such lofty aspirations. After all, most pundits would still rate us as no better than fourth or fifth in the country – the common consensus (not to the mention the bookies’ odds) would be that we still trail the likes of Donegal, Cork, Dublin and Kerry – and logic would tell you that a team that is still a bit away from being the best (certainly based on this year’s evidence) is unlikely to land the big one. Instead – so this line of argument goes – we’re much more likely to do no more than give another good account of ourselves in the All-Ireland series next year as we simply don’t have what it takes to bludgeon our way past everyone we come up against in Croke Park.

That capability to see off all comers was what made Donegal’s march to glory so impressive this year and until we’re at a level where we too can do this, we’re unlikely to make it to the winner’s enclosure. As someone (I can’t recall who it was) remarked after this year’s final, we’re only going to win Sam when we’re the best team in the country and we just weren’t that team in 2012.

What this essentially means is that our hopes of finally winning a fourth All-Ireland are likely to rest on our ability to push on to a significant degree next year, so much so that we improve at a faster rate in 2013 than our main rivals do. In the process, this would have to mean that we would at last become the kind of team that is capable of imposing its will on everyone else in the contests that really matter next year – all the way from Pearse Stadium in May to Croke Park in September. Can we do this?

It’s not just down to us, of course, because whether or not we can get to the top of the pile depends also in large part on how the other main contenders shape up in 2013. All will once again come to the contest with their own hopes and ambitions but, as is the case every year, every team will take the field changed in some way compared to the previous year, not all of them for the better either.

Jimmy McGuinness made the claim on the recent All-Star trip that his Donegal team have yet to reach their full potential and that they have further significant progress to make in this respect over the next few years. Maybe they have but there’s no guarantee they’ll make the kind of further improvements that Jimmy has in mind. Sport simply doesn’t work like that.

Shortly before Christmas, I found myself chatting to a guy who was part of Pat Gilroy’s backroom team this year and he made the very valid point that Dublin this year lacked the kind of bite and purpose that had propelled them to glory in 2011. The inference was that – consciously or not – they were sated by their success and, Jimmy’s cultish zealotry notwithstanding, you’d have to question if Donegal will really possess the same burning desire and selfless commitment to do it all over again next year.

This is especially so given that the Messiah – who has led them preaching a rather fundamentalist Gospel compelling his followers to give 100% commitment to the cause to the exclusion of everything else – will be otherwise engaged for at least part of every week over in Glasgow. I’m sure all kinds of plans are being put in place to make sure that Jimmy’s commitment to Celtic has minimum impact on Donegal but the fact that he’s willing to devote some of his time to another cause might well raise questions in some of the players’ minds too, as they continue to hawk Sam across the Hills and keep being reminded about what great lads they are altogether.

Donegal will, by virtue of their status of defending champions, come into the 2013 race as the team to beat but this has been true of so many other champions in recent years – including mould-breaking winners like Tyrone – and all, apart from Kerry in 2006/7, have failed to land back-to-back titles. So, at the risk of incorrectly dismissing them for the second year in a row, my clear feeling is that Donegal won’t defend their title successfully in 2013.

Kerry and Cork both came unstuck when they ran into Donegal’s propeller blades this year, both demonstrating that a team that comes at them with a well-defined game plan has a great chance of taking them down. Cork’s bone-headed tactics in the semi-final against Donegal illustrated starkly Conor Counihan’s tactical shortcomings which means that even though Cork will take the field in 2013 with a team that is once again glittering in raw talent, you’d really have to wonder if Counihan is the man to get the most out of them.

Over in Kerry, meanwhile, Eamon Fitzmaurice has been fast-tracked into the manager’s job – with little or nothing of note on his management CV to date – and while this may in time prove to be an inspired choice there could be a large element of on-the-job training in it for him next year. As such, it’s difficult to gauge if Kerry will next year be able to make the kind of improvements that are necessary to get them back in the position of likely champions. Still, this is Kerry we’re talking about – a Kerry team that still boasts within its ranks some of the finest players of this generation – so write them off at your peril. Such peril notwithstanding, however, I think Sam may be too great a target for them in 2013.

Jim Gavin is also facing into his first year at the helm in Dublin but the pilot has already had high altitude successes with the county at underage level, having steered them to two U21 All-Ireland titles in the last three years. He’s obviously got plenty of talent at his disposal – with the bulk of the 2011 team still there and, despite the loss of Ciaran Kilkenny to Australia, many of those U21 starlets coming through – and if he can get them to rediscover their hunger, the Dubs are likely to be there or thereabouts for the next few years, 2013 included.

And what of us? Well, this year we were all but guaranteed a place in the last twelve (having only to get past Leitrim to be sure of that) and we enjoyed one of our softest runs ever into the All-Ireland series. Next year, by contrast, couldn’t be more different and a preliminary round clash against Galway in Salthill in May raises the danger that we could get dumped into the first round of the qualifiers, never a happy hunting ground for us.

It’s vital that this doesn’t happen and so while Alan Mulholland’s charges are likely to be much improved on this year (they could hardly be worse) we simply have to turn up at Salthill and demonstrate that, whatever about the close rivalry that has existed between us down the years, we’re operating at a higher level right now. Those with their eyes on the history books might look to what happened us there in 2007 following our All-Ireland final appearance the year before but it’s up to us to show that that defeat back then has no relevance now and to ensure we leave Pearse Stadium with the right result. If we do that, the road back to Croke Park starts to open up for us once more.

But, realistically, how far can we hope to go in 2013? I think we have to be looking to go all the way and furthermore I reckon we – and by this I mean everyone: team, County Board, supporters, the whole lot – have to take the view that this one is ours and that we’re prepared to do everything in our power to ensure that this time we get over the line.

In terms of where we’re at versus our major competitors, I think we’re really well placed to have a right good tilt at Sam next year. I don’t buy this stuff – pedalled by Joe Brolly and others – that Donegal have the potential to dominate the game over the next few years and I don’t think we’ve anything to fear next year from the likes of Cork, Kerry or Dublin either. On our day, we can beat any of them but, of course, to land the All-Ireland next year we’ll need to sort out at least two and possibly even three of them over the course of the All-Ireland series.

Where we finished up in 2012 gives us an ideal launch pad for 2013. Losing the All-Ireland hurt like hell but I really liked the defiant air that was in the Regency that Sunday night and it’s this kind of purposeful attitude we need now as we seek to build on our 2012 achievements. A bit of hurt wouldn’t go amiss either as we seek to find the right attitude to adopt in 2013 and maybe the fact that we have a Kerryman in our backroom team could help us in this respect.

In terms of personnel, we’re likely to see a few arrivals and departures compared to 2012. All of the lads who broke through to the first team this year made a major impact and we need a fresh injection of talent over the spring to see who else is ready to make the step up for next year’s championship. And, hopefully, we’ll have Andy back again before the real stuff starts, ready to lead from the front once more.

Obviously, it’s up to James and the lads to do the business on the field but the role that supporters can play in a serious push for glory can’t be forgotten either. One abiding memory I have from 2012 was how much we were outgunned on the terraces by Donegal on All-Ireland final day – their clear numerical superiority inside Croke Park that day spoke volumes for the confidence they had that their team would deliver whereas the relative lack of support for us told a very different story about what we thought of our chances on the big day.

Next year has to be different. The team needs to improve significantly on this year – a tall order but one that can reasonably be expected to happen – but the manner in which we support the team has to change too. We have to put aside all notions of defeat, we have to stop talking about all those final losses and we have to believe – really believe – that this time we’re going to do it.

It still may not be enough but I do think that there’s a real opportunity for us next year if we’re all ready to do what’s required to grasp it. These chances don’t come around too often – I’d say our last such one was probably back in 1997 – and so when they do we have to go for it with everything in our power. 2013 could well be one such year and so it’s up to all of us to ensure we play our part to help make it one we’ll all truly remember.

Comments

  1. Tom B says:

    very well written article and I do think we will go very close to lifting sam next year but it is a long road back to the fourth sunday in september.

  2. Darina says:

    Great analysis as always WJ. I really do think 2013 is ours for the taking. The 1st hurdle may be the highest. Cork and Tyrone are in the long grass. Happy New Year to all the Green & Red heads!

  3. john cuffe says:

    Every year is a do or die year for us WJ. I think the great philosopher An Spailpín from our own parish summarized it it perfectly for me with the following paragraph.

    “Mayo are the last of the top five contenders at best price 12/1, shorter than they generally start seasons. After a semi-final in James Horan’s first year and a final in his second, there are only two places for Horan to go in his third year, and all Mayo prays it’ll be the good place rather than the alternative.

    Mayo’s series of All-Ireland failures mean that the Championship for them is now a seventy-minute one, that doesn’t start until half-three on the third Sunday in September. Everything else is just a super-long League. It’s neither fair nor just, but that’s how it is.”

    That’s where I am. We blew the best chance ever of picking it up in September. We will travel a long road to get that type of run again. Mayo possess two huge ingredients…they produce very good footballers and have a great following. What Mayo lack is the infrastructure to harness that twin natural resource. I am still getting over the yellow standing out better in Croke Park analysis.

  4. Stone Cold Steve Austin says:

    We need to a new player at 6, in midfield and 3 forwards Willie Joe if we want to win out.
    Last year everything went for us. We are not better than Donegal, Cork or Kerry and won’t pass out all three. As John said we blew the chance.

  5. rober says:

    John Cuffe mentioned infrastructure, it reminds me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a Tralee man. Tralee town is roughly the same size as Castlebar, but it has 3 senior clubs and one intermediate club, ensuring that every young footballer gets a chance to wear the club jersey at all levels. Know Castlebar is very successful but can they cater at senior level for the amount of footballers they produce every year at under age level. the same of course is true of Ballina.

  6. F'deelin says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks we blew the chance. Coming home on the bus after the All-Ireland final, everyone was saying “next year for sure etc”.

    I’m at that juncture as well John. I think it once again comes down to the management on the day of the games themselves. Yes, Donegal got team of the year for what it’s worth to them. But for a good portion of the game we stayed with them, if you get me. However we were too far behind early on to get a grip on the game and it was curtains for us.

  7. Gráinne Uaile says:

    I watched replay of our semi final with Dublin on TG4 yesterday. Mayo were really tremendous – extraordinarily fast and fit. My fear is that that was due to the work of Cian O’Neill who will be helping Kerry next year. Let’s hope that Donie Buckley can work his magic too.

  8. Stone Cold Steve Austin says:

    Tremondus for 45 minutes andv5 at the end. Annihilated for 20

  9. Cc says:

    Hope mayo have good year too when is mayo and Kerry can’t wait for it who is mayo new coach next year

  10. mayo mchale says:

    As ever Willie Joe, a very well written article, though I have to say writing off Donegal, Kerry and Cork at this stage seems a brave call, while at the same time, giving our lads more than a fighting chance.
    We all want to believe, and as loyal Mayo supporters we will always travel in hope. But until we can field 15 players and a bench that’s as good or better than the opposition, we will remain the bride’s maid.
    You referred to the numerical superiority and confidence of the Donegal supporters. Well if we had beaten the best that Ulster could throw at us and put Kerry and Cork to the sword, we too would be singing from the rafters. As I see it, the very best teams always have match winners, Mayo have yet to find that player !!!!!

  11. bohola says:

    Happy New Year to you Willie Joe and to all Green & Red supporters here. This site is now an essential part of the Mayo experience. It is a credit to you Willie Joe.
    Great enjoyment had in 2012 following the team and I feel more of the same on the cards for 2013. Two senior All Ireland finals last year. The team and management must believe that this is achievable again.
    Our first league game is against Kerry in Castlebar on Feb 3. This could be a defining game for the early part of the season. Eamon Fitzmaurice is a young manager starting out and will not want to start the 2013 campaign with a defeat. Vital for him to get the Kerry support early. James Horan will want a winning start for his team particularly on home ground. This will be some game.
    Following week back in Castlebar against Tyrone. We have often been a bogey team for Tyrone and we will again on Feb 10.
    The next game is again a battle. Saturday night in Croke Park under lights against the Dubs. New manager here too. Lot at stake here. Some sour grapes still from last Sept semi-final. We must beat Dublin. After that, games against Down, Kildare, Donegal (in Castlebar) and Cork should see a settled team emerging.
    Don’t care how the league ends up as long as we beat Kerry and Dublin and develop a strong spine and some reliability in attack. Because our most important game in Connacht for some time awaits on May 19 in Pearse Stadium against Galway.
    Happy New Year everybody

  12. mayomagic says:

    Not a do or die for us next year it’s a young team it’s important Horan keeps us in the top 5 and build on that consistency

    Mayo had a great opportunity this year v Donegal and blew it after 10mins. The last two years Mayo have came along way from the Longford,Sligo defeats and we achieved alot with little or no expectations now the expectations will be huge this will be something new for Horan and the players to deal. Next year we won’t be the unknown quantity,expectations,overconfidence will probably bring us down and i hope i’m wrong but i can’t see us reaching the All Ireland final next year.

  13. Richard says:

    We’ve come a long way in two years under James Horan. Given the raw talent at our disposal and where we started from, it is no surprise that improvement was acheived, but we have made more than most had expected.
    As many have said, we were probably not the best team last year, so we still need to improve past some teams to win Sam in 2013.
    Dublin will be rejuvenated under new management with a raft of successful underage teams to freshen up their ranks. Cork will be wanting to show their true worth was the Kildare match and Kerry will always be competitive. I don’t think Donegal will have enough hunger but Tyrone could come good if young guns are given their head.
    We’re there or thereabouts with all of the above (except possibly Cork on one of their good days).
    We added a few faces to the team last year and that brought improvements but it’s harder to see any low hanging fruit left for the coming year. We could have breakout years for Kirby,Regan, McHale or others and we’ll definitely need some to put their hands up like Keane,Boyle and B Moran did last year.
    Let’s hope that 2013 finally gets us across that magical line.

  14. Dan says:

    Good anaylsis WJ, although I’d disagree in looking at next year being ‘all or nothing’.
    The age profile of our team would suggest we should be around the top table for some time to come.
    I know our county suffers more than most when it comes to thinking it’s now or never in terms of Sam, but you’d think we’d be used to being patient by now!
    There has been massive progress made over the past 2 years and the players and style of play is developing all the time. Who’s to say we aren’t about to witness more development?
    In saying that, I do agree with a lot of what An Spailpin and John say, it’s hard not after all these years of final losses. I just think I see something different in this team, even during the last final. There seems more belief and fight in them, so I’m sure we’ll be back again. But improvement will once more be needed.

    Donegal have made so much of how they haven’t peaked yet and are only in year 2/3 of their “project”. I’d like to think James Horan has an equivilant plan, maybe he’s just a bit more discreet and doesn’t want to shout from the rooftops about it.

  15. DavyJ says:

    I agree, WJ. 2013 looks like Mayo’s best chance of an All-Ireland since 1997. And for once I’ll disagree with John Cuffe; 1997, not 2012, was the best-ever chance for Mayo to win it. That Kerry team, even with Moynihan, Maurice and Mike Frank, would not have got near this Donegal team.

    Mayo had beaten Kerry – decisively – in 1996. They knew they were better, and they were. But Maurice Sheridan goes off injured, Pat Holmes is left on Maurice Fitz all day, Ciaran Mc puts 14-yard frees wide – and STILL, Mayo get it back to a point. And everybody, Kerry included, waits for Mayo to push on and win it.

    You know the rest. Among the many bad days, that was the one that really broke this supporter’s heart. It was so obvious that Mayo were the superior team, that they had the momentum, that the game was theirs for the taking. But, no. And so the ‘chokers’ tag was formally bestowed upon us.

    The 2012 team don’t look like chokers to me. When the two goals went in, they had a choice; fold, like the teams of 2004 and 2006 (and the Cork team of 2007), or, to quote a song from another sport, ‘Stand Up and Fight’. They chose the latter. More accuracy from Enda Varley and Barry Moran with crucial chances in the second half would have made the last 10 minutes very interesting indeed.

    I’ve heard and read plenty of guff since the final of how Donegal were ‘in control’ and ‘playing within themselves’, blahdy blahdy blah. Easy for winners to say now; sure winners did everything right. Right? Bullshit. They got their lucky breaks, same as every All-Ireland winner does (including McFadden’s goal in the final). Donegal have a straightforward counter-attacking system, outstanding fitness and huge self-belief. That’s all. And the biggest factor of those is the last.

    Jim McGuinness obviously knows his football and his tactics. But the biggest impact he has on his team is the psychological one. His mantra is positivity. He, more than most, knows where negative thinking gets a team. He wants nothing to do with that line of thinking, and he’s right.

    There’s a temptation to think that being negative towards a person or a team is somehow good for them; that it ‘toughens them up’. That’s grand if you’re in Kerry where there’s no history of repeated failure on the big occasion; you know that deep in the bones, the players draw confidence in knowing that other counties fear the Kerry jersey.

    But that negative approach won’t work in Donegal, and it won’t work in Mayo. There, negativity doesn’t toughen fellas up. It demoralises them. Look at Ciaran Mc, walking away after the league game after the dog’s abuse from the crowd. Mayo players need encouragement – at every turn, not just when things are going well. That means being positive in our attitude and constructive in our criticism.

    Both of these traits are evident in abundance on this site. That suggests to me that we’re getting somewhere. One thing I was delighted NOT to hear before the AIF was ‘if we don’t win it this year we’ll never win it’. That kind of rubbish helps no-one and achieves nothing. Who has lost more All-Ireland finals than anyone else? Kerry. They didn’t achieve their record by wallowing in negativity after losing a final.

    That said, Mayo need a power injection in the full-forward line. As things stand, if Aidan O’Shea or Barry Moran launch a high ball into their full-forwards, it’s coming back out with a defender. That option has got to be there before an All-Ireland is won. If the forward(s) with the necessary physique is not there in the county, then use Seamus O’Shea, or Jason Gibbons, or Pat Harte. Andy Moran is a terrific footballer but he’s not going to get any taller.

    Fair play to anyone who’s made it to the end of this post :o) WJ, thanks again for all the effort on this blog and here’s wishing you a terrific 2013.

  16. john cuffe says:

    Davy J , you are correct about 1997. Terrible final to lose and one that set Dara O Sé on the road to six. I was only looking at the present context and the lessons we should have learned from 89, 97, 04 and 06. The first ten minutes proved the 2012 class weren’t paying attention.

  17. MO2012 says:

    Mayo’s best chance to win the All Ireland was v Meath in 1996. TBH in the five other finals Mayo were simply beaten by a better side. Mayo are currently a top five side we may have reached the final and gave a good account of ourselves however we weren’t one of the two best sides in Ireland for example if we had Donegal’s route to the final how far would we get?

    Mayo are improving by the year the hype surrounding the young team is worrying one step at a time lads.

  18. DavyJ says:

    John Cuffe – fair point about the lessons learned. I was thinking the same over Christmas – that the next time Mayo reach an AIF, it would be nice to see us making the good start for a change.

    MO2012 – Donegal took the scenic route alright, but you can only beat what’s put in front of you in championship. Mayo did beat Down and Dublin in championship 2012, beat Kerry in the league semi after drawing in Tralee with 14 men the week before, and beat Cork in championship 2011. Whether we’re ranked two, three, four or whatever is a matter of opinion, but personally I don’t fear for this Mayo team against any opposition; they’re talented, tough and ferociously hard-working. That gives us a chance against anyone.

  19. MO2012 says:

    DavyJ – It is a matter of opinion and TBH i would never use league result,performances to judge a team on championship form, for example Kerry hammered Donegal in the league a different story when they played each other in the championship.

    For me the bookies aren’t far wrong Donegal,Kerry,Cork,Dublin and then Mayo and once we start fearing teams again we’ll be no longer top 5 material.

  20. toohollow says:

    There is no profit in arguing the toss of what we left behind before. This is 2013. We are as good as any team in the country. I’m sure the lessons of 2012 are well learned. We need a few new or reinvented players both to raise the bar in the squad and target/hitman upfront. Sept is a long way away. So football-wise we start at the start again, thinking otherwise could make it a short year. That said I’ve my season ticket and will be making sure I have my percentages right to have the ticket. One thing is the right answer not 132-MO-SAM.
    Happy new year. Thanks for the site.

    • Willie Joe says:

      Right on both counts, toohollow – there is no point an arguing about what we did and didn’t do in the past and it should, of course, have been 132-MO-SAM! I’ll fix it now.

  21. Roger Milla says:

    i dont agree with Mayo having to have the best team in order to win the title , you need to be the best team on the day in your own particular match and sometimes you can progress without even that ! the all ireland football championship is a series of cup ties. if we win connnacht and got lucky with the draw then we would be back in striking distance again , if we keep getting ourselves into these positions then one day we will be the best team on the day of the all ireland final . they key is to continue to win in connacht and to conmtinue to down big teams in croke park , james horan has a nice few scaps under his belt , here is to a few more in 2013

  22. Cc says:

    Mayo would Betten Donegal if Keane not dropped that ball mayo did so well to come back from the two goals hopefully next year

  23. MO2013 says:

    Mayo wouldn’t have made that come back if it wasn’t for that top save for Clarke what looked like a certain 3rd goal for Donegal. Listen lots of ifs buts and maybes in every game we weren’t good enough to win another All Ireland final time to move on and hope the next time we do reach the final we are good enough.

  24. sean burke says:

    Fair enough but couple of vital issues you left out , we still need at least one/two forwards and possibly another midfielder, thats the harsh reality .Keane/Vaughan nd Cillian need to up their game from this year too and Horan has to realise all this . It is a complete nonsense to keep playing any individual who is not performing.

  25. sean burke says:

    re Mguinness taking a job at parkhead, why would a part time job have any negative impact on his role as Donegal manager?

    Are all other inter county managers unemployed ?

Speak Your Mind

*