We are comfortable amongst our own. This blog is our blanket, our family, our haven. All our highs, our lows and doubts are ventilated and assuaged back into belief and faith. There comes a day, though, when we can look inward and forget that life outside our personal bubble goes on and maybe, just maybe, that the bus and journey may continue with us on the roadside.
Small things herald upcoming change. Small and appearing insignificant, are the carriers of change. Here in Dunboyne as I walk around I have a Mayo badge sewn to my various accoutrements that I wear. They badges have never provoked comment in the years worn. But since the Dublin game as various people pass me, people that I don’t know more than often, a certain refrain emits.
One word normally. It’s “Mayo” and they keep going. It’s not said with malice, it’s not said to goad me. No, it’s said almost as in recognition that those very people see a changing of the guard in the old order. My badge, my presence, remind them of perhaps this change. I reply with one word as I hail them. It’s also “Mayo”.
Colm O’Rourke in today’s Sunday Independent almost ruefully signalled this outside view of Mayo. He described some of our players in the recent League match against Dublin as “ratty”. That was fair comment. Certainly I saw quite a bit of moaning on the pitch against Dublin.
I also saw for the first time – but not from the runes – a certain moving from our once tight script. After Cillian O’Connor missed the second ’45 of the night Andy Moran came out to take number three. O’Connor arrived out after him, pulled rank and promptly put the resulting kick wide.
Small? Yes. A sign … possibly. The week before the Dublin match the Mayo manger spoke of securing six points for the league. The indications being that survival was the goal and we would then focus on what really matters. Micky Harte of Tyrone deals with that type of question with a firm “We want to win every competition we are in” style answer. Stephen Rochford couched his answer in an each-way bet.
As I drove home from Croke Park last Saturday evening I listened to the RTE? interview with him. “You will find it tough to make the semi-finals now” said the interviewer to our man. First mistake. There are no semi-finals this year but both men missed this.
Not a mortal sin but a sign that the brief was slipping from both. Rochford replied that ten points were now on offer. “Hmmm,” I thought out loud, “you weren’t saying that before the Dublin match. You were happy with six, now we have no choice but to keep the great unwashed off our backs, let’s go for ten”.
We won’t get ten, we will get the six. But not for the first time that I posed myself this question: who is in charge of this Mayo team? Rochford certainly made the hard calls, witness the goalkeeper issue for last year’s All-Ireland final replay, an understandable decision such was the poorness of Clarke’s kick-outs the last evening at Croke Park.
And yet, whilst Rochford has made hard calls, I get a feeling that we are without a clear plan as to what style we should play. We have players that, no matter how bad they play,are never taken off or dropped. A bit like Eddie O’Sullivan’s Irish rugby team at the World Cup in France.
Dublin, in contrast, roll their team effortlessly. Not doing it on the pitch … off. Who would leave out two recent Players of the Year plus a corner-back for an All-Ireland final replay? Dublin did.
I watched as a clearly hungry Kevin McManamon limbered up below me for fifty-five minutes. Four All-Irelands in his pocket but looking lean, looking motivated, waiting to get out on the pitch, McManamon personifies the gears that drive this team.
McHugh, a cub like Costello last October, took us for 1-3 the last night. I watched as Regan clearly struggled to impose himself physically for the fifth time that I have personally watched him.
I watched as a clearly out of sorts Cillian O’Connor was left on the pitch, I watched as I saw him drift back to our full-back line to collect a kick-out. Jim Gavin has warned Micheal Darragh that he is not allowed to kick the ball anymore, he is to fist-pass to a better placed colleague who can kick accurately.
I watched as I saw Dean Rock, once in there for his frees only, develop into a leader of some import on the field. I saw Dublin’s two new wing-backs slot in seamlessly as if there forever. For a second time inside a year, a Mayo team’s inept tactics (Castlebar were the other ones) allowed a corner-back to score two points and claim the Man of the Match award.
The winners in this for Mayo? Well, the reputations of the senior O’Shea brothers have risen without kicking a ball. We should be worried. Seamus is as good a battling midfielder as there is in the game but, as Fenton and MDMA clearly displayed, mobility and suppleness are today’s calling cards. Tom Parsons has slid back to his 2009 form again, his lack of pace at the very highest level once more exposed. James McCarthy from five yards behind him in last year’s replay out-sprinted Tom for a vital ball.
We can say it’s only the league. Fine. The last four league title winners? And three of the last four winners of the All-Ireland?
I am not not picking here, I am not looking for controversy and I’m not looking for war. But the sands have shifted.
Last year’s run for us is not an option. Reaching a final without firing properly until that final won’t occur again. Beating, in that order, teams from Divisions Two, Three, Three, Two and Three won’t happen again. We used up our luck.
What do I see? It’s more what I don’t see that troubles me. I don’t see a full-back, I don’t see us resolving our kick-out strategy, I don’t see why Ireland’s best two wing-backs are anchored in the corner, I don’t see why young Drake is humiliated game after game by being named and not played. We went through the same rubbish with Chris Barrett last year. Cui Bono?
What I do see is a forward line now operating like piece-work operatives. Each doing his own thing, none connected. A kick-passing strategy against Roscommon was eviscerated by Dublin. Is Donie Buckley still with us? Where has the almost violent strip tackling we had perfected two, three seasons ago gone?
Has Tony McEntee been promoted in the field as lead tactician? Peter Burke has stepped up as a selector. Should he not be better off dealing with our kick-out issues? James Horan set the bar high after 2011 when he brought in Cian O’Neill and Donie Buckley. We are lacking a fresh tactical face in there.
Jim Gavin in his interview after the match against us for once dropped his excellent mask. Replying to a question about the amount of space his team were afforded by Mayo, Gavin replied that in the three previous games Dublin had come up against very good tight defences and were hemmed in from cutting loose. “Tonight” he said “we had space to try new things”.
Devastating. Winning an All-Ireland has enveloped our very lives since we first breathed green and red air. Let’s be very careful that in looking at that Golden Fleece we don’t squander the hard-won reputation we have garnered since 2011. That beating by Dublin wasn’t an aberration. It was a warning.