When all beside a vigil keep,
The West’s asleep, the West’s asleep –
Alas! and well may Erin weep
When Connacht lies in slumber deep
Mayo are as famed for their skilful and talented pool of Gaelic footballers as those footballers are for falling at the final hurdle. This year alone has seen four Mayo teams lose All-Ireland finals to either Dublin or Kerry opposition, one of whom they will play in the Senior All-Ireland final next month.
Junior and intermediate club titles went to the Kingdom. Castlebar were completed dominated by Ballyboden St. Enda’s on St. Patrick’s Day, courtesy of one of the finest displays ever witnessed at HQ from Bob Dwan. In addition, just three weeks ago, they lost the Junior All-Ireland final, for the second year on the bounce, again to Kerry, shipping 2-18 on both occasions.
A glut of goals snatched the U-21 title from Cork for some respite, having beaten Dublin in a thrilling semi-final with an injury-time winner. They’re not afraid of the Dubs in semis mind you, holding out to win by three in 2012 despite being nine points ahead with 20 minutes left to go. Who can forget Ciarán McDonald’s masterclass to eke out a victory in 2006, overcoming a seven-point deficit?
The past two years have seen them knocked out after replays, to the eventual champions, when it looked for all intents and purposes that they “should’ve won first day out”. They were playing cracking stuff, just not getting over the line.
Which brings me to my point – Mayo can never do it when they should. They should’ve beaten Meath in 1996. Early blitzes by Kerry (2004 and 2006) and Donegal (2012) dashed the hopes of Sam crossing the Moy.
Maurice Fitz put them to the sword in 1997 while Dublin’s victory in 2013 brought Mayo’s record in All-Ireland finals to no wins, one draw and seven losses since 1989.
Right now, Mayo are finally in a strangely enviable position in that no-one expects anything good from them. That element of expectancy can’t be hanging around. The way they are playing, they shouldn’t win a bean. They have been utterly hopeless.
After a player revolt, ousting their management team, they soon embarked on a forgettable league campaign, finishing fifth out of seven, outside of the semi-final spots, with a negative score difference. On top of an opening day roasting from Cork, they typically went on to lose to Kerry, Donegal and Dublin and capped their three Division One wins with a futile three-point home win over an already relegated Down.
Their Championship form reads no different. Some fine free taking from Evan Regan and two goals in five minutes eventually settled the nerves after a stuttering start in Ruislip. The pursuit of a sixth Connacht title fell flat at the semi-final stage when it looked as though they were coasting – beaten by a Galway team that took two cracks of the whip to beat Roscommon in the final. Both these counties were easily managed the next day out by Tipperary and Clare respectively.
Their road through the qualifiers was not impressive either. Fermanagh looked on track for an upset until the infamous penalty call for Aidan Ó Sé – with Sunday Game analysts arguing that he could or should have already been sent off by this point.
Cue Croke Park, and cue a Westmeath team that lost by sixteen points to the Dubs in the Leinster final. Westmeath put up a significant fight and the 3-15 to 1-14 final scoreline completely flattered the Men of the West. The Lake County men hit some very poor wides as well as missing a clear opportunity to instantly double their goal tally for the day.
Mayo were also gifted a penalty through a technical foul on the ball by ‘keeper Darren Quinn. They struggled to hold on to a double score lead going into the second half. Westmeath got within a goal before Mayo pulled away again with 1-2 in the final minutes, including a goal from a defensive error. They scored only 1-4 in the second half.
Changes On The Horizon?
Mayo’s biggest game of the year came on a sunny August Bank Holiday against Tyrone. The first game where they were to face a team with real designs on winning Sam Maguire. As a departure from the norm, Mayo actually played very well. Some huge scores were taken when needed, the first of the game from Ó Sé and Boyle’s equaliser just before half-time being worthy of a mention.
Keegan kicked a beaut, which turned out to the winner as Mayo held out despite Tyrone having three bites of the cherry for an equaliser. Some hope that their season might just be turning around. A fine performance beating a strong side en route to an All-Ireland semi-final. Back to business at the business end of the season.
Next up were the Premier County. Mayo reverted to what is now commonplace for them in 2016. Slow start, poor decision making and shot selection. Not putting a “weaker county” to bed. As in the London and Westmeath encounters, Mayo eventually got into the game in the latter part of the first half scoring 1-7 to Tipperary’s solitary point in the final ten minutes.
The West Awake? I doubted. Mayo let Tipp right back into it in the second half, at one stage there being only two points between them. A Conor Ó Sé goal, pounced on after Evan Reagan slipped taking a shot for a point, contributed to the second half tally of 1-3, which was all Mayo could muster.
So Where Are We Now?
Mayo are in an All-Ireland final without actually having played well at all. They haven’t toppled a giant since the Dubs in 2012. They’ve done nothing this year to justify being the first team to book a spot for the third Sunday in September.
The oft times easy on the eye, tasty football has been, well, pretty awful. Player revolt. Bad league campaign. Worse Connaught Championship campaign. Stumbling and falling down the unfamiliar qualifier path.
Finding themselves in a final… It might just be their year…
But, hark! a voice like thunder spake,
The West’s awake! the West’s awake!
Tiarnán O’Rourke, Pundit Arena