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Can This Mayo Team Win The All-Ireland?

They’re really going to love a Meath man writing about Mayo winning All-Irelands.

Mayo were devastating yesterday. Once again they’re one of the favourites for the All-Ireland. Once again you’d have to wonder if Mayo will ever win an All-Ireland.

All the pieces are in place. Mayo have all the talent needed. As much as any county, if not more so, picking a Mayo team is about trying to maximise the toy box of goodies available. The surprising collapse of Roscommon eliminated what looked like their biggest provincial rival this year. Sligo had no answer for Mayo, to the point where it’s pointless to even analyse yesterday’s game.

They have all the necessary experience to win an All-Ireland. They’ve played as much in Croke Park as any county apart from Dublin in the last decade. They’ve beaten all of their rivals at some stage in recent years. There’s no obvious reason, on the field, why they can’t win an All-Ireland this year.

And you’d still have to wonder if Mayo will ever win an All-Ireland.

Since 1989, Mayo’s record of futility in All Ireland finals is staggering. Seven All-Ireland final losses across three separate generations of players. A world of heart ache. How can one county engage in such futility for so long?

At lot of the historical excuses for Mayo’s malaise fall false. True, in 1989 they were an inexperienced team that ran in to a Cork squad tempered by two crushing defeats to Meath in 1987 and ’88. Fair enough, it happens. What is ridiculous is the narrative that Meath stole Mayo’s All Ireland in 1996, and that’s been the original sin for all failures since. Meath did steal it from them, but not in the way that the narrative goes.

Listen, I’m a Meath man who thinks that the ’96 squad is the most unfairly maligned in the history of the GAA, so maybe, just maybe, my impartiality isn’t the best. That doesn’t take away from that fact that Mayo threw away that All-Ireland…twice!

The first day, Mayo made all the running, should have been out of sight, and it took one of the greatest/most ridiculous scores of all time in a Final for Meath to salvage a draw. The second day, despite what twenty years of revisionism has told us, Mayo again were in control, especially after the row. James Hora went to town, scoring five points from play. They still conceded goals that they shouldn’t have from close in, and they froze up down the stretch. That’s why they lost.

Every All Ireland final since tells us the exact same thing: lack of leadership at the vital moments, and conceding needless goals.

  • 1997, Mayo left poor Pat Holmes on an island against Maurice Fitzgerald, who proceeded to tear him into so many parts that even circling vultures would have thought, “Manners, please.”
  • 2004, the Green and Red were blasted by a Kerry full forward line of Cooper, Ó Cinnéide and Crowley. That was a Kerry team missing their best player in Darragh Ó Sé.
  • 2006, same story. Early barrage, goals conceded, game over by half time
  • 2012? Early goals, game more or less over by half time
  • 2013 was slightly different. Mayo did make the early running that day, but Dublin got goals at crucial times and Mayo couldn’t recover.

Last year, Mayo had the semi-final against Kerry won, but again weren’t able to tie up the game as the clock ran down and conceded a key goal, before going on to lose the replay in a glorious game in Limerick.

So, from all these losses, what can we take about the traditional fate of Mayo, and have the problems been fixed for this year?

No Full Back

You do not concede that many goals at vital moments if you have a full back protecting the house. Too often direct ball into the Mayo full back line has led to daft and unnecessary goals being conceded. Is this year’s addition any better? Donal Vaughan was wearing the no. 3 jersey yesterday but once again Ger Cafferkey seemed to be manning the edge of the square. As the man in charge in 2013, ’13 and 2014 it would not fill you with confidence going forward that he can be a rock for the county at the most vital position.

No leadership

An accusation that has been flung at Mayo over the years is a lack of leadership when things went wrong. This call was heard louder than ever after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, when no one seemed to be able to grab the game back when Kerry surged. It’s easy to say that now, but people also forget the Mayo fight back in the replay in Limerick.

Mayo were two points down with minutes to go when Donal Vaughan and Barry Moran kicked points to draw them level, and were only a Rob Hennelly free away from winning the game. That day, despite being overwhelmed in extra time, Mayo men out up their hand to fight for their team. Aidan O’Shea is proving to be a physical and mental leader for this team. Keith Higgins is a very solid presence at the back. It just remains to be seen if they can do it on the third Sunday in September.

Release valve

At times in those finals, Mayo looked paralysed. The counties traditional hand passing approach would get bogged down and they’d run out of ideas. Aidan O’Shea could be an interesting cure for this.

As proven yesterday, the younger O’Shea gives Mayo a physical edge inside that they just haven’t had. By having him there, it means that if Mayo are getting stuck around the middle third, they have the release valve of firing it in around the square, something they just couldn’t do. This could help Mayo to loosen up in their play.

After yesterday, Mayo are going to be red hot favourites for the All-Ireland. Sadly, until they actually deliver, you have to doubt if they actually can.

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