Despite an unconvincing campaign this season, is it finally Mayo’s chance to overcome the curse that has haunted them for 66 years?
September 23, 1951 was the last time a Mayo captain had his hands on Sam Maguire on the steps of the Hogan stand, will Cillian O’Connor be there on the September 17, 2017 to claim that ever elusive trophy?
Reaching the All-Ireland final last year and being beaten by a single point in a replay against Dublin must have been demoralising for a side who have been in All-Ireland semis and finals since 2014.
In previous years this side have stormed through the Connacht Championship and into an All-Ireland semi-final without pause for thought. Last year we saw them falter for the first time as they were well beaten by a competent but not brilliant Galway side, who progressed only to lose to Tipperary.
The extra games in the qualifiers along with the shock of having been beaten certainly pushed Mayo to prove their worth as they cruised past Fermanagh, Kildare and Westmeath before beating Tyrone by a single point in the last eight and easily dismissing Tipperary in the semi-final.
However, all of these games came to nothing when Mayo walked away empty handed last September. But can 2017 be any different?
Already their route to this stage in the championship is similar, and this surely must be a good thing as they can hardly be complacent having played two rounds of extra time already this season.
A loss to Galway in the Connacht semi-final saw Stephen Rochford’s men face a longer and more dangerous route through the qualifiers and they certainly struggled.
Round 2A saw them defeat Derry but they needed extra-time. They subsequently easily dismissed Clare before facing a Cork side that weren’t willing to go down without a fight. Even within extra-time it looked like the game would go to a replay but the ever persistent Mayo slipped through.
Last Sunday, they faced the new Connacht champions Rsscommon and Cillian O’Connor’s side must be delighted to still be in this championship.
Pat Spillane was unimpressed with last Sunday’s game stating:
“Neither of these two teams are winning an All-Ireland unless they make a miraculous improvement and I’ll eat my shirt if they do.”
Joe Brolly claimed:
“Mayo were very poor. I said earlier in the year, ‘This is it, they’re gone,’ the prospect of an All-Ireland is gone. They are light years away from that.”
In all, The Sunday Game pundits were less than impressed with Mayo yet they surely must have some hope as already they’ve played 250 minutes more football since June than either Kerry or Dublin, their biggest rivals of recent years.
A team consisting of a number of All-Star worthy players from goalkeeper through to the full-forward line, this Mayo team cannot be written off under any circumstances. Lee Keegan is just one of those talented players clad in the green and red who has shown the heart and determination rooted deep within this team, last week scoring 1-03 from wing back.
However behind the big names of Cillian O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea and, of course, Keegan. there is a whole panel of players willing to bring pride to the jersey they wear.
Goalkeeper David Clarke is no stranger to controversy after the disastrous tactics of Rochford in last year’s All-Ireland final replay, however he has proven his worth in recent games and stands out as probably the best man between the posts in the sport.
Finally the hidden gem in the Mayo squad is midfielder Tom Parsons, his fielding ability mixed with his sheer determination gives a backbone to the team.
And so the question must be asked, since this is practically the same team that has competed unsuccessfully in numerous All-Ireland finals and semis over the last few years how come they have nothing to show for it?
Are they not hungry enough?
After 66 years they must surely be more desperate for Sam than Kerry who have claimed the title 19 times since Mayo last tasted All-Ireland glory.
What is it that’s stopping this team from climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand in September? They’ve proven themselves to be as good as Dublin Kerry and Tyrone?
Could this finally be their year? So far they’ve been ignored, written off, they’ve flown under the radar, could they just possibly sneak a victory on the third weekend in September?
Jane O’Sullivan – Pundit Arena