Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The aftermath

I haven’t been off to sulk, honest. We had an extra day in the west with the kids yesterday and didn’t return to the capital till last night so I never got the hour or so I would have needed to sit down and post something. And it would have had to be done over GPRS again, which is a pain in the posterior at the best of times. So it was easier to wait until this morning when I was back at base with my 3 MB broadband line humming again.

Well now, where does one start, after our worst hiding in Connacht since 1995 and the first time I can recall that everyone else bar ourselves and New York are still in the race for the Nestor Cup? A good place to begin, if you’re up to it, is the excellent Mayofans.com discussion board. I know, I accused it of being overly quiet a few days before the game but it’s been far from silent since Sunday evening, with a stream of intelligent and to-the-point observations about the Salthill debacle and where it leaves us.

The respective Bainisteoir viewpoints have already been widely disseminated. In case you’ve somehow missed them, Peter Ford reckoned all the pressure had been on us prior to the game (an odd observation, given that he was almost certainly for the chop had Galway lost), while Johnno, as you’d expect, took it on the chin and said it was all about sticking together and seeing who was up for turning the situation around.

In that context, I have to admit that I have a bone to pick with the Mayo News, in particular Mike Finnerty’s match report where he claims that it’s the end of the road for some of the team. While it’s not quite at the level of the Connaught Telegraph's reaction to the sixteen-point hiding we got from Galway in 1982 - where a blank space was left instead of a picture of the Mayo team - Finnerty’s conclusion that it’s the end of the road for this team is, I would suggest, mildly over the top.

It doesn’t take any great expertise to conclude that we played crap on Sunday but I don’t think you can write off this group of players based on it. There are a whole load of reasons why it all went pear-shaped on Sunday: Ford’s absolute need to win this match, Johnno’s lack of focus due to the election which led to significant indecision beforehand as regards team selection, all of our injury problems, the moronic ref we had on the day and our inability to face up to Galway’s physical tactics are all, I believe, in some way relevant. As well as this, nothing seemed to go our way over the course of the seventy minutes – had Conor’s effort gone in at the start of the second half or Pat Harte’s soon after, we could have got back into it. Had a different ref been there, Galway would almost certainly have been reduced to fourteen men before the break. Shit happens. We move on.

The first obstacle to be removed is the election. By the weekend, Johnno will know his fate and, regardless of how it goes, from next week he’ll be able to focus all of his attention on the team. The way the polls are going, he’ll be doing well to get a seat but, from a football perspective, it doesn’t really matter what happens. The important thing is that this seemingly endless election campaign, as all its attendant distractions, will be long over by the time we take the field again.

The squad apparently got together last night for an initial post-match assessment, where, undoubtedly, there would have been plenty of honest exchanges about what went wrong on Sunday. I recall Johnno once talking about all the soul-searching that went on in Galway in 2001 when he told the squad then only to turn up if they were really committed to doing what was required to get back into the running. No doubt he was imparting a similar message last night.

While the seven-week wait to the next game now seems like an eternity, it’s probably a good thing in that Sunday’s defeat can be in some way compartmentalised and considered a one-off. For us, the championship season now begins on July 7th.

PS Now that I’m back in the land of 3MB broadband, I’ll be able to upload the video clips I’ve got from Sunday, which I’ll do over the course of today. I’ll post again once they’re all up.

2 comments:

Fourgoal McGee said...

Following your match report on Sunday, you’re spot on about the ref, but this is a problem that we have had before and its cause is fairly obvious.
If you look at last Saturday’s Irish Times, the interview with James Nallen shows that there is an attitude in the Mayo squad that we will win if we play good football. The reality is somewhat different and this reality has been around since the famous day when Puke Football was first mentioned publicly.
This brand of the beautiful game had, according to popular opinion, its geneses in Ulster but elements of it have been around for decades (remember the Lyons brothers from Meath?). Basically, it is a game based on stopping the opposition playing football. This is done by mass-tackling, cynical fouling, hard hits off the ball and dogs abuse to a ref that stands up to it. It has resulted in a hardening of attitudes as to what football actually is at present – remember the criticism of Mayo and Laois last year when they had the audacity to play a real game of football in last year’s All-Ireland quarter final?
On Sunday, we saw Galway’s ability to play this type of game. The ref was tested early on and sure enough he carded the Galway full back for pulling down young Mort. The interesting thing that happened next was P Joyce and D Meehan then funnelled back to provide assistance and both were black booked in their own half in rapid succession (a forward's cynical tackles are always viewed as less serious than those of a back). These fouls - being black booked - set the standard in the refs mind for a black book offence - as opposed to a yellow card offence - and gave that the Galway team a license to flake all around them for the next half an hour. The referee, who is under orders to let the game flow where possible, is happy that he is taking action but his spineless failure to apply the appropriate rules means that the team trying to play football gets more and more frustrated until eventually one of them lashes out. The ref – who wants to be seen as neutral – sees a red card offence and sends off the player. The cynical team are now a man up, the other team are totally pissed off and the game is effectively over.
Look at the Armagh/Donegal Ulster Final few years ago to see another example of this approach.

So with that in mind, where to now for Mayo football?

1. The first thing we have to get out of our heads is the notion that that ref is there to protect the players. The teams winning All-Irelands in recent years believe that he is there to define the boundaries of what you will get away with. To find those boundaries, you must test the ref’s resolve (e.g. - Galway No 3 gets carded). When you find them you must try to redefine the limits of the ref’s resolve to your advantage (e.g. - the 2 black book offences) and then play the game within these (very loose) limits. The ref now realises that he will be reffing a 7 a side if he applies the actual rules and this would draw the wrath of the media, the pundits and those who make up the referees committee Then you try to provoke the opposition to transgress these limits (Harte duly obliged - the ref acted) and you win the game.. Allied to this, if the ref makes a stand and sends someone off from the aggressive side, his decision is then subjected to the scrutiny of the legal profession with two objectives:
• to get the offender off;
• to put manners on the ref so that he won’t do this to your team again.

2. The thing we have to do is to stand up to the cynical tactics. Last year, M & M said we should stay out of that sort of thing. Yet it was the team dubbed by Billy Morgan as the most cynical team in football that won the All-Ireland. As a player, I remember that if you kept quietly taking abuse, the abuse got worse. If you gave a bit back, you got a bit of respect. This is why I believe that even a 50% fit David Brady on the field at the start is an asset. He takes no shit from anyone and we hold our own with anyone when he is on the field. I feel sorry for the James Nallens of this world, they give everything for Mayo football, but they are not aggressive enough to win All-Ireland medals in today’s game.

3. Finally, I go back to my first comment to your blog a few weeks ago. The structure of the team is wrong. We were destroyed on Sunday when nobody adopted the man-marking roles that were needed on Savage, Bane and Nicky Joyce. We paid the price. Our attacking half backs were both inadequate and were called ashore early. We continue to be in dire need of a ball-winner at centre field. Also, Ger Brady is not cutting the mustard at full forward though the quality of ball going in could be a factor there. We could have a long Summer off yet. Johnno has 3 years to do something. I suggest he has another hard look at some of the young players emerging from the U21s and bloods them early for next year.

One last question – on the argument that football is now a game for cynical teams (remember that nice guys rarely win) – who will win the All-Ireland this year? On that basis Laois, Donegal, Cork and ourselves can be discounted, leaving Kerry, Armagh, possibly Tyrone, Galway (as outsiders - they are not a great side but they are as cynical as the best (worst?) of them) and if Meath ever string a team together, they too will blossom in this atmosphere, but they are a good way off the pace for this year.
However, if the Dubs find a hatchet man for full back, they also have the right(!) attitude. Kevineen McStay could yet be a much wiser man than we give him credit for!

Keep the Faith!

Willie Joe said...

That's one hell of a comment, Fourgoal! You've made several points there that hit the nail on the head.

I have to say I despaired when I read the interview with James Nallen in Saturday's Times - talk about an invitation to be pushed around. I have huge respect from Nallen and what he's done over the years but I agree that if we want to go places, we need a harder, more cynical edge than we've had to date.

I saw a post on Mayofans.com after the game that was a bit chilling. It said that maybe Johnno, with his pre-2002 view of the world, might not be able to cut it in these more cynical times. However, as you rightly say, there were hard teams long before then and, as I recall, our sides in the 80s were tough enough when they needed to be. Can Johnno provide us with a tougher edge this year though?

I'd tend to agree with you about the team's structure. The slobbering that's gone on over FB and CHB shows that the selectors themselves aren't sure what to do. We could do worse now than draft in the likes of Cafferky, Cunniffe and Barry Moran, if only with a view to next year.

Who'll win the All-Ireland? I'd fancy Cork as a long shot. With Canty back, Spillane at CHB, Kavanagh and Murphy in the middle and Cussen at FF, they now have an awesome spine and if they unearth one or two more scoring forwards, they could go places. Meath also look to have a team for the first time since 2001 but, although they could give the Dubs a few problems, they're probably not developed enough to take them this year. The Dubs? It's still hard to see a team managed by Pillar doing it but it's very open this year so they can't be written off, I suppose.