herald

Thursday 29 September 2016

History? Forget it, Mayo must park the past and focus on a single goal

Aidan O’Shea celebrates Mayo’s victory over Tyrone in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park Picture: Sportsfile
Aidan O’Shea celebrates Mayo’s victory over Tyrone in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park Picture: Sportsfile

The next two days can be the most difficult for any player as they prepare for the most important game in their career. The physical conditioning work has been done and the last few get-togethers will mainly focus on the game plan and performance.

It is the most positive time you will have together, as both management teams get busy reassuring their players that they have done the hard work and that they deserve to be in this final.

The message will be kept very simple and there will be absolutely no mention whatsoever about the result.

There will be no negative talk whatsoever, as this might raise doubts. Players will feel unbreakable over the next two days.

Simple

If only it was that simple. I have been in many dressing rooms when we felt we couldn't lose, only to go out and do just that. I know what the Mayo players are going through this week.

In 1992, we lost a final we believed we would win. Donegal, unfortunately for us, also believed and in the end they got the result they deserved.

Just two years later we were back in another final and preparation had gone very well. It surely had to be our time but again we suffered defeat on a day that absolutely nothing went our way. That's football.

Losing finals is a very difficult space to be in but it can galvanise the right group of players and make them stronger. In the end we came back the very next year and beat an excellent Tyrone team in the final. It was a final we should have lost - but you don't really care how you win them.

The hurt of losing finals, however, stays with you. It eats away at your confidence and it can be debilitating if you let it. I still remember the defeats like they were yesterday and would still have regrets that we didn't win one or two more All-Irelands.

What must it be like for some of these Mayo players who have lost so many finals? Great players like Alan Dillon and Keith Higgins have been on four losing teams. It's hard to imagine how that feels.

Mayo players look dejected after defeat by Dublin in the 2013 All-Ireland football final Picture: Sportsfile
Mayo players look dejected after defeat by Dublin in the 2013 All-Ireland football final Picture: Sportsfile

That said, both players along with the rest of the squad will approach this final like it was their first. A run to an All-Ireland final gives a team massive self-belief and past defeats are pushed under the carpet.

Doubts

It will be a roller coaster ride of emotions over the next few days for both sets of players but there will be more doubts in the heads of the Mayo players. There simply has to be.

Players are not stupid. Results shape you as an individual and as a group whether you like it or not. Mayo, in general have a deplorable record in finals since 1989 and that has to play with your head.

There will be moments when they will be up against a wall on Sunday. Dublin will ask serious questions of them and that will continue to the very end. They will not go away. Mayo need to be ready for this.

The players will need to be brave and patient and they will also need to be awesome for long periods if they are to have any chance.

Anything is possible in football, especially in a final as I know too well. Mayo players and supporters will hope and pray and beg and plead that this is their time.

I still think Dublin will win it but that won't stop the Mayo team arriving in Croker on Sunday afternoon with plenty of confidence and self-belief, just as most players would on All-Ireland final day.

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