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Monday 25 September 2017

'We didn't show hunger and desire that was needed' - McLoughlin

Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin at their press conference Elvery’s MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin at their press conference Elvery’s MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile

Once upon a noughties time, Mayo were a 'back door' disaster - it was either front door or oblivion, so it seemed.

Under Stephen Rochford, however, they have morphed into what you might term a qualified success. A team that flounders in June but hangs in all the way to August, September - or even an October replay.

Maybe last year's experience, losing against all odds to Galway but recovering to reach the All-Ireland final, has helped them through another series of multiple pitfalls and all the way to Sunday's All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Kerry.

But as Kevin McLoughlin explains, there was a need for some hard thinking - whatever about talking - after history repeated itself against the Tribesmen in Salthill.

Cue the obligatory players' meeting that so often follows a watershed provincial defeat.

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

"We just reassessed," McLoughlin explains. "Are we all in alignment, are we all trying to do the same thing, our goals?

"We sat down; we basically decided we needed to improve in many aspects. We probably didn't show the hunger and desire in that game that was needed. The most frustrating part is we know what we all want, we are all a very determined group."

If all of this reads like Groundhog Day, Mayo-style, it's probably because Alan Dillon preached a similar message ahead of last year's semi-final against Tipperary.

"We had to do something different," Dillon said at the time. "Some of the effort and some of the hard work wasn't evident against Galway. I suppose some lads perceived that we'll just get through this game. But in championship you can get beaten on any given day."

Mayo know that even more acutely now: this year, post-Galway, they flirted with elimination against Derry and Cork (both extra-time), Clare and Roscommon (a brace of disastrous starts).

McLoughlin insists that the group's confidence was never derailed by the succession of fits-and-starts that preceded Mayo's explosion back into top form in the Ros replay.

"I'd say it was more frustration - that is the emotion I would use," he says, "more so because we know how good a team we can be.

"We just weren't showing it. We were trying to do the right thing; it just wasn't always working out for us."

Did panic ever set in, for example when Cork edged two clear in extra-time?

"I would say no. We are a team of battlers - as long as we are still in the game we will be constantly fighting."

For all their heroic resilience, no one had predicted the power-surge of energy and appetite that obliterated the Rossies by 22 points on day two.

Appetite

"Our appetite has been there from day one," McLoughlin maintains.

"From the start of the year we've had a serious appetite. Maybe it doesn't always show in our performances, but you can be assured that we have.

"Probably the last day it was a combination of things. One or two tactical things; we upped our work-rate to a far superior level than the previous day; to be honest, a small bit of luck came our way too."

Including a double-hop for his own 23rd minute goal that presaged an opening of the floodgates.

"When I scored I wasn't 100 per cent sure," the Knockmore clubman insists.

"I know that sounds funny because I did it ... but nobody called me on it, so I thought maybe I didn't."

While Mayo's first compelling performance of the championship will do no harm for belief, McLoughlin cautions that "for Kerry the next day we are going to have to do it more".

No talk about Kerry/Mayo can be complete without reference to the semi-final saga of 2014. "It was one of those games where everything felt it was like 100 miles an hour. The game to a certain extent is a bit of a blur to me," says McLoughlin of that chaotic Gaelic Grounds replay.

All he can remember, for sure, is the pain that followed. Mayo have endured enough of those moments against Kerry; Sunday wouldn't be a bad time to reverse the trend.

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