Thursday 18 January 2018

No cup yet but Mayo's glass is half full

Carey sees recent close-but-no-cigar record as a 'sign of their potential' to go all the way

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea is tackled by Dublin’s Cian O’Sullivan in last year’s drawn All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea is tackled by Dublin’s Cian O’Sullivan in last year’s drawn All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

There are two ways of looking at Mayo's perennial competitiveness ending in inevitable, annual angst.

Either your glass is half-empty, and you ask: "Why do they even bother coming back for more punishment?"

Or your glass if half-full, and you accept Stephen Rochford's invitation to become a Mayo selector.

Seán Carey is the latter, and he doesn't consider their September record over the last two decades as an historic burden weighing down on the current generation.

Starting with the ultimate trauma of their replay defeat to Meath in 1996, Mayo have lost six All-Ireland SFC finals on the spin. Throw in the 1989 defeat to Cork - the county's first final appearance in 38 years - and you're talking seven from seven.

But Carey approaches this delicate subject from a very different angle.

"Since Mayo have come back into public consciousness in '96, there's 20 years where we've been there or thereabouts every couple of years," he points out.


"There's always pressure - but it's a pressure that I think every other county would take," the Kiltane native expands.

"That you're there at the top table and you're competing and your reputation is as a county that achieves and is competitive over that 20-year period.

"So I'd say that there is pressure, but it's a pressure that 27-28 other counties would gladly take in that time frame if they could ... maybe not actually winning it, but being competitive, consistently competitive over that 20 years."

It's 21 years since Carey shared a Mayo minor dressing-room with Rochford, the team's captain. Now they have rejoined forces, hoping to propel the county to heights not achieved for 65 tantalising, tortuous years. And they've made it, in year one, to another final and another shot at the Dubs, tomorrow week.

They have inherited a group that arguably qualifies as the best, and certainly most consistent, Mayo collective of those six-and-a-half decades. They've reached six consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals.

Moreover, in the last four campaigns they have only succumbed to the eventual champions: Donegal by four in the 2012 final; Dublin by one in the 2013 decider; Kerry after a 2014 semi-final replay that went to extra-time; Dublin again after another semi-final replay last season.

"I think the only thing you can take out of that is the excellence of this group of Mayo players," Carey contends.

"Some people might look at that differently - I would say that's a sign of the potential these players have.

"You could look at that in a lot of different ways but the fact that it has taken the eventual winners to make us exit the championship, I think there's something very positive about that.

"Okay, you could wallow in that but the truth is that it's a sign that this group of players are excellent and really, really good at what they do. There's very, very small margins between us and what we want to achieve."

This particular group, he maintains, can't be accused of bottling it at the business end.

"I think if you put a body of work together like they have done in the five or six years, there's a certain level of respect that has to come with that," he maintains.

"They haven't been beaten heavily. They've been there or thereabouts.

"The teams that have made them exit in the last couple of years are the teams that have gone on to claim it, so I wouldn't think that at all.


"I would have been at all of those big games in the last five or six years and I think anybody who follows football would realise that Mayo have been really, really competitive.

"So I don't think anybody out there can think that there was a massive reconstruction that was needed.

"These guys are seriously committed athletes and they know what they're doing. There's a lot of talent there and I think they believe they can win it.

"Leaving Croke Park last year, I believed that they could still win it - and I believe now that they can win it."

Time to prove it, then ...

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