Monday 14 October 2019

Mayo went AWOL in Killarney ... but maybe too early to say definitely gone

Cillian O’Connor of Mayo reacts after mising a goal chance against Kerry
Cillian O’Connor of Mayo reacts after mising a goal chance against Kerry

When it comes to definitive statements from the School of Dunphy (GAA syllabus) there is no one quite like Joe Brolly. Well, probably. Or perhaps just a maybe - we almost forgot about Ger Loughnane.

So it was on Sunday night. "Ah they're gone. They're definitely gone," proclaimed Brolly of Mayo's flickering aspirations.

But can you be so definite about this of all sides?

The most recent evidence, not merely but mostly from Fitzgerald Stadium, suggests Brolly has a case: that here is a team, blighted by injuries and high mileage and (at times) chaotic inconsistency, hanging on, just waiting to be shunted from the All-Ireland stage.

Previous history, often heroic, paints a different picture: one that warns us you can never write off Mayo. After all, when it was do-or-die in their latest meanderings through the 'back door', they always found a way. Somehow.


Whereas having reached the safety ledge of the Super 8s, in a match that wasn't quite must-win, they crashed and burned in quite spectacular fashion.

And that's partly why we're loath to dismiss Mayo just yet, even if the odds are now stacked against them - and even if Brolly has a point when he said on The Sunday Game: "Mayo are far too ad hoc."

That 'ad hocery' is a double-edged sword. When Mayo build up a head of steam, they will beat most teams and spook the very best of them - namely Dublin, as the 2016 and 2017 All-Ireland finals testify.

But Dublin are the polar opposite of ad hoc: they play the percentages, work the ball to the player in the best position, and that's why the vast bulk of their points are in the scoring zone and why several of their goals are like Michael Darragh Macauley's slam-dunk against Cork on Saturday: sitters.

Contrast with this James Carr's wonder goal against Galway. It was so good that eight million YouTube viewers - half of those reputedly fluent in Portuguese - had watched it by the end of the week.

But that goal was predicated on the pace, directness, ball control, ambition and sheer audacity of one individual. Rewind 33 years to Mexico, tell Diego Maradona that he can handle the ball (legally!) and you've got the picture.

But those goals are rarely repeated. And Carr, a clearly talented forward but still a rookie learning the inter-county ropes, was one of multiple Mayo starters to struggle in a Killarney cauldron.

Can they rediscover their form in a week, as easily as turning a switch? Because it's Mayo, quite possibly.

And because it's against Meath, in Croke Park this Sunday, most people expect them to do so. Mayo are 4/11 favourites to win; they are a 2/1 bet to qualify for the semi-finals whereas the Royals are 12/1 to make it out of the group.

This disparity, while understandable, is unfair on Meath, whose performance in losing to Donegal by nine points was far better than Mayo's in faltering to Kerry by ten.

These bare results gloss over the reality of Meath's defiance to the point where they actually led in Ballybofey after 54 minutes - and Mayo's 'beaten docket' status at the break, already trailing by nine.


They had (sleep) walked into a perfect storm of a Kerry team stung by recent criticism and tactically on the money, Mayo playing like passive bystanders to the front-foot brilliance of Jason Foley, Steven O'Brien and especially the two Davids, Moran and Clifford.

Mayo's kickout woes were the starting point but not the sole source of a meltdown epitomised by scattergun foot-passing, stand-off marking and individual gaffes.

But are they definitely gone? You can't see this incarnation toppling Dublin, but all they must do right now is beat Meath, then try and beat Donegal at home. Depending of course on the Kerry/Donegal result, that could be enough to carry on carrying on.

Then, who knows, a certain Derry legal eagle might even be overheard launching a stirring defence of Mayo's vampire-like ability to defy the doubters and death itself.

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