Remember the 2014 Allianz Football League final. Derry, the underdog, sent a 15-point loss to fierce rivals. They conceded 3-19. One wondered if stricken morale would bounce back just four weeks later for a tough opener to the provincials against Donegal.
Does any of this sound familiar to Mayo’s injured management, players or fans? A 15 point route; cough 3-19 to Kerry; an upcoming Connacht SFC showdown with Galway which is now just two and a half weeks away.
“After all these years I’m the last person in the country to write off a Mayo side because they have remarkable resilience,” says Brian McIver, who led Donegal to their only Premier League title in 2007 and then Derry to a far less promising decider in 2014 against All-Ireland champions Dublin.
Just six weeks earlier, Derry had ambushed Jim Gavin’s team by six points. “We played that game at Celtic Park on our terms and then we went to Croke Park and Dublin played the final on their terms,” said McIver. “We definitely felt like we lost in the psychological warfare of the league finals.”
However, McIver is unconvinced that that was the catalyst for what came next – two defeats at home to eventual All-Ireland finalists Donegal and then to Longford in the qualifiers. They had prepared well for Donegal; they started the game beaming; but because of Fergal Doherty’s early injury, they might even have won.
But the ‘big picture’ of that disparity in the league final, he admits, was a lesson in how far Derry fell from the required benchmark. “I think the players themselves were shocked,” he says.
Can you really say the same about mayo after last Sunday? Yes, their defenses have been filleted. Yes, their tactics for containing David Clifford & Co were borderline naïve. But Mayo missed Rob Hennelly, Oisín Mullin, Paddy Durcan, Diarmuid O’Connor; the latter’s brother, Cillian, made a long-awaited but fleeting return… surely the day they’ll be fit and fired is April 24th?
The failure of league finals or no-shows raise all doubts without exception. Did the losers have their eye on the championship? Is it just a runaway or an ominous harbinger?
It can take weeks – even months – for the answer to reveal itself.
Once upon a time Dublin struggled to win the league finals, let alone All-Irelands. As they gave up an eight-point lead to lose the 2011 Division 1 final to Cork, the naysayers chanted “same old dubs” in unison – and a question at the post-match media conference about mental blocks sparked an impassioned speech (not even an answer). by Pat Gilroy.
“If I really believed that, I should get out of here and never be in front of this team again,” Gilroy replied.
“This team has character and the guts to endure the kind of things that surround them every day,” he continued.
“People will say what you just said and we’ll take care of it. And we have to deal with that because that’s our job, because we’re the Dublin team and we have to listen to that.
“And when we have the All-Ireland – someday – then we’ll stop hearing about it.”
It only lasted five months.
On the other hand, Derry failed to recover in 2014 and a similar fate befell Cork after they capitulated by 11 points to Dublin in the 2015 NFL playoff. True, the Rebels were close to winning Munster SFC at Kerry’s citadel of Killarney with a final equalizer from Fionn Fitzgerald – but after losing the replay they were crushed by Kildare in the qualifiers.
McIver, for example, believes Mayo can pull off a spectacular turnaround – provided they avoid a detour via early qualification. Notwithstanding Mayo’s history of the ‘backdoor’ renaissance, their game with Galway is one ‘they have to win’, he reckons.
He adds: “After a dozen losses to All-Ireland and every October you’re like, ‘Nah, I don’t think the Mayo team are coming back’… and next year they’re as good as ever, and very much so , very unfortunate not to have won an All-Ireland with these players.
“Last Sunday they had a number of key players unavailable. David Clifford was absolutely on fire and I would say he gave one of the greatest displays of Gaelic football skill ever seen at Croke Park – at any time.
“So I don’t think Mayo is going to walk away and be like, ‘Nah, we’re way off the mark here.’ But like Derry (2014) against Donegal, the next game is a really big one for Mayo… I think it’s going to be a really big test,” McIver said.
“But just in terms of her character and her ability to recover, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Mayo back on the business end of this championship.”
But only if they do the deal against Galway first.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/mayo-have-survived-bigger-disasters-but-must-avoid-a-back-door-detour-41531578.html Frank Roche: “Mayo has survived major disasters but needs to avoid a detour through the back door”