Archive for April, 2012

Cork v Mayo, Croke Park, 4.0, M Deegan (Laois). * Live TG4 (Extra-time if necessary

YOU could be forgiven for not remembering James Horan’s goal in the 1996 All – Ireland semi-final. After all goals in All – Ireland semi-finals are rarely remembered, never mind ones from semi-finals sixteen years ago.

This one was slightly special though. With the game in injury time, Horan took full advantage of a mix up from a Kerry kick out to coolly lob the ball into the Kerry net from all of 40 yards.

In the inevitable hysteria that follows a Mayo victory and the subsequent high drama and trauma of September, this moment of casual brilliance was somewhat forgotten.

It was a moment however that was indicative of Horan’s time as a Mayo player. During an era when Mayo, their forwards in particular, became known for their nervy displays in Croke Park, it was Horan’s temperament on the big day that set him apart from a lot of his teammates.

If you skip to 0.33 and 3.52 you’ll see two examples of Horan at his best.

If victory evaded Mayo on the biggest day the two-time All Star was never the one found cowering in the trenches. Cork fans may remember the first 15 minutes of the semi-final in 99’ when he gave Sean Og O’Hailpin a torrid time, perhaps making his decision to stick the small ball in following years a lot easier.

It took Mayo, with Horan now at the helm, almost sixteen years to repeat the trick against Kerry in Croke Park.

That performance two weeks ago surprised many, not only because of the result – Mayo have always been capable of big performances in Croke Park – but more the manner of the display that showed a physicality and mental toughness that was never associated with Mayo’s ‘nice footballers’ .

When the messiah, John O’Mahony, returned in a wave of popularity and goodwill in 2007 it turned out to be a false prophecy. He was gone three years later with the county side in crisis.  A quick fix wasn’t what Mayo needed but a wholesale change of attitude and approach that O’Mahony was not able to deliver.

In contrast there is a belief within the county in what Horan is trying to do with this group of players. Cian O’Neill’s involvement in the setup has certainly resulted in a significant improvement in physical size and power, but it’s the steelier, more cynical side of their game that suggests the days of final capitulations are over.

Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle both made what could be called cynical fouls on Darren O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin at crucial stages of the semi-final, accepting their yellow cards but preventing a more damaging goal scoring situation.

It may not be the type of play that wins over the neutrals, but it’s not the hearts of footballing purists that Mayo are trying to win.

When interviewed after the Kerry game Horan made light of the so called ‘Croke Park’ curse. You can understand Horan becoming frustrated with this jaded line of questioning.

It has become an all too convenient stick to beat Mayo with in recent years, with the same clichés being trundled out before any big game at Croker. In reality it has no relevance to Horan’s side that have now defeated two of the top three at headquarters in the last year.

The spine of the team Ger Cafferkey, Donal Vaughan, Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor are all under the age of 24 and have not being scarred by the defeats of the past. However, until they win the big one the stigma attached to Mayo’s past will be their burden as well.

This burden is not made any easier by a tendency among the counties supporters for over-reaction. There is no county more passionate about football than Mayo but this does lead to a less than even handed reaction during the good times and the bad. If you read some of the comments posted by Mayo followers on the many GAA forums, you can appreciate the death by analysis that exists within the county.

Cork will be an interesting test for this Mayo team. Having beaten them in last year’s quarter final they know they are capable of defeating Conor Counihan’s men.

Victory is important to silence the peddlers of the ‘final bottlers’ cliché but more importantly for their own development as a team. At the same time a loss would be no disaster, as Dublin proved last year.

If they can muster up the same big day temperament that their manager did in his time, tomorrow could be the beginning of a long summer for Mayo.