Resolute McLoughlin is nobody's victim
It’s onwards and upwards for the UCD student as he gets ready to face Kerry, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
You are wrong about this Mayo team of James Horan’s. They do not think the way you think they think. They are not crushed bugs beneath the heel of whoever gave them their last All-Ireland final beating. Or anyone else for that matter. They know your pity is only derision that’s been taught good manners so they’d quite prefer it if you kept it to yourself, thanks all the same.
Take Kevin McLoughlin. This is not a broken man. He may have lost an All-Ireland and been the most championed omission from the All Stars at the back end of last season but the 23-year-old UCD student really has no bone to pick. Sometimes these things will go your way, sometimes they won’t. If you’re allowing the rising and falling of life’s waterline to be determined by it, you’re looking at it the wrong way.
Ask if he’s managed to bring himself to settling in for a viewing of the All-Ireland final and he’ll tell you that not only has he watched it, he’s done so over and over again.
Some people can quote you every line of Pulp Fiction; McLoughlin must be able to bang out Martin Carney’s “From the tip of Malin . . .” speech at the drop of a hat.
“I’ve watched it plenty of times,” he says. “I think I’ve watched it five or six times. I always look back on games I play in whether we win or lose. It’s something I always do to see what we could improve on, personally and as a team. Maybe I could pick something out I wouldn’t have thought of during the game itself. I actually watched it three days after the All-Ireland. No one could believe I did. I think it’s important to move on. You can’t dwell on something too long.”
Hardly the words of a hapless victim. McLoughlin gave himself a couple of days off college after the final but he was back in class by the end of the week. Mayo had still been standing when 30 other teams were on the flat of their backs so anyone looking for a sob story wasn’t going to find one with a glance in his direction. Fair enough, they hadn’t been good enough for Donegal but then neither had Kerry, Cork or Tyrone and nobody was hanging black flags for them.
“I fully got over it a week or two afterwards. I got over part of it because I found myself being able to watch the game without regret as such. I suppose if you dwell on it for too long you probably won’t make it back there again. You can’t go on reliving it.
“That was my first All-Ireland final. I think there’s only a handful of guys who were there in ’06 and in our minds we’re a new team and we set our own agenda and our own path. Obviously, we lost but I don’t think it’s anything in relation to previous All-Ireland finals. Players’ perception is completely different [to the public’s] in that regard.”
Plenty of steel
That has its upsides too. McLoughlin wouldn’t be what you’d call spiky by nature but there’s plenty of steel there and the idea of other counties occasionally overlooking his team present opportunities. In last year’s league Mayo seemed to be limping along before Dublin arrived for a rearranged fixture on the last day of March. Mayo tore through them like a twister through Oklahoma, winning 0-20 to 0-8.
Four weeks later they were in the league final, where Cork beat them precisely because they didn’t take them lightly.
“The turning point was the second game against Dublin after the first one was called off,” he says. “We knew we had to win that game and as it happened we put our heads down and played really well. We tried to continue to play well and as it happened we ended up in the final here. I don’t think Dublin were ready for what we had that day. We were very prepared that day.”
As for how prepared they are for the beginning of this year’s go-round, the smart bettor might keep his hand in his pocket just for now. The defeat to Leitrim in the FBD league a couple of weeks back put Horan in bad humour with his players – he cited laziness as a more telling factor than post-holiday rust afterwards. Whatever Kerry are met with when they land up to Castlebar today, we can take it that McLoughlin and co won’t be sparing the horses.
Whether or not it will be enough is anyone’s guess. These are January squads, fragmented by college demands and distance at this early stage. McLoughlin trains in Dublin during the week with seven other senior players and a half-dozen under-21s and only sees the rest of the squad on the weekend.
Mayo haven’t been relegated from the top division in the league since he was in primary school, so they know what they’re about. Even though they’ve lost their first home game of the year in four out the last five campaigns, they generally find a way. “[Home form] is a small bit patchy, I suppose, but James likes to try out new guys every so often in the league,” says McLoughlin.
“You can’t just stick with your same team every day. You see with the Corks and Dublins, panels of depth and strength – that’s something we need to work on as well.”
Forward, always forward. Nobody’s victims, nobody’s fools. Whatever you might think.