Gaelic GamesThe Weekend That Was

Mayo people will put up with a lot but they won’t accept meek surrender

The Weekend That Was: Kevin McStay was probably correct that it hadn’t been a bad season, but the assertion was a little tin-eared given the ritual slaughter that had just taken place

This is a bad one for Mayo. Kevin McStay has enough experience of his people’s sugar-rush highs and thumping-headache lows over the years to know that there’s going to be a limited market for his brand of equanimity over the coming weeks. A season that looked to hold real promise at different stages ultimately collapsed like a bad soufflé. Mayo supporters are going to need more from their manager than calmly pointing out it’s not been a bad season overall.

Every county has its own idea of an acceptable way to go out of the championship. Only one team can win Sam Maguire every year and so everyone else has to somehow be able to make their peace with it not being them. Going down to your worst defeat to Dublin since 2006 is not it. Not for most counties with aspirations and definitely not for Mayo.

Of the four teams who left the stage this weekend, Cork can probably get on board with the idea that they got the most out of themselves this season. That could be a slightly trickier proposition in Armagh but when you go out on penalties, there’s not much point in getting too bound up in recriminations. Armagh are a top-eight team. If the shoot-out had broken their way, they’d have made the last four. Ultimately, they played 2023 more or less to par.

For Tyrone, there’s no such comfort. They’ll need to go diving deep into the basin to find the good in their season. The blooming of Darragh Canavan is an obvious highlight but even he was wiped out by Kerry on Saturday. Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly will both be 33 by the time next season starts. Kieran McGeary and Cathal McShane are ghosts of the players who won the All-Ireland two years ago, Conor McKenna is in Australia. Tyrone’s year has very little to recommend it.


Can Mayo feasibly claim theirs has more? McStay has never been the sugar-coating type, whether as a player, a pundit or a manager. And when he came into the Croke Park press room yesterday, he wasn’t spinning like a party hack on the night of a bad election. He was straight up about Mayo’s shortcomings. He particularly didn’t put a tooth in it when it came to their kick-outs.

“We are not good enough at it yet,” McStay said. “We are not up with the top teams in terms of our kick-out yet. But we will be, I have no doubt we will. We have great lads around it that will think it through and figure it out. And we’ll get more experience. That’s my own view and we’ll be better for this.

“It’s our first year together as a group and we are just finding each other out and figuring each other out. I’ve learned a lot about the boys and I’m sure they’ve tried to figure us out a bit as well. But overall I’m not broken or anything over this defeat. I’m disappointed for the big Mayo crowd that came up as they always do. But we’ll take a break now to try and figure out where we have to go to next to get to another level.”

Reasonable. Measured. McStay to the bone. Never too up, never too down. Even the bit that came next, from which the “McStay says it hasn’t been a bad season” headlines came, deserves its full outing, for context.

“In mitigation I’m going to say our players gave us a great spin this year,” McStay said. “We had four [rookies] – essentially, although they were panellists for a year or two they were rookies up around here and they will take an awful lot from this experience. And we had a decent spring.

“I have to look at this in the round and see where we are going. It’s not what we wanted and championship is championship, I totally understand that. But in terms of building out what we wanted, it wasn’t a bad year. It didn’t end the way we wanted because we thought there was another round or two we might get to. But the Dubs fairly closed that door today.”

All of which is grand and fine and perfectly true. But it was probably a little tin-eared too, given the ritual slaughter that had just gone on out on the pitch. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad year in the round – a league title, beating Kerry in Killarney and Galway in Salthill, bedding in a few new players here and there.

On the flipside, Matthew Ruane has gone backwards, Aidan O’Shea’s form dropped off as the year progressed, Padraig O’Hora got a few chasings. No team is perfect and McStay’s contention that they have plenty to build on is obviously correct.

But none of it obscures the truth that hits them right between the eyes today. Their year ended with the meekest surrender of any Mayo team in well over a decade. Mayo people will put up with plenty before they find that kind of thing acceptable or forgivable. There’s no good way to go out of the championship but of all the bad ways, this was by far the worst.

A fact about which McStay will no doubt be reminded quite a few times between now and next year.