Darragh Ó Sé: Mayo need to put this tough day behind them

I have sympathy for last year’s beaten finalists because there’s nothing worse than playing a team whose year is all about beating you

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and Seamus O’Shea lose out to Roscommon’s Cathal Shine in Sunday’s Connacht football championship semi-final at Dr Hyde Park.

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and Seamus O’Shea lose out to Roscommon’s Cathal Shine in Sunday’s Connacht football championship semi-final at Dr Hyde Park.


I was watching the Mayo players on Sunday with full sympathy for the situation they found themselves in. When your year is all about winning the All-Ireland, there’s nothing worse than a game in June against a crowd whose year is all about beating you. I don’t care how well you’re tuned in or how much you’ve been guarding against complacency, there’s a part of every player in that team who’s thinking, “Christ, do we have to go through all this? Can we not just turn up in August?”

You could see it in the Dubs as well in that first half against Laois. They ended up with a big score but for a good half an hour of that game you could tell that some of the Dublin players weren’t exactly breaking the speed limit on the way to the ball. It can happen. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t.

At least the Dubs have an All-Ireland under their belt and a lot of them have two. Mayo have none. They’ve gone to September two years in a row and have nothing to show for it. They know they have it in them to make it there again but walking out into Hyde Park on Sunday, it would have seemed very far away.

The grass was long. The weather was pure west of Ireland – hailstones one minute, sunshine the next. The opposition were the near neighbours, a team on the rise with a league title behind them and their eye solely fixed on catching them on the hop. And to make it all the more unattractive, Roscommon set up with an army of men behind the ball and basically told Mayo that they were getting nothing handy here today.

Aiming towards

You’d want to be some sort of machine to come out and blow that away. All you want is to press fast-forward and arrive at the August Bank Holiday. That’s what your year is aiming towards. You know it, everyone knows it.

The opposition surely know it. They suspect it at least. And if they didn’t know it for sure, little bits and pieces would filter out and they’d use it to convince themselves. Neighbouring counties leak like a sieve. Always have. What sort of training is the other crowd doing? How much of it are they doing?

Suddenly word gets around that they’re horsing through 200m sprints every night at training. In May! Did ye hear that, lads? These animals are training for August. They don’t think they’re in any danger against us. Well, they’ll soon find out different. Won’t they, lads?

This is what Mayo and Dublin had to face last weekend and it’s what Cork and Kerry will come up against in the next few weeks. It’s a bridge that has to be crossed and it’s a challenge for the managers to get the players focused on it. But ultimately, I always saw these games as being something the players had to work out amongst themselves.

Managers will spend plenty of time in the build-up to them telling you not to be complacent but this is one of those situations where the players can be thinking one thing but doing another. Subconsciously, they have the game won before they go out and it’s only when the prospect of losing it comes along that enough of them shake off that subconscious thinking and go about smartening up and winning the game. There’s very little a manager can do about that.

Their sights

Going into that game, Mayo knew what Roscommon had to offer. James Horan knew that they had a good side made up of a few different generations of under-21 teams and above all, he knew that they had Mayo in their sights. The players knew that too – it wasn’t like they were surprised by anything that came their way in Hyde Park.

But when you’ve been around the block a few times, you know too that this is not the day you’re going to be judged on. It’s not that you take the opposition lightly, it’s more that your attention for the year is on the bigger picture. These Mayo lads are bright boys, they’re experienced players.

They know well that you can’t just assume you’re going to walk through Connacht again. But the reality is that a good number of them have never lost a game in the province. And those who have need to go back four years to remember the last time. They’re going back to the well for an All-Ireland, not for another Connacht medal.

And so a smart, ambitious team like Roscommon comes looking for a scalp. They reckon you might not just be on your game from the word go and they set about making it difficult for you. They’ve played a game already so they know the system they want to play and now they try to squeeze the life out of you. Football is fun when it’s loose and when you’re able to kick scores and get good passing movements going. Roscommon set out to make it as little fun as possible for Mayo, which was the best way to test to see if they were up for it.

And look, it’s no crime not to be. As I said, players are only human. I played in those games plenty of times. You’re looking around the pitch to see who’s going to take this thing on. You see a couple of debutants and you think, “Well, we can’t expect them to have to be the ones to pull it out of the fire”.

You see a few fellas coming back after injury and trying to get game time and you go, “Nope, not them either”. It’s not too long before you start running out of bodies and realising you have to get after it yourself. It’s like that poker movie Rounders – if you can’t spot the sucker after half an hour at the table, then the sucker is you.

Do too much

You see a few lads try to force it then and try to do too much. It was so easy to spot the rot setting in for Mayo last Sunday. Lee Keegan came forward a couple of times and drove the ball wide from distance. Lads start cranking at each other then. The older fellas start going, “Look, calm it, we’ll get there. Don’t be pot-shotting”.

The problem is, you’ve given the other crowd a bit of belief now. Mayo kicked 10 wides in that first half and it kept Roscommon in the game. Kick four or five of those points and you suck the life out of a young team. Roscommon came there hoping rather than expecting and Mayo’s first job was to kill off the hope altogether. Make them decide, “Ah, sure we’re not just at the level yet”.

Instead, Mayo would have been in their dressing room trying to convince themselves into a performance. Maybe a bit of hollow shouting, maybe a bit of table banging. But talk is cheap at that stage. I always found that the fellas banging the table are some of the same lads grabbing the jersey after a score. Go out and do it. That’s what you’re there for.

Mayo had to find a way to do it and they were in trouble until Andy Moran and Alan Dillon came on and found it for them. It was one of those days where nothing would go right. One of the really enjoyable features of the game for me was the amount of high fielding in it but I couldn’t help laughing when at one point Seamie O’Shea rose for a ball and just mishandled it – there were four Mayo bodies underneath him but somehow it fell to the one Roscommon man.

That’s the way of it sometimes. You try everything and nothing comes off. You get into the referee’s ear to try and get him to throw a few decisions your way, although it doesn’t always work.

I remember playing a club game one time and we were struggling badly even though we’d have been expected to win it handy enough. I started getting onto the ref, a fella who was a big Kerry supporter who you’d see at all the games.

“You’d want to mind yourself now,” I was going. “Some of these calls could cost us the game. On your head be it now, that’s all I’m saying.” My man turned around to me and said, “Darragh, now I know what they meant about never meeting your heroes in case you’re disappointed.”

Rest of game

Well, that shut me up! Fair play to him – I went away chuckling and I didn’t open my mouth for the rest of the game.

I remembered him on Sunday when Eddie Kinsella was refereeing the game at Hyde Park. He took no lip from anybody and moved the ball up for mouthing a few times. Mayo got a few handy frees from him, Roscommon got a few too. But overall, you could see he wasn’t for moving anytime the players got in his ear.

In the end, Mayo came through it. They fairly celebrated at the final whistle but that won’t have lasted overly long either. What a game like that does is it gives everyone carte blanche to have a go afterwards.

We played Waterford in Killarney in 2006 and made desperate heavy weather of it. In the dressing room afterwards, there was skin and hair flying. Everybody blamed everybody else. Jack O’Connor was the manager at the time and he went around a few players and asked what the problem was.

“We were flat,” said the players. And sure that just started off a chain reaction. The finger got pointed at the trainer for not having us right. The trainer stood up and said he hadn’t been able to do enough work with us because of the county board. And by God, the county chairman wasn’t going to stand for that so he took desperate umbrage altogether.

If anyone saw us! We were like a family at Christmas tearing strips off one another. The blame game flew round and round the dressing room. Everyone short of the bus driver got a kicking.

The thing was, we went on to win the All-Ireland in the end that year. You come away from a game like that with doubts and it might take the rest of the summer to overcome them. Mayo will realise in time that this wasn’t the worst performance in the world at all. That’s a very promising team they beat and you’d hope that by the end of the summer Roscommon will show that there was no shame in having to dig deep to get past them.

The big job for Roscommon now is to show that there’s more to them than just trying to bring the neighbours down at the knees.

As for Mayo, they need to put this behind them. It was a tough day but they came through it. It won’t be good enough to win an All-Ireland but the point is it didn’t have to be. All it had to be was good enough to get out of Hyde Park.

Job done. Move on.

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