If you want to know letting bygones be bygones, you only need to hear one story from the weekend.
Mick O'Dwyer was supposed to be going to Croke Park to watch Kerry play Donegal but at the last minute, he decided to stay at home in Waterville. For one reason only – so that he would be able to keep an eye on Shane Lowry in the golf. It's taken 37 years but it looks like he's finally thinking about forgiving Offaly for '82.
The week off now couldn't have come at a better time for some of the teams left standing in the Super 8s. Mayo look especially ready for a bit of down-time. I watched them in Croke Park on Sunday and some of them looked wrecked tired. You could see the five weeks in a row taking its toll on them.
Tiredness is a virus. It doesn’t kill you right away, it just takes a bit here and a bit there out of you until you’re thrown off your game. It’s nearly worse than an injury because at least if you’re injured, they’ve no choice but to take you off and you are replaced by someone who is fully fit. By the time the sideline works out that tiredness is affecting you, it’s too late.
It’s more than just being out on your feet and not being physically able to get back into position or track your man. The real killer is tiredness in your mind, stopping you thinking clearly and quickly and making the right choices. I was watching Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan on Sunday and the mistakes they were making were purely down to mental exhaustion.
Watching tired players is like seeing a fella leave his pint glass on the edge of the bar counter. You’re nervous for them, more nervous than they are for themselves. You know disaster is imminent but that they might get away with it as well. Mayo got out the gap on Sunday and no glass was smashed. But it was obvious that they were just scraping by.
The two-week break will be huge for them. They need an energy refill for mind and body. It’s not a huge amount of time or anything but it’s something at least. They will still have football on the brain every day, they will still know at all times that they’re in a serious situation. But at least they’re not having to go again straight away.
They badly need to get those energy levels up again. I thought they looked punch drunk at times on Sunday. Keegan came into it when the game was there to be won in the second half but for a long time before that he was anonymous. At times I was looking at him and wondering where the player who was footballer of year a few years ago had gone.
Think of Keegan when he was one of the best players anywhere. He was all about physicality and aggression and getting forward for that goal against the Dubs. He was pure attitude, absolute warrior stuff – taking it to the opposition, making them know that he was a problem that they had to go and deal with.
But now he looks like someone who has lost a couple of gears. Or maybe lost a bit of attitude or something. I know he’s been injured this year and I presume that’s part of it too. But Mayo need more from him. When you’re blessed to have a Rolls Royce player like that, he’s no good to you as just one of the gang. You need him to be outstanding – not necessarily in every game but definitely from here on out. He and O’Shea really need to flush the tiredness from their system between now and Saturday week.
Because look who they're coming up against? A Donegal team whose main man and superstar doesn't look in the least bit tired. Michael Murphy gave an exhibition on Sunday, a complete performance. It's rare you see someone who is so comfortable with orchestrating a game. He was something else.
In the vast majority of cases, the outstanding player on a team stands out because of his individual gifts. He’s the player who isn’t just allowed to be selfish, he’s encouraged to be. You go and do your bit and let us take up the slack for you.
But the thing that really stands out about Michael Murphy is how selfless he is. Watch the timing of his runs or the positioning for certain different match situations or the way he decides for himself where he’s most needed on the pitch. All of it is done to serve the team as a whole, not Murphy himself.
He constantly wants to bring the other Donegal players into the game. He knows that wherever he goes, he will attract the bulk of the attention so when Patrick McBrearty needs a bit of space to work in, he gets out of the full-forward line and drifts around the middle. He’s always available for kick-outs and brings two opposition players with him when he goes for one. His decision-making in real time is a sight to see.
I thought he was magnificent against Kerry on Sunday. When Donegal got the penalty and it looked for minute that McBrearty was going to take it, I had a brief moment of hope. I don’t mean that I expected McBrearty to miss or anything – it was more a sudden jolt of, ‘Here lads, Murphy isn’t taking it’.
But no such luck. Once he took the ball of McBrearty, that was that. I didn’t even have to look to see what way he hit it – that ball was going nowhere only the back of the net. He is a leader playing at the very height of his powers and he is bringing Donegal with him.
So all of this makes Saturday week a huge battle. Both sides have injuries that they could do with getting cleared up but assuming that the majority of them are good to go, it’s such an even contest.
A lot will be made of Stephen Rochford’s role over the coming week and a half. It’s interesting that most people see it as a big advantage for Donegal to have him as their coach going up against Mayo players who he has intimate knowledge of. And you can see why.
If you were in charge of Donegal and Rochford wasn't a part of the coaching ticket, wouldn't he be your first call if you were going about preparing for a game like this? If you could get him in for a night, pick his brain, bombard him with questions, you'd do it in a heartbeat. Except of course, he probably wouldn't do it because he's only a year out of the job. So it's some help to Declan Bonner to have him on hand to go picking holes in Mayo. He can say what they are even before he sits down to watch a minute of video.
For one thing, Mayo's killer weakness is their kick-out and nobody knows that better than Rochford. He was the man who dropped David Clarke for the All-Ireland final replay, purely on the basis of his kick-outs. It backfired on him then but when you look at how Kerry blitzed Clarke in that first half in Killarney, you can see what Rochford was so afraid of.
Now that the boot is on the other foot, you can be very sure Donegal will go to Castlebar with a game plan designed to target that weakness.
But to be honest, I look at the Rochford factor from the other side of the fence. If you’re a Mayo player over the coming 10 days and Rochford’s name comes up, you’re not going to be sitting there in fear of what he has in store for you. Not a hope. If you have any gumption about you at all – and we know these Mayo players have nothing to prove on that score – you’re saying, “Bring it on, Rochy. We know as much about you as you do about us”.
If I was a Mayo player in the run up to this game, it would piss me off to high heaven that people are talking about Rochford as having the key to beating me. Great coach, great fella, can’t wait to shake his hand and give him a hug after the game. So what if he knows how to plan for us? Why is nobody pointing out that the same goes the other way around?
Stuff like that gives you serious motivation. It’s not really a comparable situation in terms of what’s a stake but I remember playing a league game in Tralee one year against Westmeath when Páidí was over them. When you’re going playing a game against someone who you have that sort of connection with, people are always going to make assumptions. Whether they do or they don’t, you will always convince yourself of it anyway.
I wasn’t playing particularly well at the time and I went into the game full sure that people thought I would probably take it handy because Páidí was in the other dugout. But I tore into it and had one of my better games, purely to make it clear that there could be no chance that I’d be found wanting, regardless of the opposition.
Tomás scored a goal in the same game and without even asking him, I could tell that he had the same attitude as me to that game – ye lads can look at this one way, I’m looking at it the other. And if I was David Clarke or Aidan O’Shea or Lee Keegan ahead of this one, that’s how I’d be looking at it too. Ye think Rochford is Donegal’s trump card over us? Right, let’s see about that.
Either way, it’s building up to be some battle.