Mayo rescue mission shows just who is ‘coming through’

Aidan O’Shea says with logistics and injuries it’s always difficult in the league for Mayo

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea is delighted with the performances of the squad’s younger players. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea is delighted with the performances of the squad’s younger players. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Heading north this weekend, the Mayo players reminded each other again that they didn’t want to be the group responsible for ending the county team’s long association with Division One.

They had plenty of excuses: half their defence was in the sanatorium for one injury or another; they are a low-wattage league county and they were playing a county that had forgotten how to be beaten at home. Still. Any result would do the visitors.

“We really wanted to grasp that and we didn’t want to be going down to Division Two,” says Aidan O’Shea of the collective feeling.

“I’m only passing through, a couple of us will be gone in a couple of years and some of the younger lads stood up there which is great. They need to continue that on and stay in Division One football for as long as possible.”

There was an unavoidable irony about the concluding hour of a league campaign that was, for Mayo, defined by a general complaint that the county had ‘nobody’ coming through. In the second half in Ballybofey, when Mayo had to drag themselves into contention, corner back Eoin O’Donoghue and Crossmolina’s Conor Loftus were two of the team’s most conspicuous leaders.

O’Donoghue even broke from corner back in the 72nd minute to kick the point that left Mayo trailing by just one and set up those nerve wracking final few minutes. For O’Shea and the other Mayo seniors, the concern about the next generation is just white noise.

“We always thought they were there. People just don’t like to mention it. Stephen Coen was excellent out there, Conor Loftus kicked massive scores under pressure and Eoin O’Donoghue kicked a crucial one. These guys are good players and they are coming through. And they were the leaders out there. It was great to see.”

Last October, with the county still nursing the after affects of another grand tilt at the All-Ireland, O’Shea predicted in a radio interview how the league would pan out for Mayo. Spring consistency has never been their strong suite. Outsiders panic about it. They don’t. A decent win over Kildare led to a hapless performance in Castlebar against Tyrone.

“We didn’t even show up so it’s the same kind of rhetoric every year,” O’Shea acknowledges.

“We just know that with the logistics of everything going on with us; the injuries and players to come back that it’s always difficult in the league.”

All sorts of gloomy conclusions were reached at various stages of the competition. And yet in the last 10 minutes against Donegal, Mayo looked like their old selves, burning with energy and purpose and trusting in their ability to get a result. Donegal had their chances to close out the game but needing just a point, Mayo found themselves in their favourite environment of high pressure, organised chaos. O’Shea happened to be running in Kevin McLoughlin’s shadow and had a perfect view of the equalising point that secured the draw and their division one status.

“I don’t know if there’s a few in the country as talented as him to be honest; the amount of talent he has in his boots. I don’t think he realises himself. What a score off his right foot, I was running alongside him and when he hit it I knew it was going over. We know he is capable of that and as I say he stepped up big time against Tyrone last year off the left and this year off the right, so it’s a massive score for him.”

The escape was more symbolic of the irrepressible spirit in this group than of their immediate All-Ireland credentials. They haven’t come close to performing to anywhere close to their peak ability since hitting that rich vein of form in high summer last year.

Sunday’s draw merely permits them to play for next month’s vital championship clash with Galway secure in the knowledge that their appetite for high drama hasn’t diminished. But Galway’s eye-catching league performances – a mean defensive structure allied to imaginative attack lines – have made it clear that the Connacht championship game is going to be a huge task. Mayo haven’t beaten Galway in the summer since 2015.

“Look, we’ve been here before in terms of poor league campaigns and it doesn’t really change anything for us. Usually we have a lot of players coming back at this time of year but the opposite has happened this year. We lost players through injury and the 13th of May is only six or seven odd weeks away.

“What we have done against Galway in the last couple of years hasn’t been good enough, they’ve had the upper hand on us and the reality is we have to come up with something more inventive and try and beat them. They’ve beaten us in the last three competitive games and that says enough of it. We have to knuckle down, get ourselves ready and that’s all we are looking at.”

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