Eamonn Fitzgerald speaks to former Mayo footballer John Gibbons about Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
No Kerry v Tyrone game on Sunday due to COVID problems in Tyrone, so the focus is on Dublin and Mayo tomorrow in the All-Ireland semi-final.
It seems like an eternity since Mayo won the Sam Maguire. You have to go back to 1951, in fact, and since then they have lost finals in 1989, 1996 (after a replay), 1997, 2004, 2006, 2012, 2013, 2016 (after a replay), 2017 and 2020. There is just one member alive of that last Mayo team to win the Sam Maguire and that is the powerful Paddy Prendergast, who has been living in Tralee for over 40 years. Glad to say Paddy is alive and in good health.
Many of our readers will remember Willie McGee, the red-headed full forward who really almost single-handedly beat Kerry in an U21 All-Ireland final by scoring four goals. McGee and the stylish centre-forward John Gibbons later teamed up as the central plank of the Mayo senior attack, meeting Kerry in two NFL finals in the early seventies.
EF: John Gibbons and I were working colleagues, but in direct opposition in those finals. During the week I spoke to John in his Louisburgh home and first asked him how Mayo are coping without the injured Cillian O’Connor.
JG: Mayo have coped reasonably well without Cillian, but you cannot lose a player of his quality without seriously diminishing your forward line. He has been Mayo's star forward for years: no other Mayo forward has come close to him with his forward play, his scoring ability from play and, very importantly, his free-taking.
Free takers win All-Irelands. There is a list as long as your arm, from Tony McTeague, Jimmy Keaveney, and a longer list in Kerry alone. Think recently of Michael Murphy, Stephen Cluxton even, Dean Rock, someone who is able to score frees under the biggest pressure. That's what Mayo have lost in Cillian. Young Ryan O'Donoghue has done very well but he is untried at this level.
What of the other younger players?
Tommy Conroy has great talent and played very well in the second half against Galway, but he was anonymous in last year's All-Ireland. Darren McHale, another newcomer, was taken off at half-time against Galway. That's what you get from young players: inconsistency. They are talented but inconsistent and with only two experienced players in the forward line (Aidan O'Shea and Diarmuid O'Connor), it's expecting a lot of the young players to step up to the mark and it took the introduction of 'old-timer' Kevin McLoughlin at halftime against Galway to change the course of the game. I believe that Mayo will really miss Cillian - that will be their first real test without him.
How do you rate the new kids on the block, John?
Of the other newcomers Pádraig O'Hora at full back – provided he has recovered from a shoulder injury – is a fine prospect. He is physically strong and athletic, not afraid to tackle and break forward. He should have Lee Keegan beside him and probably Michael Plunkett in the other corner. I would expect the half back line to be Paddy Durcan, and we all know his ability, Young Player of the Year Oisín Mullen at centre back, and probably Eoghan McLaughlin or Stephen Coen at left half back. That line has the attacking potential to trouble Dublin. It's how they can handle their defensive duties against the Kilkenny, O’Callaghan, Rock – forwards and others who may well decide the match.
At midfield Mattie Ruane is developing into one of the best midfielders in the country but if the real Brian Fenton turns up, Mattie will have his hands full.
Aidan O’Shea has been a huge player for Mayo but has had a disappointing record in Croke Park, scoring so little in 6 outings. Where would you play him?
The dilemma of where to play Aidan O'Shea is a head-scratcher. I thought he had a marvellous game against Galway. His work rate is always top class and if you examine his displays, he never gets the amount of frees that he deserves. He will probably be fouled twice while in possession and yet will have a free given against him for over carrying. I would play him at full forward but I think he prefers to roam around the centre forward spot so that he's involved more in the play.
Are Dublin on the wane?
They are they still a strong force. However, if Mayo play against Dublin in the first half as they did against Galway then the game will be over by half-time regardless of whether Dublin are on the wane or not. Mayo were sloppy in the back line and gave away two sloppy goals. Their forwards in that first half were wasteful in the extreme. You won't get away with that against Dublin.
Having said that I believe Mayo will put it up to Dublin and that it will be a close encounter, as I genuinely believe they can win.
I take a different view to my friend John Gibbons. Dublin have not been beaten in six years and I expect them to continue on their way tomorrow. Yes, there are signs that they may not be as sharp as heretofore and have lost a few key players, none more influential than goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. There was a big hullabaloo in the media that he never announced publicly that he had retired. He departed on his own terms. He owed Dublin or the GAA public nothing after a marvellous career. Fear ann féin is ea Cluxton. As far as I can recall, neither did Maurice Fitzgerald make a public announcement about his retirement.
Evan Comerford, the new Dublin keeper, is quite competent but has not yet perfected the skill of consistently finding teammate with the kickout. I wonder will Mayo press up on those kickouts. I believe they should because Dublin love to launch attacks from deep. They are superbly fit and are quite content to inter-pass and hold possession 50 yards from goal. They will not attempt Holy Mary kicks, with a high chance of failure. Hold the ball until a chink appears in the opposition’s defence and the ball is delivered to the player in the best position to score. This is usually predicated by the runner coming from deep. It could be anyone, not just running, but galloping at high speed. It may be Fenton, James McCarthy, Ciarán Kilkenny, Johnny Small, Con O’Callaghan, take your pick. Kerry folk will remember Eoin Murchan doing just that and scoring the goal that deprived us of the All-Ireland we should have won.
In the Leinster final Brian Fenton was largely invisible. He will be influential tomorrow.
For Mayo, Aidan O’Shea has to be a leader; he must lead from the front tomorrow, to inspire the young cohort playing with the big boys on the grand stage for the first time. I have been impressed by the progress of the young ones on the Mayo team and wish them well tomorrow.
Mayo bridesmaids once more? Unfortunately, I think so.
Popularity of Ladies Gaelic Football on the rise
According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast […]
According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast of the Senior Final between Meath and Kerry.
The match had a 30.6% share of viewing among individuals. Viewing peaked at 5.10pm with 279,800 viewers as Meath closed in on the two in a row to retain the Brendan Martin Cup.
A total 46,400 attended the match in person in Croke Park on Sunday, the first TG4 Ladies Football Final to have full capacity allowance since 2019.
Viewers from over 50 countries tuned into the finals on the TG4 Player with 14,000 streams of the game from international viewers. Over 20,000 streams were also registered from Irish viewers.
TG4 Director General Alan Esslemont said: “My deepest gratitude to all the counties especially Wexford and Kerry who battled to the end through this season’s Championship, hearty congratulations to both Laois and Meath and I am really looking forward to the re-match of Antrim and Fermanagh which will be carried live on TG4. A special word of thanks goes to the huge crowd which travelled to the Finals from all the corners of Ireland. County Meath especially have become a role model for other counties in how to build huge attending support for LGFA in both genders and at all ages. Sunday’s massive expression of Meath ‘fandom’ in Croke Park brought their county the greatest credit.
Sunday’s broadcast was the 22nd edition of the TG4 Ladies Gaelic Football Championship, a unique history of a sport minoritized by society being championed by a language media minoritized by the state. By consciously standing together we have grown together. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the LGFA in 2024 let us all hope by that time that we are even further along the road towards true equality of opportunity for both Ladies Gaelic Football and Irish language media.”
Following her World Championships debut, Leahy is hungry for more
Adam Moynihan met Killarney sprinter Sarah Leahy at the Killarney Valley AC Arena to chat about her recent appearance at the World Championships, her goals for the rest of the year, and a very special pair of socks
Hi Sarah. Thanks for showing me around Killarney Valley’s facilities. It’s an impressive set-up.
The track facilities here are perfect. We have everything we need and Killarney Valley are always looking to improve the facilities and the club itself. All the people behind the scenes at are the MVPs, people like Jerry and Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, and Bríd Stack to mention just a few.
You recently competed in the World Championships in Oregon as part of the Irish 4 x 100m relay team, finishing eighth in your heat. How did you feel the event went for you?
We’re very proud of each other, and we did well, but we definitely could have run better. We had more. We were aiming for and felt we were capable of running a national record. But on the day, it just didn’t happen.
Personally, it was a great experience. I loved every second of it. But I will admit that the actual running part is a bit of a blur. I came onto the track and there’s this huge stadium, but I was more looking around at the people I was running against. Ewa Swoboda – I thought she’d win the World Indoor – she was four people away from me and I was looking at her… She was probably like, ‘Why is this woman staring at me?’ I was very nervous. But it was still amazing and I hope I can do it again.
The fact that I was running against international athletes that have been to the Olympics and been finalists, I was kind of star struck. My trainers are like, okay Sarah, calm down. You’re meant to be here. Don’t act like you shouldn’t.
Can you describe your mindset before a race? Do you often get nervous?
On the line it’s all about how you’re feeling, what you can do. You just have to get mentally prepared for a good start. Especially for me. Get out, and run as fast as you can. Just getting in the zone, I guess. I’ll know if I’m not in the zone, because I’m thinking of other things. If I’m on the blocks my head shouldn’t be wandering. It should be blank and all I should be waiting for is that gun.
Would you say that you’re an ultra competitive person?
I’m a competitive person, obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be competing at this level. But I also come from a team background, and I’m friends with a lot of these girls, so I want them to do well as well. And if they happen to beat me, fair play. You put in the training, you did very well. I’m very happy for you.
We all kind of get prepared differently. A lot of people for the warm-up, which is an hour or half an hour before the race, have the earphones on, gameface on, not talking to anyone, not smiling at anyone. I’m completely different. The more nervous I am, the more I’m going to talk.
There was a situation in Greece where everyone had their earphones on and I was mad to talk to everyone. That could change but as of right now I do tend to talk a lot. And then, going on to the track, obviously there’s no more talking. You’re getting ready for the race and mentally preparing.
Tell me about the socks you wore in Oregon.
[laughs] My socks were a Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend, Daniel. They had his face all over them and they say ‘I love you’. So yeah, I just ran the Worlds with my boyfriend’s face on my feet. He was delighted!
Daniel was the person who pushed for me to go back to running. He knew I was no longer enjoying the football and he heard the way I spoke about athletics. He helped me make the decision to go back. It was the best decision so it was only right I wore the socks and he was there in some way. I probably wouldn’t have been there without him.
Did you have some of your own supporters over there?
Yes, my mom and dad (Marie and Mike) actually travelled over. They spent the week and it was unreal to have them there. And then my cousins from Vancouver in Canada drove down which was I think over 10 hours. I was actually warming up before the relay and then I saw and heard my family with all their Kerry jerseys, Irish jerseys, Irish flags, roaring my name. That was really nice.
What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?
I was hopeful that we were going to send a 4 x 100 relay team to the Europeans but I just got an email saying that we wouldn’t, which is disappointing. I know some of top 2022 female sprinters aren’t available but some are and with any of them we would do well over there. We would be competitive. We held our qualification of being in the top 16 teams all summer so it’s a pity that, at the last second, we aren’t going.
In saying that, the women’s Irish relay will continue to work hard and we have a lot more to give. We will prove that next year.
You’re moving to Dublin for work later this year. How will this affect your training?
I might have to change coaches again, which I’m a bit sad about because I really liked the Limerick training group (Leahy was in UL where she trained with the Hayley and Drew Harrison). I think I performed well and I loved the training. I was surrounded by the right people who were really lovely. I hope to find a group like that in Dublin and keep running well and performing better.
And what about next season?
I’d like another good indoor season. I was talking to Lauren Roy in Stockholm and she told me that I have the European standard in the 60m from last year. Which I didn’t know! So that’s kind of in my head now to try and get there, to improve my time. I think I could actually run faster. I ran 7.39 and I’d like to run at least 7.30, hopefully get another European standard, and actually go to the Europeans. I think it’s in Germany. That’d be my target.
And then next summer, there’s the Worlds again. So it’d be nice to continue making the Irish relays and definitely improve my time, because there’s more. I can definitely run faster over 100.
What is your current PB in the 100m? Are you close to bettering it?
I ran 11.67, which I was delighted with. But it was my first run of the season. It’s quite rare that you run a PB in the season opener. But I ran it, and I haven’t ran it since. The closest was 11.70 in Switzerland. So I definitely think there’s more in there. And I think I have a lot to learn as well. I’m still new to the sport and I’m a powerful kind of runner. I was doing a lot of gym work at the beginning of the year, before I ran my PB, and then afterwards usually people taper it off. So I did what other people do. I think that affected my running a little bit. I’m slightly weaker. So I’ve learned that maybe next year I shouldn’t do that. Then hopefully I’ll be running PB after PB, instead of just a one-off.
Onwards and upwards. Chat to you again soon.
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