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Remember the Mayo team of 1967

Sean Rice

Seán Rice

THE year was 1967. Twelve seasons had gone by without a conquest. Hope was wearing thin. Reminiscence loomed larger in Mayo minds than the vision of future success. Flanagan, Langan, Solan, Prendergast, and McAndrew had shaped Mayo’s last Connacht title, in 1955, remnant stars from a golden age ... immortal, it seemed, and irreplaceable.
Two years before that Mayo won the All-Ireland minor championship, but the county was still en fête, still toasting the feats of the seniors All-Irelands of 1950 and 51. The minors success was seen as just that ... a minor success.
So none of those minors was considered for senior selection for the 1955 campaign. The old icons were still in harness, seeking to relive former glory, unmindful of the effects of the encroaching years.
Some of that minor team were worth places on the ’55 side, but an understandable reluctance to replace any of those who had brought lustre to the county at the beginning of the decade denied them the opportunity to learn from the masters.
The old-timers steered the team to that title. It was their final fling. Afterwards they bowed to the inevitable and joined in memory the hallowed ranks of the immortals. But the gap they left existed for 12 years. Apathy took hold. Trainers came and went, but football remained rooted in an abyss.
In the meantime Galway flourished. They reached the All-Ireland final of 1963 with a team built from their minor success three years earlier. For the following three years they had no peers, winning a trinity of All-Irelands.
In the course of that success they beat Mayo by five points in 1963, by ten the following year, and by one in 1966 before going on to capture their third successive title.
From the experience of engagements with their arch rivals, Mayo grew in stature, and Carey, Corcoran, Connaughton, Morley, Langan, Farragher, Nealon Prendergast and Ruane had begun to reanimate Mayo football.
Galway’s Connacht victory in 1966 was considered fortuitous, the winning score coming in injury time. The consensus was that having cleared the Mayo fence Galway would retain the Sam Maguire … which they did.
The following year dawned brighter for Mayo than any of the decade before. At last they seemed ready to shrug off the clutches of inertia. We who followed them yearned for a Connacht title then as much as we do now for an All-Ireland.
Galway had just returned early in’67 from league commitments in America, a journey that compounded the fatigue that three years at the summit of Gaelic football had induced. Nevertheless, they were still expected to retain the Connacht title ... whatever about the Sam Maguire.
They met in the semi-final at Pearse Stadium, Mayo having already disposed of Sligo by five points. And the crash of the weary champs resounded across the country as Mayo triumphed by 11 points.
That obstacle cleared, Mayo’s thirst for success was finally sated in Tuam in the final, with a victory margin of 20 points over Leitrim which released all the frustrations gathered throughout a decade of despair.
Mainly because they had beaten them, Mayo were installed as favourites to replace Galway as All-Ireland champions. They were new, hungry, and determined ... perhaps a bit naive too.
Disaster struck, however, a couple of weeks before the semi-final when they lost their leader and one of the country’s top footballers John Morley, struck down with appendicitis.
The centre-back was their cornerstone, and fledgling Mayo could ill afford the loss of his dependability, his guidance. In desperation, as the semi-final against Meath began to slip from them, the selectors called on their stricken leader on the sideline to rescue them.
Barely out of hospital, Morley bravely answered the call, some 15 minutes from the end. He was wan and weak and sore and nothing he did could change the trend of the game. Mayo lost by six points and would wait a further 22 years to contest an All-Ireland final.
Between 1967 and the beginning of James Horan’s reign as manager in 2011, Mayo won 13 Connacht titles, but never more than two in a row. In between also, they suffered humiliating defeats: 16 points to Kerry in 1981, ten points to Galway the following year, 20 to Cork in 1993, soul-destroying beatings that cut deep into the psyche.
On one occasion a Mayo side got closer to claiming the Sam Maguire than any of the last five years. John Maughan’s men had their hands wrapped round it in 1996, only to be dragged by the hop of a ball into a replay which they lost by a point to Meath.
We consoled ourselves in the belief that it was a prelude to a greater occasion the following year. That was to be our day in the sun. But we made a bags of it in 1997 and let Kerry away with the softest of All-Irelands.
The finals of 2004 and ’06 brought no succour. And as recently as 2010, an All-Ireland seemed more distant than ever following our humiliation by Longford in a qualifier at Pearse Park.
And then James Horan took over, and the transformation he wrought has been nothing short of extraordinary with Mayo competing seriously and for the first time consistently for top spot. The four under his watch have been increased to five by Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, the first five-in-a-row since 1910. But that hair’s-breadth separation from distinction still exists.
Back in the quarter-finals with only two games played, they look self-assured, assertive and consistent. There is a glow to their game. They look fresh and eager. But the mental maze still to be negotiated is fraught with hazards.
Best wishes, Tommy
WE send our good wishes for a speedy recovery to former Mayo star of the seventies, Tommy O’Malley, laid low with a broken leg.
His enforced rest has afforded the former team captain time to review the state of the Gaelic football, and he is now of the firm opinion that reducing teams to 13 players would improve the flow of the game. It would also eliminate the use of forwards as defenders, in other words render the blanket defence redundant.
In times gone by a two-man tackle on the player in possession resulted in a free, he says. “Now four players are allowed to tackle. The man in possession of ball must be given the advantage by the referee. I think referees are confused about the rules.”
Watching the Connacht final on television, the Ballinrobe native feels the team is coming along nicely.
“For the first time since 1996, I think Mayo have a chance of reaching the top,” he added.

 

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