How fitting that today, June 26, is the date of the Battle of Little Bighorn, known as Custer’s Last Stand, which took place 146 years ago in 1876.
General George Armstrong Custer led his troops into battle in the almost certain knowledge they would be defeated by the Native Americans led by Crazy Horse. And they were eliminated.
Today at Croke Park a Mayo team, consisting of several tough players and a highly experienced manager at James Horan, strives to face adversity and insurmountable odds against many a favorite for All-Ireland.
For Mayo, it’s his version of Custer’s Last Stand. So, can they escape the fate that happened to Custer and his soldiers from the 7th Cavalry Regiment?
To set the record straight, I am not stressing that Jack O’Connor is either insane or a horse.
But no current GAA football manager has more experience, knowledge and trophies to win – and is operating from a position of strength.
This is the third meeting of the parties this year. Mayo’s 15-point loss in the Allianz League final seems to have derailed the team as they have struggled with form, consistency, confidence and injuries ever since.
Qualifier victories over Monaghan and Kildare have offered hope and much needed game time for returning warriors Cillian O’Connor and Jordan Flynn.
Team Mayo will take the field today, in terms of personnel, as it were to endure that shameful onslaught in April.
What is needed is a change in their strategy.
Disrupting your opponent’s flow and game plan is something Mayo players have done in the past – and they can certainly benefit from doing it today.
Forget about the David Clifford-Padrag O’Horra mismatch in the league finals.
It was a case of a defender being isolated without any protection. He himself was sent over the trenches.
The real problem was that O’Horra’s team-mate Carey wasn’t putting any pressure on the players, and he had the time and space to ping the perfect pass into a deadly two-man, full-forward line.
Lee Keegan is playing the football of his life and how has his life been. Year after year he has led Mayo not only as a defender but also as an attacker.
Carey will instead hire someone other than Clifford to curb a man whose engine never blows black smoke. Keegan never raises a white flag.
Had there been a purple heart medal for bravery and wounded ‘soldiers’ in GAA combat, Keegan would be the most fully decorated sportsperson in history.
Mayo and his manager need to think differently. Our defense needs to be protected at all costs. There cannot be a repeat of what happened in April, when Kerry was allowed to roam free.
Stephen Coen is the ideal player to act as sweeper – and the prospect of double-teaming Clifford remains to be seen.
But this is by no means a one-man Kerry side and the threats posed by Stephen O’Brien, Sean O’Shea and Paul Gainey – not to mention the firepower on their benches – must be addressed.
The bottom line is – put Kerry in place and they will destroy you at speed.
Mayo rarely finish games firmly when they are ahead; Instead they fall back into a shell.
They are at their best when they come from behind in the final quarter; Then they throw the shackles on and play their best football, as they did in last year’s epic semi-final win over Dublin.
In this context, the deployment of their substitutes is important, as they are required to control the flow of the game and put their stamp of authority on the proceedings.
This Mayo team is by no means an expended force and is far from finished.
But the reality is that for some players today is the last stand. He has too many football miles on his feet to be otherwise.
Luck favors the brave, but Mayo must be smart in how he approaches the job.