While down the years, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the drought that has befallen the Mayo senior footballers when it comes to All-Ireland titles, there’s a bunch of young guns on the way up the ranks who are no stranger to the winning mindset.
The Mayo minors throw in their season this Saturday 14th March with an away game against Roscommon, and manager Enda Gilvarry and his backroom team will be no doubt eager to build on the success of his last couple of years at the helm, which has seen more than one trip to Croke Park and a very memorable trip back west with the Tom Markham Cup in 2013.
Some of the faces from that magic year are appearing in the senior panel, including captain Stephen Coen who has already made his mark on the squad. The future looks bright, but what’s it like from the point of view of those who are shaping that future?
As our marvellous minors prepare to challenge again in 2015, Club 51’s intrepid reporter Mayo Mark caught up with Enda recently to get his take on the year ahead.
Mark: Can you give us a bit of background on your GAA playing and managerial career?
Enda: I started off with Ballina Stephenites, I came up through the underage ranks there although I’m from Killala, but that’s a longer story! I won most of the county titles at the time that were available and played with some fantastic footballers who went on to play for the county. In ’85 and ’87 I was involved with the teams that won the senior championships. I played football in Boston one summer and won a Boston Championship there which I’m very proud of as it was the only time I played with one of my brothers. We come from a huge footballing family with a large involvement with Mayo football – something that I’m very proud of.
I started managing Ballina minors in 1999 and won a County “A” title. In 2003 I managed the senior team in Ballina and won the county senior title. I moved to Killala and started to manage them in 2008 where we won the county and Connacht junior titles. I stayed with Killala for a few years and became the Mayo minor selector in 2012, took over as manager at the start of 2013 and I’m still here.
That’s a pretty comprehensive CV and with plenty more in the tank?
Well please God! I don’t play golf or have any other hobby. It’s the one thing that gets me out of the house and keeps me young.
Can you talk us through the highs and lows of the 2013 season?
Look, it was a fantastic experience – something I really enjoyed and looking back I think that was part and parcel of the success. As a management team we enjoyed it and I think the players enjoyed it as well and that allowed them to express themselves. It’s a special time when a group of players, managers and any support group from the county board and so on to gel.
Towards the end of the year all we had to do was hand out the jersies, the players deserve a huge amount of credit because they took a huge mantle of leadership.
Some really special characters and some really special memories.
Last year saw another Connacht Championship and a couple of great victories. Can you expand on 2014?
Yeah, Last year was another rollercoaster of a year. We tried an awful lot of players and didn’t get a steady team together until the championship. That resulted in our league position not being as good as it could have been, yet in all of those games we lost by only one or two points, and in each one felt we could have won the game. So, I always knew that there was potential within the championship group. It took us a long time to deliver on that potential but once we beat Galway in Tuam we blossomed from there.
Ultimately in the All-Ireland semi-final, Cian Hanley’s injury and a little bit of disruption through sickness in the camp maybe cost us a little bit. But we also have to remember that we came up against an extremely good Kerry team who showed in the final how strong and competitive they were.
In terms of management and coaching approach, do you have any outside inspiration or favourite coach from any code?
You’ll always get bits and pieces from everywhere. Hugely impressed with Brian Cody’s record, people like Alex Ferguson, and even the way Brendan Rodgers approached last year (with Liverpool) with their style of football and positivity and getting the best out of a limited enough squad was impressive in itself. Closer to home, our own Strength and Conditioning coach James Mitchell in is second to none.
Could you give us an insight as to what’s involved in the background to running a team like the Mayo minors?
The preparation for the Mayo minor time would start… I think I was at trials less than 3 weeks after the All-Ireland final in 2013 preparing for 2014. The U17 academy will train through most of the winter doing strength and conditioning indoors and some of those young men will progress onto the Mayo minors which starts officially on the 1st February, but a lot of background work will have gone on to prepare for that.
Once that kicks off, between our own training sessions and club underage games, travelling to senior games where minors could be playing – that’s a 5 day a week job. Then analysing videos of ourselves, videos of opposition, it really becomes a 7 day a week job and that goes on right until the end. It is a very demanding job for all of the management but not only for us – it’s also demanding on our families. Thankfully they are very accommodating on that!
In terms of the players, 16, 17, 18 years old is an important time in a young man’s life with school and so on. What kind of effort do those lads put in?
Oh, huge. Huge. We outline what’s expected of them almost on a daily basis for them to be competitive in inter-county minor football. But we are also mindful that they have their school demands, their school football demands, club demands, and most importantly a lot of them will be doing their Leaving Cert.
We find the most important thing is the structure and in many ways the Mayo minors actually helps them in that regard. With the size of the county you have some lads who leave school, come to training, go home and it’s time for bed.
That’s a huge commitment, not only from themselves but also from their family who have to buy into that.
Right, as a supporters group, we’re looking for brutal honesty here. What kind of effect can supporters have, both positive and negative, on the outcome of any game?
Those of us who were on the field in 2013 when the final whistle went and Mayo Minors were victorious, nobody can underestimate what that meant to the Mayo public and the Mayo support and the feeling that it gave us all. That group of young men know what it means to win an All-Ireland in front of 40,000 supporters. Hopefully when they get that chance again they’ll remember what it was like because they have done it in front of a packed crowd. If and when they win the seniors there will not be a better reaction. That in itself will serve as a huge memory for those young men, and some older men as well!
There’s no doubt that the tighter games we’ve had, especially against Galway, and the days in Croke Park when the seniors are there behind us, it’s a fantastic place to be and a fantastic county to represent and a fantastic support to have. One memory of 2014 was of a spontaneous pitch invasion after the Connacht Final. I don’t remember that happening before and I like to think that was a mark of the football we played in the last 10 minutes and the excitement it generated.
I don’t find any pressure from the supporters and I hope the lads don’t find any pressure. I think it’s a hugely positive thing.
There’s a huge challenge for a player to bridge the gap between minor and U21 to senior. What are the main challenges, do you think, in that regard?
If you look at the calibre of player and the condition of the Mayo Senior team at the moment, to expect a minor, or a 19 or 20 year old to step up to that level easily or quickly is unrealistic. We can only play our part to developing them to a certain extent to indoctrinate them into how important intercounty football is and the work levels that are required at that standard. Then the U21 and the senior academies take over.
You know, the expectation is there that, just because a minor All-Ireland was won, that it’s going to be easy and the players are just going to be there going forward. Without the structures being put in place – the strength and conditioning, the fitness programmes – realistic development opportunities within the senior structure and the U21 structure , those chances, like many before, are going to filter away. I like what I have heard about a group of young men being brought into a senior strength and conditioning programme as a development. I like the structures that have been put in place to monitor injuries, to recover and rehabilitate properly and the procedures in strength and conditioning to prevent injuries. I think that is hugely important and something we have tried to buy into in the minor team.
As a supporter, do you have any fond memories yourself of following the Mayo senior team?
I remember back to the late 70’s and early 80’s when winning Connacht or an All-Ireland Semi-final was beyond us. I’d go all the way back to 1989 and winning the All-Ireland semi-final. Obviously that was my first time seeing Mayo in an All-Ireland final. No more than anyone else there’s a real frustration when losing when there seems to be no apparent reason. All this stuff about curses drives me absolutely mad.
I spoke about my family history in football. That came from the ’48-’51 era and those young men who won those All-Irelands were in no way special. They were no different to ourselves, only that they had a mentality that nobody else was better than them. I have the mentality that nobody is better than Mayo and that on any given day, Mayo men can take on anyone and when circumstances are right and things go right for us we will win it.
How do you fancy our chances this year in the senior championship, and what do you think of the appointment of Noel and Pat?
I’d be very excited and delighted for Noel and Pat and I think that they will bring an awful lot of experience and stability to the Mayo team again. James Horan did a fantastic job after 4 years but it’s no harm that a new voice has come in and it might give a fresh impetus. The senior team have worked extremely hard. Pat and Noel will have to balance things with bringing in new players and balancing that with maintaining the standards that the team has set over the past number of years. There’s no doubt it’s a hard job. Success for the next year will be winning an All Ireland. Anything else… It’s a tough job that they’ve accepted.
Do you follow any other sports besides GAA?
If there was a round or oval ball and people chasing it I’d watch it. I love all sports from football to badminton. I’d even watch cricket! But I very seldom get the opportunity between work and the Mayo minors there isn’t that much time.
Enda, thanks a million for giving us your time. Before we let you go, can you give us your own sporting predictions for the year ahead?
All Ireland Hurling? Kilkenny
FA Cup? Hmmm … Man City
FAI Cup? Shamrock Rovers .. A Dublin club will win it
Rugby WC? Australia
Superbowl: Wouldn’t have a clue! Apart from the New England Patriots
Wimbledon: Murray will come back …
Thanks to Enda from all at Club ’51 and wishing the management team and of course the marvellous minors another great year ahead. We’ve had nothing but pleasure following these lads since 2013 with an All-Ireland and 2 Connacht Titles to celebrate. The Mayo minors travel to take on Roscommon in Kiltoom this Saturday at 2pm.
EDIT (REPOST): Best of luck to the lads in their first Championship outing this year as they look to join the seniors in Hyde Park on the 19th June. They play Galway at MacHale Park this Saturday evening.