John O'Mahony: 'Growing gap in Gaelic Football a real danger'
By John Harrington
Former Mayo, Galway, and Leitrim manager, John O’Mahony, believes the growing gap between the strong and weak counties in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championships is one of the greatest challenges faced by the GAA.
O’Mahony, who will be inducted into the Gaelic Writers Association Hall of Fame this evening, famously managed Leitrim to the 1994 Connacht Championship.
He was involved with the Ridge County again this year as a member of manager Brendan Guckian’s backroom team, and admits he’s worried that Championship football is increasingly becoming a battle of unequals.
“I'm involved on the periphery with Leitrim at the minute and the concern I would have is that the people would see that they're not as close as our team was when I took it over,” says O’Mahony.
“That time they had won a provincial U-21 and an All-Ireland 'B' which at the time was certainly a stepping-stone for that team.
“I think there is a danger now, and it's a major challenge for the GAA, that the gap will keep growing.
“Counties also need to be proactive themselves in terms of helping themselves, but there needs to be a redistribution of resources as well to help counties to maintain a connection.
“It's not just the weak counties that need to close a gap, some of the stronger counties have a gap to close now as well because an All-Ireland Championship with only a handful of teams having a chance of competing with Dublin isn't the way we want to see things continue to go.
“Football has been universal in most counties and most provinces, and we can't afford to let 15 or 16 teams fall off the wagon.”
O’Mahony managed the Galway footballers to All-Ireland senior titles in 1998 and 2001, and he believes they’re one of the counties with the wherewithal to close the gap on three-in-row Dublin and challenge hard for the Sam Maguire Cup in the coming years.
“They obviously haven't yet reached the heights they did around the turn of the Millennium but I think they can again because the success of the hurlers for instance should drive on the footballers,” says O’Mahony.
“That has always been the way. You might have distinct hurling and football in parts of the county, but there's always a cross-over and I think the success of one can rub off on the other.
“Success for individual teams whether it be football, hurling, or camogie doesn't come every year, but it comes for Galway on a fairly regular basis and I don't think they'll be long out of the limelight.
“Galway football has had a frustrating time for a few years, but they have shown some signs of progress. I would hope it won't be 32 years again before they win it.”
O’Mahony was Mayo manager when they narrowly lost the 1989 All-Ireland Final against Cork and it remains the biggest regret of his management career.
Since then Mayo have lost another eight All-Ireland Finals, and O’Mahony admits the defeats to Dublin in this year’s and last year’s Finals have been hard to take because they were decided by such small margins.
“We talk about the best players who have never won All-Irelands, but this Mayo side are the undisputed best team never to have won an All-Ireland Football title,” he says. “That search goes on.
“I was privileged to have two opportunities to manage Mayo myself and I would have loved to have got them over the line back in '89 and it would be a real personal regret that I didn't.
“I have always said that if they had won one along the way, whether it was '89 or '96, then they'd have a few more by now.
“Even if Mayo had happened to beat Dublin last year I think they would have retained the title this year.
“But the simple fact of the matter in this year's All-Ireland was that Dublin had the knack of success and Mayo didn't, and it came down to those small margins at the end of the day.”