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'If you’re in Afghanistan, you don’t stick your head up, you control yourself' - Ex-coach support for Mayo

Former Mayo coach John Morrison believes the time has come for the county to end its All-Ireland senior football drought.

JOHN MORRISON’S PLANNING a trip to see some old friends next week if Mayo finally manage to smash their All-Ireland hoodoo.

Morrison was coach in 2006 when, alongside manager Mickey Moran, the Westerners progressed to an All-Ireland final with Kerry.

As it transpired, Mayo found themselves on the wrong end of a heavy defeat but in their brief time there, the experienced Moran-Morrison double act had made a big impact.

They weren’t given a second term but Morrison still keeps in touch with a number of the Mayo players he worked with at that time.

In the past few weeks, he’s shared phone conversations with goalkeeper David Clarke, defender Keith Higgins and in-form forward Andy Moran.

David Clarke John Morrison still keeps in touch with Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He detected a confident mood from the trio and the Armagh native believes that Mayo’s time has come.

“There’s an old phrase that if your name is on it, you’ll get it,” smiles Morrison.

And Morrison believes that Mayo have learned from last year’s All-Ireland final replay experience against Dublin, when he was critical of manager Stephen Rochford’s decision to bench David Clarke.

It was a call that backfired but Morrison’s motto is: ‘never a mistake, always a lesson.’

Clarke still claimed an All-Star award and his form this year has been as good as ever.

“I just wondered…you don’t know what information is being fed but the goalkeeper that replaced him (Rob Hennelly) had a longer kick-out,” Morrison reflects.

Robert Hennelly leaves the field after being black carded as David Clarke takes to the field Black-carded Robert Hennelly is replaced by David Clarke in last year's All-Ireland final replay. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“But people only see kick-outs as one person. They’re a combination of two people – one giving and one getting, and five or six others making runs.

“But they’ve all learned. Even in my own career, you take it, learn the lessons, not to let that rucksack on your back be full of mistakes and wearing you down.”

Rochford’s learned and in coach Donie Buckley, Morrison says that Mayo possess one of the best in the business.

They also have Tony McEntee, who Morrison taught for seven years at Newry’s Abbey Grammar School.

“The biggest thing of all is that they’re the only team that’s been tested this year,” says Morrison.

“They went in complacent or whatever in the Connacht championship and Galway weren’t that good either.

“They (Mayo) fell flat and after that they struggled over Clare, Cork and Derry, whatever order it was, but they were learning lessons the whole way and when they reached the Kerry game, that’s when I began to see things they might have to use against Dublin.

“They won’t be afraid of them and they’ll be more aggressive in midfield than Dublin.

Jack O'Connor is congratulated by John Morrison after the game Kerry manager Jack O'Connor is congratulated Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“They’ll not sit back like Tyrone did, or others, they’ll go to meet Dublin and try to turn them over.

“Mayo have a quality football team. They’re as good as Dublin but they weren’t showing it. The belief is there, and this team has grown and grown in belief.

“The boys that were seen to have shafted the (previous) management have got over that shock and are now looking to deliver.”

If Mayo can land the big one, Morrison has told his two sons that they’re heading on a road trip to Castlebar on Monday morning.

“It was one of the best years me and Mickey ever had – we were treated like lords,” he recalls.

“The craic was good, we learned a lot out of it and we enjoyed working with quality footballers.”

Mickey Moran on the line Mickey Moran on the line during the 2006 All-Ireland final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There was a memorable All-Ireland semi-final victory over Dublin along the way, when Morrison was shunted in the back by then Sky Blues manager Paul Caffrey before throw-in.

In a pre-ordained move, Mayo went to warm up at the Hill 16 end and when Dublin arrived in the same area, all hell broke loose.

Mayo won a classic, Moran and Morrison were lauded as heroes in the county but then Kerry put a halt to their gallop.

“I went into my local supermarket the next morning – the manager came over and hugged me.

“What are you doing that for, Fergal? I don’t need pity.

“He replied ‘that’s not pity, I’ve known you for three years coming into this shop. I’ve seen you come in here every Monday after a weekend and win or lose, you’re still the same.’”

Eleven years on, Mayo are still seeking the big one – and Moran admits that he would love to see them do it.

“Anything’s possible,” he says.

“Mayo are settled, they’ve had enough hardships.

Mickey Moran and John Morrison John Morrison and Mickey Moran (right) also worked together in Derry. Source: ©INPHO

“They’ve proved it against Kerry and they proved it last year against Tyrone.

“In many ways, last year they should have been All-Ireland champions and Dublin will now realise that this is one team that has been troubling them.

They’re not going to be afraid of Dublin, Mayo will go at them. And hopefully it will be a humdinger of a game.

“The other good thing about it if they win is that almost everybody in Ireland, and the whole diaspora, will rejoice all over the world.

“That’s not out of spite for Dublin – but out of joy for Mayo.

“They’re teak tough now, with that combination of Donie Buckley and Tony McEntee.

Tony McEntee Mayo selector and former Armagh star Tony McEntee. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“But I wrote an article this week about the things you can control as a player, and the things you can’t.

“The likes of Tyrone, Armagh, Kerry and Mayo are pilloried because of outcomes.

“People say to them ‘you’re going to win.’ They’ll tell you ‘we’re here to win’ but you can’t control the opposition, the weather, a bad pass, you’ve just got to deal with it.

“In that way, it’s logical. It’s how soldiers are taught.

If you’re in Afghanistan, you don’t stick your head up, you control yourself.

“John McEnroe, all those years ago, slapping himself on the thighs…people thought he was losing his temper but that was trigger. ‘Wise up here.’

“Then he’d start talking to himself and that was his anchor. Self-talk is huge.”

Morrison sees all of the good traits in Mayo. And on Monday morning, he’s convinced he’ll be pointing his car west from his home in Armagh city towards Castlebar.

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