Mayo manager John O’Mahony is pictured at last Sunday’s Connacht MInor FC Final replay at Dr Hyde Park, flanked by his selectors Tommy Lyons (left) and Kieran Gallagher.
Mayo need to improve quickly
IT’S only a matter of living long enough – eventually you will see everything. And the GAA seems to insist that history repeats itself at every opportunity.
Mayo had five possible opponents lined up as the countdown began for the championship quarter-finals draw. I had a ‘live feed’ into the sitting room, and as each provincial winner was paired off with the round four loser, it soon became clear that fate would set us opposite our old friends from Meath. I peered out from behind the sofa and noted a smiling Christy Cooney – his Cork boys had avoided them but Mayo would face them down!
I know, I know – there is the not-so-small matter of Limerick for the Royals this weekend, but surely you can feel it in your bones? There can be little doubt! We might select Galway as our traditional rivals, the team we most enjoy beating, but for more recent generations of Mayo men, the possibility of meeting Meath will allow them park their animosity with the border badlands for a few weeks. Yep, count on it – we will be facing the county with which we have unfinished business from way back when.
Personally, I felt matching up with Kerry would be the best result. We have a little recent history with them boys too, and if there is ever a good time to play the Kingdom, it is now. Various words are being used to describe their current state: dead men walking, weak pulse, long deep breaths – take your pick. But I felt if we wanted a psychological edge (‘going forward!’) the aristocrats were the boys for us. For now, we must mark time and see who emerges from the final qualifier game of 2009.
A Connacht final for the ages
FIRST, a look back at what was a Connacht final for the ages. The finale was fantastic but in the broad daylight of sober analysis, the end result failed to convince me either side were good enough, at this stage, to win the All-Ireland. Already, Galway have confirmed that opinion, and unless Mayo show substantial improvement, the semi-final will draw a line under this championship year.
Mayo won the Connacht final because their manager and the players needed the buoyancy of a title win more than Galway did.
I fancied Mayo all along, but had anticipated a five- or six-point win over their fiercest rivals. Such a winning margin would make a similar statement to the one announced by Cork during the replayed Munster championship game against Kerry.
Some days you have to stand up tall and scream your arrival on the main stage, and Mayo needed to do this against Galway once and for all. And with the Mayo men leading by seven points with eight minutes left on the clock, the message coming from Salthill was this is a different Mayo outfit.
At that stage all the Mayo midfielders and forwards had scored – the majority classy ones from play. The lazy, stale stereotype of Mayo footballers lining up outside Specsavers was not applicable on this day.
And Mayo had a wing back waiting to contribute on the scoreboard if things took a turn for the worse … Mayo being Mayo, inevitably, they did. Set up defensively for the final quarter, they started to cynically foul at their own 45m line and beyond, and in doing so, ‘invited’ Galway on to them.
And then to put the tin hat on it, Mayo began a mini game of ‘keep ball’ with a full three minutes yet to be played. ‘Keep ball’ depends on speed of hand, movement, and pace, and the pretty obvious rider that you don’t start that craic until the game is almost up – say a minute or so on the clock would be just about right. Mayo started showboating and there was still time for Michael Meehan to scorch the sod with a bullet to the net, and of course still time for the indefatigable Peadar Gardiner to score a beauty against a strong breeze.
We tick three of the four boxes
MAYO have strong prospects of making a real impact but that opinion is predicated on an immediate and serious improvement in just about all lines of the team.
John O’Mahony will know that, will know that most teams improve from the provincial cauldron, but the players must make things work from here on in. Mayo are physically in great shape with a lot of natural pace and athleticism to call on and so, if the football they play can match those standards, they will be fit for all-comers. If the football stays close to that we witnessed in Salthill, this journey will end at the semi-final stage and perhaps earlier.
It must be recalled that only two Galway players, Joe Bergin and Nicky Joyce, hit Connacht final standard. Meanwhile, their un-rated midfield won this key sector marginally. And playing poorly, Galway were level in time added on. Need I say more?
Mayo’s full-forward line is far from the massive threat many observers are arguing. I said as much after the straightforward win over Roscommon when that inside line went missing for almost two-thirds of the game. In the provincial final, following an opening burst, only young O’Shea really measured up. A full forward line that scores 1-2 in total is hardly ‘The Twin Towers Mark II’. Sure, the much-maligned Conor Mortimer scored that himself in the second half!
But Mayo has a very good defence, and if there is a place still up for grabs there, that competition will keep all on their toes. They were tight, tough and very mobile, with great covering evident throughout. But Mayo’s midfield was disappointing.
On a day when they expected to dominate the Galway pairing, it just did not happen, and the introduction of Tom Parsons changed little in that area. Yes, both Heaney and McGarrity scored and contributed besides. But, not enough.
Plenty to be getting on with then; now is the time of the year to time your run to the summit – four or five real weeks of serious momentum could see a team in the All-Ireland final. Brian Clough, one of my favourite managers, always maintained that a winning team needed four elements: application and ability, discipline and determination. Mayo tick three of those boxes but the football ability needed to win All-Irelands needs to surface now.
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