THESE are the days of their lives. Training for an All-Ireland semi-final in August is almost as good as it gets. Everyone arriving into the dressing-room in Castlebar for training, to go to work, with one common goal.
I was delighted to see Andy Moran and Trevor Mortimer making sure that everybody stayed cool and calm on the pitch after the whistle blew the last day. You don’t get into these kind of positions too often so it’s important when you do, that everybody stays focussed on the job.
Inter-county football is a serious business nowadays, but it’s important too that every group of players has got a few characters to lighten the mood when the time is right. In our Mayo dressing-room fellas like Liam McHale, ‘Larry’ Finnerty and PJ Loftus took care of the craic.
Weekends away always helped the bonding process too. Unfortunately, most of the good stories couldn’t be printed in case certain lads would be locked up some fifteen years later!
We got into the odd row too down through the years when we were out and about, and sticking up for each other was every bit as important as anything we did on the training field in terms of team spirit.
This week the London game seems a very long time ago. And who would have thought we’d be getting ready for an All-Ireland semi-final the evening Longford knocked us out of the championship last summer?
What’s changed? The big thing is that winning breeds confidence. You cannot underestimate the value of a win, no matter how bad the performance is.
It makes training easier and more enjoyable. Players gain confidence and play with more intensity. Everyone is pushing for places. Lads feel invincible.
THE KERRY WAY
SOME of the loose talk after Kerry beat Limerick was that Jack O’Connor’s team weren’t the force they used to be. I think we’ll find out early on next Sunday if this is the same old wive’s tale we’ve heard so many times before.
Mayo people know from bitter experience that Kerry can get up to speed with three or four weeks of good work on the training field and peak at just the right time.
We’ve seen recently that to beat Kerry you have to play a Tyrone style, or a northern style, of football. It’s about fifteen guys working hard, all over the field, from beginning to end. When a Kerry player gets the ball, there has to be three or four men around him, putting on the squeeze. But, at the same time, you can’t afford to leave any Kerry player loose or they’ll destroy you.
For me, the Mayo midfielders and half-forwards have the most work to do next Sunday. They have to limit the supply of good ball going into the Kerry attack. The only way to give the Mayo backs a 50/50 chance of beating their men is to pressure the ball going in.
I got a great, bird’s eye view of Kerry in action at Croke Park the last day from my seat in the press box.
They’re very patient around the middle of the field when they have the ball. They work it into areas of space, bide their time, and only deliver it when the right pass is on.
I noticed that their forwards tend to move in a circular pattern. The Gooch moves first, then Donaghy goes into his corner, and Darran O’Sullivan slots in behind Donaghy.
And while all this is going on, the Kerry players out the field are such good ball-players that they can toe-tap and watch for the right run inside. Then, the likes of Declan O’Sullivan will come and take the ball at huge pace from the guy who won it.
Once the ball is delivered to the Kerry shooters, it’s nearly too late to worry about it!
PERSONALLY, I’d like to see Donal Vaughan match up with Kieran Donaghy. I think he’s big enough, and strong enough, and he’d be well fit for him.
I’d pair Keith Higgins and Tom Cunniffe with Darran and Declan O’Sullivan. With those kind of forwards, you need to have them marked by guys who are right there with them when they pick up the ball. You can’t allow them to build up a head of steam and run at you.
That would leave Ger Cafferkey to pick up The Gooch.
(It’s hard to believe that all the talk coming into the game is about how well the O’Sullivans are going, and there’s no talk at all about our old friends from 2006, Cooper and Donaghy. They’re nearly coming in under the radar!)
In those two All-Ireland Finals, we were beaten after ten or fifteen minutes and it was pure pace that did a lot of the damage. I think we have to shake things up with the match-ups this time.
Overall, I thought Seamus and Aidan O’Shea did well against Cork but if I have one criticism it’s that they were very slow in releasing the ball inside. If we’re going to beat Kerry, we need to move the ball into the scoring zone quicker, and we need all the forwards to take on their men and have a cut.
I think the physical advantage we have around the middle of the field should work to our advantage. But, in my opinion, we need to win 70 per cent of possession to win the game.
Plus, Mayo will need the likes of Jason Doherty, Alan Freeman and Cillian O’Connor to step up to the plate and get scores from play. I think there’s a lot more in them than we’ve seen so far.
The only change I see in the forwardline is Jason starting instead of Enda Varley. He has the raw pace to cause Kerry problems whereas I think Enda’s style is more suited to when the game starts to break up.
We’ve only really threatened the opposition, and got scores, when Andy Moran has played in the full-forward line.
SEMI-FINALS are for winning. My attitude going into this kind of game was, ‘it’s me or him’. It’s Trevor Mortimer or Paul Galvin. It’s Tomás Ó Sé or Andy Moran. One of them is going to play in an All-Ireland Final.
If the Mayo lads go out with that attitude and believe, really believe, that they have every bit as much as talent and ability as the Kerry guy beside them, then anything is possible.
Thank God I’ve been on a bad run with my predictions so far, and the good news is that next Sunday, I’m going to side with the bookies again!
Kerry may not be as fresh as other years but if they break 50/50 in terms of possession, they have more scoring power than us.
Having said that, I expect Mayo to give a good account of themselves if they stop Kerry getting into their stride from the throw-in.
We need to play with great intensity from the word go, and need to scratch Kerry’s surface as early as possible. The crucial thing is to stay in the game up to half-time.
We’ve got a good second half record so that will give the lads confidence.
There used to be a time when Kerry only had to shake the jersey at a team, and that would be enough. This Mayo team have shown that they are made of the right stuff.
These Mayo lads won’t be worrying about what happened against Kerry in the past. They’ll be thinking about writing their own history.