SPRING IN THEIR STEP Mayo players from left, Aidan O'Shea, Keith Higgins and Kevin Keane will all have a big part to play if Monaghan are to be beaten in nextb Sunday's National League match in Castlebar.Pic: Sportsfile
Win the midfield battle, and defensive war can be won too
Billy Joe Padden
THE ability to make the right decisions quickly and decisively under extreme pressure is what separates the winners and everybody else in the inter-county game.
Three weeks on from Mayo’s extremely disappointing response to the questions posed by Tyrone’s defensive system, Monaghan will come to Castlebar on Sunday armed with a similar game-plan.
The fact that Malachy O’Rourke has better players at his disposal than Mickey Harte had, players that are also much more adept at playing ‘blanket defence’ football than Tyrone were, means that Mayo are in for another thorough tactical examination. Free-flowing and high-scoring it will not be.
It is absolutely imperative that Mayo has made a decision on what they are going to do when the barricades go up and the defensive screens come down in the Monaghan half of the field on Sunday.
Mayo’s players will have spent the last fortnight getting some crucial conditioning work done and there’s no doubt that Donie Buckley, a coaching perfectionist, will have been addressing the fact that the players’ skill execution was so poor last time out.
Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes will also have been examining the footage from the Tyrone match to try and pin down the best tactical approach to take from here on out when their team comes up against the blanket defence.
There is no doubt they won’t be caught ‘on the hop’ again.
As we said before a ball was kicked this month, this Mayo squad has to adapt and evolve if they are going break through the glass ceiling and win national titles.
Maybe not Sunday, maybe not this Spring, but we will be eventually found out during the Summer if we don’t develop another way of playing the game.
Of course, next weekend is ultimately about getting those two league points and, unless Monaghan decide to use the game as an exercise in developing their attacking game (which I don’t see happening), then Mayo are going to be confronted by one of the most organised and effective defensive systems out there.
Falling four or five points down after 20 or 30 minutes just can’t happen against Monaghan. If it does, they have Mayo where they want them and there will only be one result.
SO what do Mayo need to do to win?
Firstly, they need to have a definite game-plan where everybody knows their role. Beating the likes of Monaghan will require a 15-man tactical approach.
They also must be ready for another dogfight. They will need to be patient. They will need to make it extremely hard for Monaghan to break them down.
And every Mayo players must know what the plan is when we’re out of possession.
Do we do what we’ve always done these last few years and put pressure on high up the field, which requires high-energy and takes its toll as the game wears on?
When this approach is not at its best, it can be vulnerable to quick counter-attacks by an opponent that employs a blanket defence system. Just think how Tyrone got in for their goal.
Or do we imitate the Ulster teams and drop back, invite Monaghan on to us, suck them in, and then counter-attack at pace after turning the ball over?
If I was picking a team to get the job done I would be looking for physicality around the middle. Mayo need to get back to dominating teams in this area of the field again so guys like the two O’Sheas and Barry Moran need to be at their best.
Picking somebody like Donie Vaughan or Diarmuid O’Connor at wing-forward and getting them to drop deep when we don’t have the ball would also be one way of tightening things up at the back.
Winning this match is vitally important for Mayo.
The Tyrone defeat was demoralising because they didn’t have to play particularly well to beat us, and for a long time we weren’t able to make life uncomfortable for them.
I really think this is a 50/50 game.
Mayo have to alter their approach, set up their own defensive shell when they don’t have the ball, and play to the strengths of their half-back line when they do have possession.
But, most of all, we need to start dominating teams again around the middle. We haven’t done it in our last four big games (against Kerry twice last August, again down in Killarney, and against Tyrone) and it’s time to start letting our ball-winners in that sector do what they do best.
At home, and with a point to prove, Mayo to win narrowly.