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Mayo must get with game plan

Sport

PUTTING THEIR HEADS TOGETHER Mayo manager Stephen Rochford and selector Tony McEntee are pictured before the National League match against Tyrone in Omagh last month. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

AFTER watching the League Final, there’s now a fairly strong case to suggest that Mayo are no longer the second best team in the country. Kerry would look to have overtaken us right now and Donegal aren’t too far behind us either.
From a Mayo perspective, I would see the bouquets being thrown at Dublin and Kerry in the last few weeks as a big positive.
All the talk for the next while will be about them so Mayo can go back under the radar, get some headspace, and focus on Sligo and Galway.
Right now they are the only teams on Mayo’s agenda.
I think both Sligo (assuming they beat New York, of course) and Galway will pose similar problems for Mayo in terms of how they set themselves up.
To beat them, Mayo need to be defensively sound, physically dominate and overpower them around the middle, and have a very narrow clear focus on their objective.
We saw against Galway last year what can happen when a team like Mayo takes their eye off the ball.
I would see Galway as being extremely dangerous opponents again this summer too.
Their confidence will be high after winning a national title at Croke Park, they have a good forwardline, and a set game-plan which allows everybody to be very clear on what they want to do. Plus, they’re coming in as Connacht champions.
All of which means they are going to take beating.  
Before we consign Mayo’s league campaign to the realm of forgotten things, it’s worth highlighting that the vast majority of the memorable moments came from the last two games.
Against Tyrone and Donegal, when they got down to business, Mayo went back to being physical and aggressive. That’s when they were at their best and that’s what marks them out from practically every other Mayo team of the last 30 years.
What we saw in those last two league games was a team who were reacting when their backs were against the wall. That was a really good sign after what had happened against Dublin and Cavan, but we won’t know for sure what they’ve got left in the tank until the white heat of championship battle comes.
From my experience, you’re constantly being challenged in big games and asking yourself, ‘Will I go again?’ ‘Or will I give in?’
That’s never been an issue with this group since 2011.
But I always felt it’s been their composure that let them down in the big games when the pressure came on.
That’s ultimately what it will boil down to again this season.
A lot of people may be wondering what exactly Mayo will be working on in training in the run-up to May 21.
For me, the key word would be ‘installation’ — getting the game-plan installed by going through it in minute detail, time and again, until every single player knows their role in certain scenarios and situations.
I wouldn’t be overly worried about running sessions or GPS stats right now; getting the game-plan working properly is what could make or break Mayo’s entire championship.
The vast majority of this playing group are so experienced they know how to prepare to be physically ready for the likes of the Sligo and Galway games.
They also know that, all going well, they will have to hit their peaks later in the summer.
The same goes for Cillian O’Connor, whose issues with his place-kicking were highlighted by Edwin McGreal in these pages last week.
None of us know what kind of physical toll that Cillian’s body is under these days, and for me it’s not the frees or 45s he kicks on match day, it’s the 200 or 300 that he kicks during practice. Hammering balls constantly like that can take its toll and whether it’s that workload, or an issue with his technique, something just isn’t quite right at the moment.
But if anybody is going to come good, it’s Cillian.

Rochford can make team’s experience count
THE news that both Barry Moran and Alan Dillon have been given the opportunity to get fit and fight for their places in the championship team caught my eye.
Although the two lads haven’t kicked a ball all year yet because of their injuries, Stephen Rochford obviously feels that they are still the best men to do their respective jobs.
He may only need twenty minutes here or maybe a half there over the course of the summer, but Barry and Alan haven’t been dislodged by anybody else this spring. That’s the simple reality.
I’m happy to see them in Mayo’s plans, but for the long-term development of Mayo football you’d be hoping that some more young lads would be breaking into the set-up soon too.
I saw where Rochford mentioned that Mayo had found ‘two or three players’ during the National League who could be real options for the championship.
I’m assuming he was referring to guys like Danny Kirby, Fergal Boland and Shane Nally.
In fairness to those lads, they took their chances when they were presented to them and were aggressive and positive when they had the ball.
I know quite a lot of Mayo supporters would be disappointed that management didn’t unearth some more ‘live’ options for the championship, but I still think that this group can make the marginal gains they need to have a long summer.
But for that to happen they need to have the right game-plans in use at the right times.
Is it going to be harder to beat teams like Kerry and Dublin this year? Yes.
Can Mayo do it? Yes.
They have the experience of winning big games at Croke Park over the last six or seven years, and that will stand to them when they get there in August.

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