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Feel-good factor is back in Mayo football

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BURSTING THROUGH Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea breaks a tackle by Enda Smith of Roscommon during yesterday’s game. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

THE feel-good factor in Mayo football is definitely back after yesterday’s victory in Croke Park.
The Mayo supporters really responded to the performance Mayo put in, and you could see that in the reception that the likes of Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran and Jason Doherty got as they came off the field. That can have an energising effect as they settle down to concentrate on Kerry. And whatever happens down the road, Mayo supporters left Croke Park really proud of their team, but also grateful for all these guys have given to Mayo football.
The performance in this replay felt like a reaction from the players, their way of saying ‘Look here, we’re not done yet’. Maybe Stephen Rochford felt he had no other choice, but he let those players show us what they had, and they rewarded him with a huge performance.
The start was crucial, how physical Mayo were from the get-go. Aidan O’Shea had three or four possessions inside the first minute, and that set the tone. Mayo were much more aggressive all over the field in winning 50/50 battles. They put pressure on Roscommon in their own half, were really organised in the way they pressed the Roscommon kick-out, and did really well on breaks. Rarely did Roscommon get any decent possession.
And for the most part, Mayo stayed out of the corners. In general, the ball that was kicked in bounced in front of a forward in front of goal, and the runners were coming either straight down the middle or at an angle towards the middle … not running into the corners. Donal Vaughan, Patrick Durcan, Keith Higgins, Kevin McLoughlin, Diarmuid O’Connor were all getting involved, and you have to give credit to the Mayo management for the running game Mayo played.
Mayo are rarely going to score 20 points in a competitive match against top-quality opposition. So to win tight games, they have to score goals. When they play the running game we saw yesterday, they create goalscoring chances; when they don’t play that running game, when they decide to kick the ball, they don’t.
I think they’ve got the game-plan right now. The template for Mayo to win matches is to play that type of game and create goalscoring chances. Because if they’re going to beat Kerry and Dublin, they’re going to have to score two or three goals.  The manager has to take credit for that, because it looked like Mayo were pushing for goals from early on – they were taking the extra pass. All right, sometimes it wasn’t the right option and they butchered a few opportunities, but Mayo created a raft of goal chances yesterday.
And Mayo never looked like letting Roscommon back into the game. Whenever the Rossies scored, Mayo put in a big hit on the next play or won the next ball and played ‘keep-ball’ for two or three minutes, so they took the sting out of any Roscommon score, and there was never a hope of a Roscommon fightback.
Tactically, you have to give the Mayo management credit. They focused on the right things. Mayo set the tone physically, put pressure on Roscommon knowing they were weak at midfield, and then – when they had possession – Mayo showed a real turn of pace. There was pace in Mayo’s movement going forward – quick hand-passing, and any number of players coming off the shoulder, making an impact. It was really a performance totally focusing on their strengths. And when Mayo focus on their own strengths, they’re by far the best team in Connacht.
It’s amazing to think that we didn’t have to use Lee Keegan yesterday. We wouldn’t have drawn the first game without him, but eight days later, we didn’t need him at all. Who could have predicted that?

Higgins tailor-made for sweeper role

ONE huge positive for me was Keith Higgins’s superb performance in the sweeper role. I thought he was fantastic. The way he ‘came into the line’, to use a rugby term, to burst through holes and carry the ball forward, was key to two goals – his and Andy Moran’s. I think the sweeper role is made for him, though it may be a non-event in the Kerry game, depending on how Mayo set up.
I don’t like Aidan O’Shea spending a lot of time in the half-forward line. Yesterday that was never really a problem, because he handled loads of ball. We need him constantly on the ball, and that’s why I liked what he did in the early stages. Occasionally he was penalised for over-carrying, but you’ll take that when he’s getting loads of possession, getting it, winning frees or laying it off … that’s what his game is all about and that’s what we need him to do.
I thought Tom Parsons was excellent, doing well on kick-outs and getting up and down the field. I really think that that balance in the middle third was totally off last week – I think the positioning of Aidan O’Shea was a factor in that, but maybe a lot of it was down to the fact that we were missing Parsons. Maybe Aidan O’Shea can have more of an advanced role when Parsons is there. But when you only have Seamie O’Shea there, you really need to have Aidan back at midfield. So I think Parsons was huge.
Oisín McConville said the Mayo players would be ‘embarrassed’ by their performance in the drawn game. And that certainly looked like a possibility, because they came out yesterday with such intensity, as if they were saying ‘That wasn’t the real us last weekend’. Maybe this team would have reacted anyway after seeing green and gold jerseys before the All-Ireland semi-final. But now Mayo can draw on recent history more readily, knowing that they’ve already put in a big performance in Croke Park this year, and it’s about replicating that now for the Kerry game. So I think the players are in a better position mentally than if they had crept over the line last week.

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