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Mayo team comes of age

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THE HAND OF DOC Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor scores a goal past Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

HAVING slept on it last Saturday night, I’ve come to the conclusion that this All-Ireland semi-final replay win over Kerry was the best performance that I’ve ever seen from a Mayo team in my lifetime.
Sure, we’ve had great games in the past where you’ve seen some spectacular football from Mayo teams, like 2006 against Dublin, for example.
But last Saturday’s display was controlled and consistent, and fashioned on solid principles like hard work, good decision-making and players making all their years of experience count.
It was the day this group of Mayo footballers came of age.
This wasn’t a 15 minute blitz or a 20 minute exhibition, this was a ‘pillar to post’ performance against a team that Mayo had only beaten once in championship football since 1951.
I was one of those Mayo footballers that tried and failed to beat them when it mattered, so I can appreciate the significance of what this team achieved last weekend.
Kerry teams look down on Mayo teams, and they had two chances to beat us in six days but they didn’t. This was no ‘smash and grab’ win or ‘caught on the hop’ defeat.
Mayo were the better team, pure and simple.
I was delighted for Stephen Rochford and the players when the final whistle blew. For once this summer there was no relief, because to be honest the result was never in doubt.
Mayo had Kerry by the throat from an early stage and they kept them at arm’s length all through the second half.
For me, Mayo went about winning that game last week.
The meetings, getting the minds right, tweaking the game-plans, and doing all the other small things that added up to that big performance.
Rochford outsmarted Éamonn Fitzmaurice last Saturday.
He anticipated that Kerry would play a sweeper and he set his team up to deal with that.
He also elected to press the Kerry kick-out high and hard, getting into Brian Kelly’s head and completely spooking him.
Peter Burke also did great work with David Clarke to develop a new way of getting Mayo’s short kick-outs working smoothly. The tactic of Clarke giving the ball to a defender, and then taking the return again before moving it clear, was as clever as it was effective.
Mayo obviously figured that Kerry couldn’t press their kick-outs aggressively because they were afraid of the pace and power of Keegan and company, and so had played a sweeper.
That turned out to be a big mistake.
Stephen Rochford would have said in the build-up, ‘If Kerry play a sweeper then it shows they can’t live with us man-for-man. They’re afraid of our running power and pace.’
He was dead right. Mayo imposed themselves on the game, and dominated it through their athleticism.
Rochford is the man who has to take all the criticism when results don’t go Mayo’s way, so then it’s only right and proper that he gets the credit for performances and victories like this.
Anybody who doesn’t give him the credit he’s due here is way off the mark. In my opinion, last Saturday was the day that Rochford showed us again that he’s a very smart coach.
Donie Buckley would also have played a major role behind the scenes in getting Mayo ready for battle, and his detailed knowledge of Kerry would have been invaluable.
I think at the start of this year, a lot of Mayo supporters were throwing their weight behind the team out of loyalty. There was a sense that their chance of winning an All-Ireland had gone. But the last few games have turned us into believers again and, right now, the whole county is ready to back them to the hilt against Dublin.
I think Mayo won’t fear taking on the Dubs right now because they have 17 or 18 guys playing at a very high level of consistency, and the team’s Plan A is working better than ever before.
And as a wise man once said, ‘The best Plan B is having a good Plan A!’

O’Connor’s goal a thing of real beauty
THE build-up to an All-Ireland Final will be nothing new to this team or their supporters.
My advice to those of us outside the camp would be to enjoy the fact that we’re back in a place that maybe we didn’t expect to be just a few short weeks and months ago.
And try and stay away from talk like, ‘Ye have to go and win it now after losing all those finals in the past’.
That’s not how this thing works; the team know they have to perform on September 17, do their jobs, and then the scoreboard will look after itself.
Speaking of which, for me Diarmuid O’Connor’s goal last Saturday was the defining score of what Mayo have been doing in the last three or four games.
It’s probably one of my favourite ever Mayo scores!
Not so much the goal itself, but how it was created. Twelve Mayo players touched the ball 23 times in the build-up, and the way they retained the ball during that time, and controlled the play, before pouncing for the score was of the very highest order.
Even Donie Vaughan’s decision to take on the shot for a point was the correct one, but when it dropped short there was Diarmuid O’Connor, who’s always had an eye for goal, to get up over the goalkeeper and palm it into the net.
At that moment I felt Mayo were flying, in full flow, and Kerry just had no answer to their pace, power and control.
That score was all about patience, moving the ball around, and Kerry were powerless to even get a proper tackle in.
The Mayo players were so confident in their skill and strength that they could hold the ball, step past opponents, and move the ball on.
It was a joy to watch.
As for the final, I really believe that Dublin won’t be relishing the prospect of playing Mayo again. Bring it on!

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