ROUGH AND TUMBLE Mayo’s Lee Keegan grabs on to Dublins’ Ciaran Kilkenny during Saturday night’s National League match in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
I WAS replaying the game between Mayo and Dublin in my mind all during the long drive back to Armagh on Saturday night.
When you look at the players that Mayo were missing, and with all due respect, when you consider how Mayo’s match-day squad compared to the Dublin panel last weekend, there was always only going to be one result.
It may sound strange, but I think most Mayo supporters will just be relieved that the game is now behind us.
It was an improved performance, Mayo’s best performance of this campaign so far, and still Dublin were the better team for every one of the seventy minutes.
Basic things let us down again, like they let us down against Kerry and Galway.
And that’s frustrating.
Now, you could ask, ‘If Adam Gallagher buries that goal chance, and we convert those missed frees, do Mayo win the game?’
No, I don’t think so. Dublin could have gone up a gear if they needed to.
But getting back to my journey home across the country. . .
I was thinking of the stat that Mayo only conceded 1-1 in the second half and how they defended pretty well overall after Paul Mannion’s early goal. The sweeper gave the full-back line some protection, even though there is room for a lot of improvement in terms of how some lads actually ‘sweep’.
I was thinking of Adam Gallagher’s goal chance early in the second half too. How he needed to take a few more steps, and how his decision to try and place his shot showed his inexperience.
But it also showed a level of confidence and, overall, I thought he played well and deserves another shot.
But one thing I couldn’t get out of my head as I drove up the road was: ‘why aren’t we playing better football?’
The best reason I could think of is that Mayo’s game is so dependent on the guys who are the engine of our team.
Guys like Keith Higgins, Donie Vaughan, Paddy Durcan and Tom Parsons, who are constantly coming off the shoulder and driving the team forward.
So with that engine taken out, you need a huge contribution from their replacements. And when the guys who fill in for them don’t threaten the sticks, don’t come up with scores, then Mayo are going to struggle to win games.
Lee Keegan’s point aside last Saturday evening, Mayo just didn’t get enough from their attacking defenders.
Plus, there didn’t seem to be a pattern of play in the forwardline and, apart from a few nice combinations in the first half, there were too many guys just doing their own thing. Our attacking play was disjointed and no score from play in the second half speaks volumes.
Mayo also haven’t scored a goal in three of their four games, and that needs to improve if they’re going to stay up.
I wasn’t surprised to hear Jim Gavin say after the game last weekend that it was really up to Mayo to take a risk when they were chasing the game in the second half.
From a Mayo perspective, I can see why Stephen Rochford didn’t throw caution to the wind in one way.
Maybe he was thinking in terms of scoring difference and making sure that Mayo didn’t ship another goal or two.
His objective is to avoid relegation so scoring difference could be crucial when the final games are played next month.
The likelihood of us winning the game, with such poor free-taking and forward play, was unlikely anyway.
With so many key guys not on the field, and Dublin going so well right now, last Saturday night was all about seeing some improvement and not being over-run.
But next Sunday is all about getting the right result.
Serious pressure needed to wilt Lilywhites
KILDARE’S defeat to Donegal last Sunday means that they are still propping up the Division 1 table with three games to go. And be under no illusions, winning in Newbridge will be a very difficult assignment for a Mayo team missing so many regulars.
For them to win, they have to go back to playing ‘big boy’ football again, be organised, and do the fundamentals well.
Kildare are young and athletic but they’re not as streetwise as this Mayo team is. They’ve also let themselves down in a few games lately by making bad decisions.
So Mayo have to pressure them into that type of game by putting pressure on them in those areas.
If Mayo allow it to turn into one of these 15-on-15 style, ‘ebb and flow’ games then Kildare could easily beat them.
They’re a decent team, they have some good forwards who can score goals. So Mayo have to play like they did against Dublin — be aggressive, defend well, and be smart on the ball.
What it will come down to is can Mayo kick their frees? And will Mayo capitalise on Kildare’s mistakes, which will happen, when Mayo put them under serious pressure.
I’m looking forward to seeing Cillian O’Connor back in action next Sunday. I was delighted to hear that he played for 45 minutes for Ballintubber on Sunday and scored nine points. That will do his confidence no harm at all.
I hope he’s used the break to go back to the drawing board and have a think about why the frees aren’t working for him.
I think having Andy Moran back playing at full-forward again will suit Cillian too, because it might allow him to get his body turned and get him facing the goal more often.
That way he gets some outside shots away from around the ‘D’ and the 45, and he’s not shooting under pressure, with his back to goal and three defenders around him, pulling and dragging.
A prediction? I think Mayo will get back to winning ways.