Billy Joe Padden
DON’T let anybody tell you any different.
All that matters after last Sunday’s draw against Donegal in Ballybofey is that Mayo are in Division 1 again next year.
These players dug out the result they needed, and now all their attention will turn to trying to beat Galway.
This league campaign is consigned to memory.
I have to say that I didn’t see that dramatic late comeback and equaliser coming for a long time last Sunday. I certainly didn’t see it coming when Mayo were three points down with time running out.
We knew it was highly unlikely they were going to score a goal — only two goals from open play in seven matches is a worrying stat — so it was hard to see where the scores were going to come from.
But when Eoin O’Donoghue clipped his point, you could sense Mayo thinking, ‘we’ve got a chance here’.
Then, like a bolt from the blue, without any real build-up, Kevin McLoughlin goes and does that!
That’s one of the reasons I think Mayo players and supporters were so delighted and relieved when the final whistle went. Because Mayo didn’t play well and, for long stages last Sunday, nobody saw the team getting the result they needed to stay up.
McLoughlin was the right man on the ball at the right time. He’s a brilliant footballer when he’s at his best, and in that moment he knew that somebody was going to have to take that shot on. That somebody was him.
He was probably our most technically gifted player on the pitch at that stage and he drove into space, and he backed himself. He deserves great credit for that, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer fella.
The way Mayo got that result would definitely have them feeling good about themselves on the journey home on Sunday night. They stole a draw at the death by making one right decision at the vital moment. That’s a great feeling.
To use Jim Gavin’s term, my ‘takeaways’ from last Sunday’s game would be: (1) that Mayo put in an improved defensive performance, especially in the second half. And (2) they were terrible in an attacking sense.
There is a lot of work to be on the training ground in terms of what Mayo do with the ball in hand when they go forward.
Reflecting back on their league campaign as a whole, I couldn’t help but think of how many of their ‘best bits’ were individual brilliance rather than co-ordinated team play.
That’s something that Stephen Rochford and his players will need to address over the next few weeks as their thoughts turn to Galway on May 13.
I would be quite critical in terms of how Mayo approached certain games from a tactical perspective during this league campaign, but the bottom line is that we’re still in the division, which was the primary objective.
But one of the things that I feel strongly about is actually in relation to Kevin McLoughlin. I feel the team would be best-served by him playing as a sweeper and developing in that role over the last few seasons.
Last Sunday he played in that deep position and I thought both he and the team benefitted. But he hasn’t been operating there often enough for my liking.
It must be hard for teams to prepare to play Mayo based on what Stephen Rochford has shown them over the last few league campaigns. Because he has shown them nothing.
We all know that Mayo have to change something in relation to their forwardline for the Galway game. Galway know that too. But none of us, including Kevin Walsh, have any idea of what they’re actually going to do on May 13.
Mayo have six weeks now to work on gaining more possession and being much better when they have the ball.
Because what was good enough to get a result against Donegal won’t be good enough to turn over Galway.
Credit to Crowe for holding his own
THE first ten minutes from Mayo last Sunday were good.
They knew the magnitude of the game, and the need to start with high energy, especially away from home.
Aidan O’Shea, Jason Doherty and Andy Moran were all in the thick of things and Donegal looked all over the shop defensively.
But that changed as the first half wore on and Donegal got their defensive system organised. There were times during the second and third quarters when Mayo looked very short of ideas when they attacked.
Something else that caught my eye was the lack of aggression from Mayo on the high ball in the middle third.
A few times there was a flick on a ball when it needed to be caught and, overall, I felt Mayo didn’t get their hands on enough possession in that area off kick-outs.
And when they did manage to win the ball, they gave the ball back to Donegal again far too quickly.
In terms of individual performances, I thought Caolan Crowe can hold his head up high after his marking job on Paddy McBrearty. Sure, McBrearty kicked a few outrageous scores but I thought Crowe did well on him overall.
He put severe pressure on McBrearty more often than not and, for one of his first half points, I felt that Mayo’s defensive line was just far too deep and that didn’t do Crowe any favours.
In the second half I thought he defended the Donegal forward really well, one-on-one, pushed him on to his right foot, and held his own.
He’s only done positive things since he’s come into the team and, like Eoin O’Donoghue, emerges from this league with a lot of confidence and credit.
On May 13 we need to see Diarmuid O’Connor hunting scores again, Aidan O’Shea driving at the Galway goal, having a few shots at goal, and the attack working as a unit again.
But for now this team can take the energy and positivity that comes from staying in Division 1. They got it done, again!