STRONG VIEWS Ed Coughlan from Cork was part of the Mayo coaching team for four seasons under James Horan. Pic: Conor McKeown
An article last week by Ed Coughlan gave Mayo’s supporters and detractors plenty of food for thought
THE reaction to Dr Ed Coughlan’s column in last Wednesday’s Irish Examiner was somewhat predictable.
For some sensitive Mayo souls who will hear no word of criticism of this Mayo team, Coughlin’s article — which ran under the headline, ‘Are Mayo responsible for their own downfall?’ — was sacrilege.
For those who froth at the mouth when discussing Mayo football, people who have lost faith and patience with this Mayo team, the piece was on the money.
As with so many things in life, the truth was somewhere in between.
Because Ed Coughlan was involved with the Mayo senior team for four years under James Horan — overseeing both the squad’s strength and conditioning programme and their skill acquisition work — his comments are always worth reading and examining.
No more than Mayo’s former sports psychologist Kieran Shannon, who we’ve quoted many times in these pages, Coughlan has true insight into this group of Mayo players.
Most analysts have to interpret what they see and hear from the outside which, in any team environment, is often only the tip of the iceberg.
Coughlan, like Shannon, has seen the inner workings of this group. He has a better understanding than you or I of the dynamics of the Mayo camp, its strengths and its weaknesses.
So the Cork-born sports scientist is speaking from a position of authority.
He makes some good points and some questionable ones.
We would question a number of his assertions in his column last week.
From the off, Coughlan suggests that Mayo were never as badly prepared for a Connacht championship opener. This year’s performance was, however, nowhere near as low a level as against Galway in 2016 and London in 2011.
In fact, we’d go as far as to suggest that it was one of their opening games that they were best prepared for. They were up for it, and delivered a lot of very decent individual performances despite playing most of the game with 14 men.
Indeed, the frustrating thing is Mayo lost a game they could have won against a Galway team who did not set the world alight.
‘Smoke and mirrors sideshow’
COUGHLAN rightly slams the ‘sham team-sheet’ which saw Ger Cafferkey part of a ‘smoke and mirrors sideshow’. Nobody in Mayo thought that Cafferkey would start, and it was an insult to a great Mayo servant.
This Mayo management should be above such transparent mind games.
But to go on to suggest that if Cafferkey was coached better, he could be a much better player indicates how Coughlan thinks the Ballina man is being done a disservice by the current Mayo coaching team.
This writer is a big admirer of Cafferkey and feels he was a much maligned figure by fans when James Horan was in charge. But the reality is that he has not reached his own high levels since a horrific hamstring injury ended his 2016 season. He has not been the same player since.
Coughlan goes on to reference the infamous 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay loss to Kerry and Cafferkey’s role against the returning Kieran Donaghy.
Coughlan wonders if Cafferkey experienced defending against a big man like Barry Moran in the six days between the draw and the replay.
“The evidence in the replay would suggest not,” writes Coughlan.
Now it is Ed Coughlan, and not Stephen Rochford, who is playing silly buggars?
Coughlan was part of the Mayo management at the time. Did he suggest this at the time?
If so, was he ignored by James Horan? If that was the case, why not come straight out with it in his column and criticise Horan if he felt side-lined?
In that 2014 replay, and indeed the drawn game, Coughlan was heavily involved, having been Mayo’s maor foirne on both days.
Kerry’s Marc Ó Sé spoke subsequently about being told by a Mayo mentor in the drawn game that he was ‘finished’. It is widely believed that he was making the allegation against Coughlan.
In the replay Coughlan was involved in a number of flash points while on the pitch. His conduct was regrettable, and it’s for that which many Mayo people remember him by, not for the considerable skills work he did with the team.
Coughlan is also critical of Aidan O’Shea, contrasting O’Shea as a free-scoring minor compared to a player now reluctant to shoot.
Having watched O’Shea since his younger years, this observer recalls plenty of wild and erratic shooting.
A more recent example was his poor shot from outside the ‘45 metre line as Mayo trailed late in the 2016 All-Ireland Final drawn game. Had Cillian O’Connor not produced an equaliser for the ages, O’Shea would have been the fall guy.
Last season O’Shea was much more cautious about his shot selection and seven points from ten shots in last year’s championship points to a much more mature player.
We agree with him on his criticisms of Mayo’s free-taking in the absence of Cillian O’Connor. We’ve said this repeatedly ourselves. Conor Loftus has stepped up to the mark but it is clear, despite the work being done behind the scenes in recent weeks, that Kevin McLoughlin is not comfortable taking frees. Yet Mayo persist with giving him the responsibility for frees on the right-hand side of the field.
Stephen Rochford is also in the dock for a number of other charges.
Particularly concerning is the lack of fluid forward play and the backwards steps Mayo took with many of their substitutions.
The inability to develop players led to risks being taken with Cian Hanley and James Durcan last Sunday week, both with plenty of potential, thrown in for their first ever senior appearances in the white heat of championship.
Where to now?
TIME will tell if this is the beginning of Mayo’s fade-out from centre stage or just another frustrating Mayo defeat to Galway early in the summer.
But one thing we feel that Ed Coughlan is on the money about is the damage being done by Mayo indiscipline.
They have lost three championship games in 12 months. In each of those they’ve received needless and merited straight reds for Keith Higgins, Donie Vaughan and Diarmuid O’Connor respectively.
Only those inside the camp are well-placed enough to identify the root cause for such incidents. Coughlan speculates they may stem from frustration in the team environment.
There’s every chance the scar tissue of recent final defeats, along with the management heave in 2015, has taken its toll.
Mayo need to improve, on the field and on the sideline, if they are to bounce back like in 2016 and ’17. Anyone who thinks otherwise has their head in the sand.