UP MAYO Mayo fan Isabelle O’Malley, aged 5, from Donabate is pictured outside the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick last Saturday. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
MY first impression when I saw Mayo had been drawn away to Tipperary in the next round of the All-Ireland Qualifiers?
I was relieved that the match was being played in Thurles, and not Castlebar.
I spoke to one or two of the Mayo backroom staff in Limerick last Saturday evening, and it was interesting to hear them say that they felt a noticeable difference in the attitude of the players when they found out they were going to the Gaelic Grounds last weekend.
Why? Because it’s such a big wide open pitch with a really fast surface, and Semple Stadium will be very similar. In fact, it will play even faster and is very similar to Croke Park in terms of size too.
That should mean that Mayo will be able to play their running game and move the ball fast, because we all know that is what this Mayo team is about.
Hopefully they will have the legs to carry out the game-plan against Tipperary.
It’s also another positive that the likes of Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran are going out onto a pitch that should help them to manufacture a bit of space in close to goal and get scores.
My big worry about playing a team that has Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney operating in its full-forwardline is how Mayo will cope with them.
With Brendan Harrison injured, you would be a bit concerned about how Mayo will match-up back there.
I can see there being an extra onus on the likes of Keith Higgins and Chris Barret and Colm Boyle to defend deep and sweep well in front of that full-back line like they did for the most part last Saturday night.
The last time Mayo played Tipp’ in Croke Park in a big wide open field, in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final, Stephen Rochford used Barry Moran as a sweeper on the edge of the square in front of Quinlivan.
I can see Mayo employing a full-time sweeper again this time, and maybe being a bit more defensive in the early stages to guard against Tipp’s inside line.
In summary, I think the draw could have been much worse — like Monaghan in Clones — but it could also have been a lot easier.
Tipp’ are still a very good side, and with their county hurlers out of the championship now, could the likes of John McGrath and Seamus Kennedy come back into the football fold?
That’s one of the reasons it’s probably a good time to draw Tipperary now and not two or three game down the road, when the hurlers would be integrated back into Liam Kearns’ squad.
We’ll look at the match in more detail next week but, for now, let’s just savour the prospect of another championship road trip!
Continued growth is what Mayo need
WITH Mayo beating Limerick so convincingly last Saturday, it was vital that they delivered a performance as well. None of us wanted them scraping over the line by four or five points.
I think all Mayo supporters got a bit of a scare at the start, but there was no panic, no worries out on the field.
Mayo just kept doing what they were doing.
Cillian O’Connor was absolutely outstanding.
When some of the other Mayo players were maybe a bit apprehensive about taking on a shot, he wiped out the early Limerick goal with three points from play.
That was hugely important in terms of getting Mayo going and, after that, it became much easier.
The way he played on Saturday was a great advertisement for his shape and form.
I thought Aidan O’Shea did well too, and handled an awful lot of ball. On a very warm evening he really got around the pitch.
I thought Chris Barrett and Colm Boyle came up with some very important scores as well after some of the Mayo forwards had snatched at a few chances.
Once the lead went out to six and seven points, it became easier for guys like Cian Hanley and Evan Regan and James Durcan.
They all made solid contributions and that will help their confidence for the next day out.
In terms of the way Rochy managed the squad, I thought it was good that he didn’t feel the need to start Lee. He came on, ran around a bit, and looked like he enjoyed himself.
He took a right good tumble in front of the stand too where his shoulder was tested out, but he bounced back up with not a bother on him.
What I liked about Mayo when they were at their best, in terms of their attacking play, was the quick interchange of passes.
We saw loads of examples of that, but the three goals in three minutes really summed it up.
Okay, we have to take the opposition into account because that just isn’t going to happen against better teams.
But we still saw Mayo players being really sharp and unselfish; each of those players could have gone for their own goal but they gave it to a man in a better position.
But we have to qualify everything from this game by saying Limerick were really poor.
Last year Mayo weren’t in great form in the early stages of the Qualifiers, but I would say that their display in the defeat to Galway last month was definitely better than it was 12 months earlier.
But I don’t think we should take any leap of faith just yet. We just need to enjoy it, game by game.
But if we’re going to get back to where we were last year, we’re going to need rapid growth from a whole host of players.
But it’s fine that Mayo had a stress-free, easy game last Saturday. Players enjoy those games too, I saw Andy Moran bouncing out of the Gaelic Grounds with a big smile on his face.
There will be great energy at training this week.