Billy Joe Padden
WHAT a night that was!
Any of us who were in Castlebar last Saturday night certainly won’t forget it in a hurry, and we’ll feel it in our bones for a few days this week too.
But, at the same time, the game itself will be forgotten as soon as Mayo land in Tyrone next Sunday.
It was all about getting through it, beating Roscommon, picking up the two points, and moving on.
Being from Belmullet, I know all about wind and rain and games of football in testing weather conditions.
But I don’t remember anything quite as extreme as what we got in Castlebar last Saturday from start to finish.
For players, supporters, and those of us trying to do some TV punditry out in the middle of it, it was just about trying to get through it in one piece!
It was only really after the storm died down that it was possible to put the match into some sort of context.
I actually bumped into one of the Mayo players afterwards and he said something that got me thinking.
That was that one of the most pleasing things from their perspective was the patience the team showed against the wind and rain in the first half, without ever really threatening the Roscommon goal.
I’m sure the vast majority of Mayo supporters in the ground, and the thousands of others watching on television, would feel that the team should be focused on creating scoring chances at all times.
And while that would be great in an ideal world, on nights like Saturday it’s just not possible.
When you factor in the biblical rain and wind, and the fact that it was Mayo’s first game in seven months, it’s easy to see why they couldn’t just wheel out a plethora of slick attacking moves and be rapier-sharp in their finishing.
A lot of people, myself included, picked up on the crowd’s impatience during the first half as Mayo kept the ball and probed for openings against the gale, the sheets of rain and Roscommon’s defensive set-up.
So it was interesting to hear how pleased the players and management were with Mayo’s patience in the face of those obstacles.
If I’m being honest, hearing that afterwards was a reminder that we all need to be more patient when we see Mayo playing this possession-based game at times.
Sometimes, a team has to go side to side with the ball because there are no opportunities for them to go forward with it.
It’s just the way it has to be.
Plus, you have to remember that Mayo only had six or seven weeks of training under their belt going into last weekend. Supporters and those of us on the outside have to be patient because we’re not going to see the best of Mayo in January — or February either!
They’re just not going to be shooting the lights out this early in the year so within games, and in the context of the season, we have no choice but to be patient.
Another thought that flashed through my mind on the drive home on Saturday night was how many of Mayo’s plans would have flown out the window once the storm hit.
Rob Hennelly’s kick-out strategy would have been one of the first casualties, and the tactics for getting good ball into Brian Reape and Evan Regan would also have been torn up.
I know from experience that when you’re playing into a gale force breeze and driving rain like that, you just to have to grind your way through every minute.
There will be nothing easy about next Sunday’s trip to Tyrone either — especially with them on the rebound after being beaten by Kerry in Killarney last Sunday.
On a decent day for a game, they only scored seven points in total, had only a point from a free on the board at half-time, and never got going by all accounts.
Mayo can expect a backlash in Omagh so this will be a great test for them and we’ll be a lot wiser next Sunday evening.
Subtle tweaks and long kick-outs catch the eye
IT’S practically impossible to read into last Saturday night’s match in any great detail, but a few things did catch my eye.
It looked like Mayo’s defenders had been given more licence to get forward — although not to any great effect on this occasion given the working conditions.
But just think about the number of times that Eoin O’Donoghue, Brendan Harrison and Keith Higgins went upfield — in both halves — and carried ball and took shots.
In the first half it often led to turnovers and put Mayo under pressure. In the second half, when it wasn’t needed as much, those guys kept bombing on every chance they got.
It struck me as a subtle difference from what Mayo were doing in the last few years; maybe James Horan has been encouraging his defenders to become part of a 15-man game and push forward as much as possible.
Another aspect of the game that got me thinking was around the kick-out, and specifically the decision to move it forward to the 20m line for the National League.
This could have a big effect on how Mayo go about their business because James Horan’s teams like to put pressure on high up the field.
And I think this rule is going to see teams really press up on the opposition kick-out, which should suit a team like Mayo who have so many good tacklers in their forwardline.
Watch out for periods within games where Mayo decide to really turn the screw on the opposition kick-outs.
At the other end, I have no issue with Mayo’s goalkeeper deciding to kick long provided we have the balance right in the half-back line and at midfield.
Aiming to hit Aidan O’Shea with long kick-outs should be a tactic this spring, and whether he catches it or breaks it, the opportunity will be there to launch attacks.