Billy Joe Padden
IN so many ways it felt like Groundhog Day watching Saturday night’s game.
Why have Galway been able to beat Mayo seven times in a row? Sure, they’re a good team and they’re well-organised, but the big difference for me has been that Galway have shown that, within their game-plan, they know how to play the percentages and get the result.
They know how to manage the game, they’ve scored goals, their free-taking has been better, and it’s been those sort of finer details that they have made the difference.
We’ve seen so many games like this one involving Mayo in the National League over the last few years, that it suggests to me a complete lack of game intelligence and understanding of these cat and mouse matches that are always going to unfold against a team that loves to play counter-attacking football.
Mayo just never seem to learn, and it’s so frustrating.
Saturday was a different performance from the Dublin game in that Mayo seemed up for it in the early stages and they were trying hard. Maybe, in hindsight, they were trying too hard, and it just wasn’t necessary.
Playing into a strong breeze like that, taking time off the clock is a positive thing in itself, but Mayo seemed intent on trying to force the issue.
That allowed Galway to sit back in their defensive shell and play counter-attacking football, allowed them to get some kick passes into their forwards in the first 15 minutes.
Then, when Galway went down to 13 men, it allowed them to sit back, defend and soak up a lot of the pressure.
James Horan said it himself afterwards, the period where Galway had Michael Daly and Barry McHugh in the sin bin — and still outscored Mayo by 1-1 to 0-1 — was inexcusable and unforgiveable.
For me, you have to look into the psychology of that 10-minute spell and ask did the Mayo players think, ‘We have two men extra now so things are going to be easier’.
The reality is that nothing is going to be easy against a team that defend like Galway do, when you’re against the wind.
There seemed to be a collective malaise during that period, and it really was something that management will be absolutely livid about.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the Mayo kick-out strategy. I thought the restarts were all over the place in the first half and, overall, they just weren’t up to scratch.
It wasn’t just about David Clarke by the way, it was a team-wide issue that just wasn’t good enough at that level.
To be honest, my perception was that Mayo didn’t really know what the plan was in terms of the kick-outs.
Defensively, it was also a poor Mayo performance across the 70 minutes. In the first half, the defensive line was way too deep so Galway were allowed to take unpressurised shots from around the 45m line with the gale force breeze behind them. That’s just not good enough.
That line, that area of pressure, needs to be eight or 10 metres further out the field, there can’t be any easy shots from around the 45’.
Because any decent inter-county forward from that sort of range, with a strong wind behind them, is going to loft the ball over the bar from a central location.
Up at the other end, the big question is why were Mayo so poor in an attacking sense for so long?
In the first half, it had a lot to do with the fact that there was no width to the Mayo attack, and that was why so many of the runners couldn’t get through.
In terms of the free-taking, there’s no doubt that Jason Doherty kicked some good frees but the reality is that Galway missed one easy one, Mayo missed three.
That’s a two-point swing in a two-point game.
Lack of composure proved costly
THERE was a lot to admire about the third quarter from a Mayo perspective — they did things at speed, moved the ball quickly, and the likes of Aidan O’Shea and Matthew Ruane really came thundering into the match.
The problem with that portion of the game was that when Mayo closed the gap to within a point, Galway started to manage the game really well.
They took ages over frees, got a couple of counter-attacks that Mayo didn’t defend well, and they started to defend much better themselves.
Plus, when Mayo needed composure, you had Fionn McDonagh missing a free and Jason Doherty hitting a post with another free.
When they needed somebody to sit in the pocket and kick a point, there was nobody to do it.
Mayo had only one score like that, from Darren Coen, and he probably felt pressurized then and had two wides from similar range.
But it just goes to show that Mayo didn’t know how to go about getting the scores they needed.
The last 15 minutes were very disappointing from a composure point of view, not from an effort point of view. They just started lamping balls into the edge of the square when it wasn’t the right thing to do.
They needed to work the ball into better positions, get three or four players up the field, instead of just driving ball into one man inside who was outnumbered.
James Horan has a lot to work on ahead of a possible meeting with Galway again during the summer.
The patterns of these games have been so similar over the last three or four years — Mayo getting frustrated, Galway instigating a counter-attacking game based on dropping deep, and Mayo looking lost for long spells.
If this happens again in the summer, you can imagine what people will be saying.