BROTHERS IN ARMS Mayo’s Jason Doherty, left, deserves credit for kicking his frees last Saturday night while Andy Moran coming off the bench gave the team a big boost in Tralee. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
WHAT a difference two weeks can make following Mayo.
One minute you’re trudging out of MacHale Park after watching them throw away a win against Galway.
The next you’re strolling out of Austin Stack Park after seeing them turn over the league leaders, Kerry.
Like all Mayo supporters, I was wet, cold and delighted!
A place in a League Final is now back on the agenda and after six games the overall picture is starting to take shape.
I think what we can say with certainty at this stage is that some of the young players in the squad are really starting to develop.
Fionn McDonagh put in another confident performance in Kerry, and I’ve been very impressed with how quickly he’s got up to speed with senior inter-county football.
Not everything worked for him, but he never shirked from the ball and always made himself available for a pass.
Michael Plunkett didn’t look out of place either and Mattie Ruane was exceptional.
They are all fellas who will have learnt so much from testing themselves against the likes of Tyrone, Dublin, Galway and Kerry over the last few weeks.
For me, one of the most impressive aspects of a lot of their contributions in the games so far has been their ability to retain possession. Personally, I think that should be the starting point for every young player who breaks through.
Ruane, in particular, has been able to keep hold of the ball using his skill, strength and evasion skills better than most.
Another aspect of these guys starting games is that you feel much better when you look at the options on the Mayo bench. Last Saturday night there were two Footballers of the Year (Lee Keegan and Andy Moran) and a four-time All Star (Colm Boyle) all ready and waiting to come in.
Something that I felt hurt us over the last two or three years was not finishing matches with our strongest team on the field.
That was an issue that needed to be addressed, and maybe the template for managing it was what we saw in Kerry.
Another of the subs that came in the last night and really caught my eye was Fergal Boland.
Mayo were crying out for somebody to come on and spark something at the time and he had two assists, scored a point, won a few breaks and was busy and brave.
I knew he would be positive, and wasn’t afraid to take on outside shots, but his willingness to win breaks and frees was something extra. He took his chance with both hands.
Jason Doherty is another guy I’d like to single out because I thought he was excellent.
When Mayo needed him to kick those frees in the second half, he did. Okay, he missed one that was a long way out, but he got the last three in a row and they were all badly needed.
Everyone knows he’s not the team’s first-choice free-taker, he’d probably prefer himself not to be kicking them, but he put his hand up and made a very positive contribution.
The attention now turns to Monaghan next Sunday, a game that will be completely different to what we got in Tralee.
Against Kerry, we were watching two teams trying to play the same way, and that probably had a lot to do with Donie Buckley’s influence on both groups of players.
Against Monaghan, more of their players will sit back and all roads will lead to Conor McManus in their forwardline.
So it’s going to be a different tactical challenge for James Horan and his management team, but one that will be very similar to what they faced against Galway.
And there’s no doubt that Mayo need all the practice they can get before they come up against Galway again down the line.
O’Shea gets back down to basics again
IF you watched the game on Saturday night, you’ll already know that Aidan O’Shea’s performance was exceptional.
And it got me thinking about why we ever took him out of midfield in the first place.
The reason probably was that we had an embarrassment of riches there for quite a few years; lads like Barry Moran, Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea, all really good midfielders, who could all play that position well.
Plus, Aidan probably had more versatility than those other guys so he was the one who was shifted out of the midfield and posted elsewhere.
Now that we don’t have that strength in depth, it seems the obvious decision is to put him back into the number 8 or number 9 jersey again.
We all saw on Saturday night how good he was there.
His tackling was excellent, he battled hard for everything, and he did everything he could to help the team.
I think we also saw some of James Horan’s coaching come into play in some aspects of Mayo’s performance.
Their half of football against the wind in Kerry was so different to what they did against the wind against Galway.
Kicking those three early points in Tralee made it a very different game than if Mayo had gone in six points down at half-time. But they did kick them, and so were within striking distance.
But what really impressed me in that first half was the amount of time that Mayo took off the clock by being patient and keeping the ball, and Aidan O’Shea was absolutely critical in that regard. Likewise, Michael Plunkett, I thought he kept possession really well on a few occasions.
Added to that, when they were getting penned in on their own kick-outs — something that Mayo did very well to Kerry in the second half — I thought you saw some great runs out of defence.
Aidan O’Shea was again a central figure in that, Donal Vaughan had a few barnstorming runs upfield, Diarmuid O’Connor and Matthew Ruane too.
That was all very positive in terms of getting Mayo moved up the field when they were under pressure.
And it showed that they had learned from past mistakes.