Billy Joe Padden
SO a National League Final it is then!
And there will be nothing but positive vibes when Mayo come together to train tomorrow evening (Wednesday).
Reaching a League Final is a real positive for the squad.
I know from experience that every single player in the panel that’s fit (plus the lads who are injured) will all want to play against Kerry next Sunday.
If you were one of the lads in your ‘civvies’ who was watching the team beat Monaghan without you, fellas like Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Cillian O’Connor or Ger Cafferkey, you’re only thinking one thing this week: ‘I want to be out there next Sunday, I want to be involved’.
Why? Because it’s a League Final, and as we all know they only come along every so often for a county like Mayo.
It’s a big occasion, at Croke Park, and that in itself will create a really good energy and a sense of competition within the squad for 26 jerseys next weekend.
It will also take a couple of weeks off the lead-in to the championship which is no harm either, because that can be a bit of a slog once the league is boxed off.
At the same time, there’s no doubt that qualifying for a League Final creates a certain amount of trepidation too, even if it’s maybe for those of us outside the bubble of the squad as opposed to inside it.
It’s another final at Croke Park, it’s Kerry, and losing it would add another chapter to the Mayo ‘legend’.
So it’s inevitable that there will be some nervous tension or anxiety among supporters this week as the game gets closer.
The priority for the Mayo management and players will be insulating the group from any of that negativity.
If I’m being honest, I don’t think a defeat for Mayo next Sunday would be devastating. And by the same token, I don’t think a victory would be cathartic or change the course of history.
Either way, the next time that Mayo go to Croke Park, a win or a loss against Kerry next weekend doesn’t guarantee them anything up there later in the summer.
Yes, it would be nice for James Horan to win a title so early in his second term, and a national title would be great for Mayo GAA overall. Plus, it would be a good thing for some of the young players to win at Croke Park; that’s actually probably the biggest ‘plus’ to beating Kerry.
But can you name the National League champions from say 2010 or 2011 off the top of your head? I can’t!
My point is that winning a league title would be a positive thing in terms of the development of the young players in the squad, but it doesn’t change anything in terms of later in the summer.
If I was James Horan, I’d hold my nerve and play the fellas who are going well, showing form, and run with that.
Matthew Ruane, Fergal Boland, Fionn McDonagh. . . they’re the lads who are stepping up.
If he was to go back now and send out the ‘tried and trusted’ fellas, I feel it would send out the wrong message to the group.
The players who have got you there are the men to go with.
If they go well, then it’s another positive step in their development ahead of the summer. If they don’t, then you’ve always got the more experienced guys to come back in anyway.
Horan’s whole thing has been about ‘player development’ and now that Mayo are in a League Final, things are falling into place for him nicely.
Looking at their seven games so far overall, as a big picture, you’d have to say that he has ticked all the boxes.
He’s given plenty of minutes and game-time to young players, he’s got some older players back playing well, and Fergal Boland looks like a new man lately.
So let’s try and enjoy Sunday as much as we can!
Kerry will bring something different
MY hunch is that Kerry are going to bring something different next Sunday, especially after what happened in Tralee. A sweeper is a possibility as is a different approach to how they try and get on top at midfield.
Kerry have been the best team in the league so far, the table will tell you that, and they also have the best forwards.
Plus, David Clifford is now back in action again too.
Croke Park will suit them down to the ground so it’s crucial that Mayo get their match-ups right.
Thankfully most of the Mayo backs seem to be playing better now than they were when they went to Croke Park to play Dublin last month.
Because defending well early on is going to be crucial.
What won Mayo the game down in Tralee was our dominance over their midfield and their full-back line.
The same again, but with a better conversion rate from the forwards, will be required if Mayo are going to beat them again on Sunday.
Because if Kerry can break even in those areas, I think they have enough in the other areas to come out on top.
So many of Mayo’s experienced guys have played so well in big games at Croke Park over the years and got no reward for it in terms of cups and medals. Sunday is a chance for them to go out again, play well, and have something to show for it.
And can you imagine the bounce that fellas like Higgins, Boyle or Andy would get from winning a league medal?
They know they haven’t too many more summers left in the Mayo jersey, but a medal and a chance to bring some silverware home to Castlebar would be a huge thing at this stage of their careers.