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Mayo get their reward


WORTH WAITING FOR Mayo’s Rob Hennelly celebrates with Keith Higgins and Chris Barrett after Sunday’s National League win over Kerry at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

SUNDAY was one of the great days for Mayo football.
I was thrilled that the supporters got their reward after the way they’ve backed the county’s teams over the years through thick and thin.
You could see how much it meant to so many of them.
The players will have enjoyed the craic in Castlebar on Sunday night, but they won’t see this league title as the culmination of anything. They’ll see it as the reward for winning the secondary competition early in the year.
It also rewards all those players who have played so well at Croke Park at times over the years and had nothing to show for their efforts.
Like I wrote last week, a win would be great but not monumental. And a defeat would be bad but not horrific.
On reflection, I think the victory probably carries a little more weight than it should in some respects, purely because of the way that the match was played.
What I mean is that we got to see just how physical a force Mayo can be in Croke Park for almost 80 minutes.
I wasn’t sure that we’d see that again.
Don’t get me wrong, the intensity we saw on Sunday will be higher again for the Super 8s and championship football. So Mayo will have to go out and show that they can replicate that and raise it a few notches.
Sunday’s game reminded me a lot of the Mayo-Kerry game in Tralee a few weeks ago. Again, Mayo proved that they’re physically ahead of this young Kerry team.
That doesn’t mean that this Kerry team can’t get to Mayo’s level in that regard, but it will be difficult for them to get there this summer. But they have talented forwards and if they were going to play Mayo again, I think they’d make it a very different type of game.
In the first half, Mayo were dominant in possession but I felt they were nearly trying too hard to make things happen, panicking, and getting balls turned over.
In the second half, I don’t actually think Mayo’s decision-making or inter-play was much better.
But I think that Mayo went in at half-time four points down, and James Horan and some of the players probably said, ‘Look lads, we’re by far the better team. We’re physically stronger than them. Let’s just raise the physical and athletic stakes even more when we go back out.’
The start of the second half was even more frantic than we saw in the first half, and Kerry just couldn’t live with the pace, power and dynamism of pretty much the whole Mayo team.
Mayo wore them down.
Not that it was perfect, there were still too many attacks that were butchered. But the start they made after half-time was vital in terms of closing that gap, and James Carr’s two points gave us a glimpse into the potential that he has.
His scores were huge in the context of the game because it got Mayo up and running again on the scoreboard.
Other watershed moments, or power plays, in the second half were Diarmuid O’Connor’s two monstrous points.
They kept Mayo right on Kerry’s tails until Shane Ryan’s goalkeeping error, combined with some ingenuity from Diarmuid, allowed him to punch the goal that put Mayo in the driving seat.
From there on it would have been an absolute travesty if Mayo had lost the game because they were so much better than Kerry.
And Mayo players would have been thinking, ‘How are we ever going to win a big game here? Because we played so well and still couldn’t get over the line.’
Mayo still have to develop tactically, they still have to be able to create easier scores. Because when you go one-on-one against the best teams, you might not be always able to get enough scores to enable you to win the game.
But that’s a conversation for another week!

New faces have freshened things up
I’M a big fan of this new Mayo midfield partnership.
Last Sunday I thought Mattie Ruane had a solid first half and a very good second half. His ability to get ahead of the ball is something he’s done in every game and that’s what puts him in positions to score points and goals like last Sunday’s.
But, for me, Aidan O’Shea was our most consistent player throughout the 71 minutes he was on the field.
There were even periods in that second quarter when Mayo weren’t playing well and he was one of our better players.
He was powerful and physical, and the sight of him calling a kick-out down on top of him in the second half, after he’d been booked, and soaring into the air to catch it was inspirational stuff. He was outstanding.
I found myself watching the game thinking, ‘How did we ever move him out of midfield?’
So we’ll look back in years to come and see Mayo were ‘2019 National League champions’ but, for me, the greatest success of this eight-game campaign has been how James Horan has used so many players.
Eight or nine of them have played very little football for Mayo before this spring, and some of them, like Fionn McDonagh in Tyrone, Michael Plunkett in Kerry, Mattie Ruane in a few games, James Carr on Sunday, Darren Coen and James McCormack have had their moments – and that’s all positive.
Maybe it’s going to be that strength in depth, as opposed to any great confidence that beating Kerry in a league final brings, that will get Mayo over the line in an All-Ireland Final in the next few years.
But it’s hard to argue that the mental preparation of the players won’t be helped by Sunday’s victory.
Only time will tell.

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