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The serious stuff starts for Mayo

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FIRST DAY OUT Mayo manager James Horan and County Board PRO Paul Cunnane arrive at Gaelic Park in New York earlier this month. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

THE championship may have officially started for Mayo in New York, but the serious business only begins next Saturday evening.
And be under no illusions, Roscommon mean business.
I can imagine the messages that Anthony Cunningham and the leaders in their dressing-room will be driving home this week: ‘Mentally, Mayo aren’t focussed on us. They’re under-estimating us. They’re looking at a Connacht Final against Galway. Let’s get stuck into them!’
‘Mayo always give up goal chances. Let’s get Conor Cox and Diarmuid Murtagh into one-on-one situations with these Mayo backs and see what they’re made of’.
You have been warned — the Rossies will be ready for a battle!
The question is, will Mayo?
Just two weeks after their plane landed back from New York, they are getting into the ring with a Roscommon team that hammered Leitrim last Sunday week.
Mayo are coming off a four-day training camp in America, so how will their bodies and minds react to the stress test of a championship derby match?
Of course, this Mayo squad are so well-conditioned that maybe most of their work in upstate New York was on the tactical and psychological side of things.
There might well have been more football and less grunt work.
Focus certainly won’t be an issue for Mayo, because you can be sure that the Connacht championship has been top of their list of priorities since last November. The league title win was a bonus, this is the trophy they want.
These players are so experienced and seasoned at this stage, and their panel is so strong, that they have an advantage over nearly every other county out there.
Plus, their edge will be sharpened by the fact that they started slowly in each of the last three championships so one of their big motivational ‘triggers’ will be to address that against Roscommon.
You can be sure that the Mayo players will have been reminding themselves over the last few weeks that the league final win is gone and the New York adventure is over.
This is where the fact that so many guys aren’t guaranteed any jerseys becomes so invaluable. Lads like Colm Boyle, Chris Barrett, Donie Vaughan, Fionn McDonagh, Andy Moran and Diarmuid O’Connor are all playing for places this week and that drives everything forward.
So what will James Horan be asking his team to do next Saturday?
I think his focus will be on creating a platform around the middle of the field to take control of the game. He will want his players in that area to get on the ball, be patient in possession when they have to be, and hurt Roscommon on the counter-attack by hitting them at pace.
For Mayo, it has to be all about possession and control next weekend. The one place you don’t want to end up against a team like Roscommon is chasing the game. They are a very dangerous team with really good forwards.
They hunted for goals against Leitrim and they’ll do the same against Mayo because they know they’ll need goals to win the game.
Mayo need to get back to what they’re good at; dominating the middle third and being physical around there. That’s where Roscommon are weak.
The key is to not let the Rossies build up a head of steam.
If I was worried about anything next weekend, it would be that Mayo might be a little over-anxious to make things happen early on. And that might cause them to force the issue.
The one thing Mayo can’t afford to happen is that somebody does something daft and gets sent off. They need to take control, stay composed, get ahead and see the game out right to the last whistle.
Because I feel this game will go the distance.

Horan will want a fast pace to be set

THE people who calculate the odds have estimated that Mayo should win this match by at least five points. I’m of the opinion that it will be closer than that.
Roscommon won’t be intimidated, they will get scores, and remember how strongly they finished the league game in Castlebar back in January?
Mayo are not going to have an easy evening or a comfortable contest.
But one of the great strengths of this group of players is their ability to be able to get up to the pace of a game and to bring physicality when the chips are down.
That ability will stand to them again next weekend, and is one of the main reasons why I think they will find a way to win.
Another reason is that James Horan and his management team will have been working hard to make sure that the team does things at a higher tempo against the likes of New York and Roscommon than they did in their early games in the last few seasons.
Mayo were a bit too passive for my liking in their first few championship matches in recent years, but Horan will want them to be aggressive and to play on the front foot.
He will want to see for himself if Roscommon can live with the pace that Mayo play the game at when the throttle is fully open.
I don’t believe we’re going to get a huge score from our forwards, so the backs and midfielders will need to chip in. And our free-taking will have to be on point. If it is, and with the likes of Andy Moran to come off the bench, then a rare home win in a championship match is on the cards.

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