Billy Joe Padden
AFTER watching Dublin stroll to another Leinster title, there is probably a temptation among Mayo supporters this week to wonder where that result leaves their team.
My advice would be that they need to forget about the grand scheme of things.
All Mayo people need to focus on now is the next Qualifier match. Why? Because Mayo can’t win the All-Ireland next Saturday evening. They can get knocked out of the championship, but they can’t win an All-Ireland. All they can do is beat Armagh so that’s what all the focus needs to be on.
Just like the way it was on Down last weekend.
I’ve no doubt that the Mayo supporters who went to Newry will have enjoyed the experience and the win. It’s a reminder that we all need to enjoy the journey this summer.
Given my strong personal connections to Mayo and Armagh, I just had this sense that they were going to draw each other in the next round.
After I finished with Mayo in 2010, I played with Armagh for a few years and really enjoyed my time with them. And I know players and people involved with both teams on Saturday.
From a Mayo perspective, I think it’s a difficult draw but a good draw at the same time. Because I think it’s going to be really good preparation for what might lie ahead.
Armagh have a really good young midfield pairing in Jarly Óg Burns and Niall Grimley, and some really impressive forwards like Rian O’Neill, Jamie Clarke and Stefan ‘Soupy’ Campbell.
Mayo were cut open at times by Down, so that has to be addressed over the next few days.
Armagh are very physical too, and Mayo have shown they also have that side to them. But they’re going to need lads like Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Paddy Durcan to bring that intensity and physicality again on Saturday.
That goes for Aidan O’Shea as well, because he’s going to have to impose himself on a young, talented Armagh midfield duo.
Then we get to the attacking side of things, and the more I think about it, the more I think that Armagh is a good match-up for Mayo in this area of the field.
Andy Moran could really excel against this Armagh defence, because it’s quite an inexperienced backline and Andy has the guile and cleverness to create space and make chances. He showed that again in the second half in Newry.
Something else that has caught my eye watching Armagh this season is that they tend to give away frees when they come under pressure; so Mayo’s free-takers are going to be in the spotlight again. Conor Loftus, Jason Doherty and Evan Regan will need to be converting whatever frees come their way.
Being drawn at home next weekend means that Mayo’s form at MacHale Park in recent years becomes the elephant in the room again. I would say that the Mayo players are annoyed by the fact that their home form has been so up and down, and you can be sure that they will want to produce the goods next Saturday after seeing the huge crowd that travelled up to Down. So, for me, Mayo have to get the win against Armagh, by hook or by crook.
They have to find a way.
I know from meeting Armagh people every day of the week, that beating Mayo in Castlebar would be a huge step in their development as a team under Kieran McGeeney.
But, being honest, I expect Mayo to win this game. I think they’re the better team, they can handle themselves physically, and they’ll have a defensive plan to keep Armagh’s key men fairly quiet.
After that it will come down to Mayo being clinical, and in that regard, this is the week when Cillian O’Connor’s recovery programme needs to be speeded up. He needs minutes and Mayo need him back on the field again.
Patience might help reduce some stress
I THOUGHT Mayo were at their best against Down in the first half when they were patient, moved the ball from side to side, and didn’t try to force things.
Down had a lot of bodies back but Mayo retained possession well, and when they bided their time they invariably won a free or created an opening.
In the second half, Mayo didn’t play enough of the game in the Down half for my liking.
On too many of David Clarke’s kick-outs, Mayo weren’t able to get out of their own half quick enough.
And when they did get into the final third, there was an over-eagerness to create the ‘killer score’ and that led to turnovers. Against teams who set up like Down, patience really is a virtue.
Tied into that too is the fact that James Horan is still trying to get the right blend in the Mayo attack. The defence picks itself but the forwardline is a different story.
Conor Loftus took his chance against Down and showed up well, and Fionn McDonagh picked up where he’d left off before he got injured.
Going all the way back to 2011, when James Horan first took over as Mayo manager, I can’t remember this team closing out too many matches in the last 20 minutes.
Certainly in the last four or five years, no game springs to mind where Mayo boxed things off during the last quarter.
It just feels to me sometimes that there’s a mental ‘tick’ there that tells the players: ‘We’re just going to do enough’.
‘And if this other team comes back at us, we’ll raise it again.’
It especially seems to be prevalent in Qualifier games. Remember Fermanagh? Derry? Cork? The semi-final with Tipp’ in 2017?
Wouldn’t it be nice for the players, every so often, just to make it easy for themselves and reduce the stress and tension!