Billy Joe Padden
NEW YORK, Castlebar, Newry, Limerick and now Killarney.
Mayo’s magical mystery tour goes on, into the Super 8s and three more championship games (at least) to savour.
There isn’t much time to catch the breath this week either with the Kerry match approaching at high speed.
Last Saturday’s win over Galway though was too good and too special to draw a line under just yet, and there was a lot to analyse and reflect on.
The first thing that has to be said about beating the neighbours for the first time in four years is that it was a good overall performance from Mayo, and that was on the back of some impressive individual displays.
So there’s more credit due to James Horan again this week.
He navigated the three difficult Qualifier games and has managed the situation really well to get Mayo into the Super 8s. He also picked the right team for the Galway game; he’s persisted with some players, chopped and changed others, tried a few things and, overall, the blend was right.
This team showed under Stephen Rochford that they could get on a run, win games and build momentum.
Horan has now shown that he can do that too, in a week-on-week Qualifier format that was unfamiliar to him.
There are also positives to be taken from the way that Mayo played in an attacking sense again last weekend.
Cillian O’Connor looked very sharp to me against Galway.
He didn’t look like a player who was coming back from a long injury lay-off and that just makes me wonder could he have possibly made his return a few weeks earlier?
O’Connor benefitted from having a player like James Carr in beside him; this unpredictable, explosive, freakish athlete who can make something out of nothing.
Carr is such a dynamic athlete that you don’t know where his ceiling is, so if he can get a clear run free of injuries, we should just enjoy watching him play and develop.
Then you have Darren Coen, an out and out shooter. Galway kept giving him ‘free looks’ and he kept taking them.
Having Carr and Coen in beside him meant that Cillian didn’t have to carry all the pressure of being Mayo’s ‘go to’ man in the full-forwardline.
That meant he had the licence to come out the field a bit, get on the ball, and feel his way into the game.
Going into the Super 8s with the forwards playing well is a great position to be in.
The biggest concern would obviously have to be the latest ‘wobble’ that Mayo had during the second half.
I think it was probably down to a number of factors.
Aidan O’Shea didn’t look fully fit to me and that meant not having the likes of Matthew Ruane or Diarmuid O’Connor was even more pronounced.
I’d see Andy Moran as being a viable option for the Kerry game and he could have a big part to play next Sunday because he’s been good against them in the recent past.
One worry for me going to Killarney would be if Paddy Durcan’s injury kept him out, because Mayo would be losing yet another strike runner around the middle third.
And that is the one area of the pitch where Mayo have a clear advantage over Kerry at the moment, and that’s why it’s so important that they can hammer it home on Sunday.
That superior athleticism in the middle third needs to be shown, but if Durcan was out, allied to the fact that Mayo will be more fatigued than Kerry, then that advantage could be significantly lessened.
We don’t know either just where Lee Keegan will be at next weekend, he may or may not be at full speed. I’d say James Horan would have preferred not to have used him against Galway but he had no option with the game in the balance.
Meath clash needs to be kept in mind
IT’S easy to see why there’s so much hype and focus about next Sunday but, for me, that doesn’t change the fact that the second game — against Meath — is the most important one.
Whether Mayo win or lose next weekend, they still have to beat Meath at Croke Park to guarantee that they’re in the mix for the All-Ireland semi-final.
But I have no doubt that Mayo are going to go full throttle for Kerry because it’s the only way that James Horan knows. That’s the way this team is built too — they can’t play at half-pace or low-intensity.
Now, if there’s a situation where Mayo find themselves seven or eight points down with 15 minutes to go next Sunday (which is possible going away to Kerry), then you’d have to rest key players who have played a lot of minutes.
That’s certainly how I would see it.
And that game management is something that James Horan is going to have to think about this week, and during the game as it unfolds. Game Two will have to be factored in.
Scoring difference may be a consideration too as three teams could end up with two wins each so that’s something for all of us to be conscious of — even before a ball is kicked.
Getting the match-ups in defence right will hold the key to everything against Kerry, starting with finding the right man for David Clifford.
I thought the way Brendan Harrison matched up to Damien Comer physically the last day was very important, and that was good practice for coming up against Clifford, who has so many strings to his bow.
If Mayo can play better in the middle third for longer against Kerry, specifically in terms of how they use possession, and get the same tune out of the full-forwardline again, then I think they’ve got a great chance of keeping this run of good results going.