Billy Joe Padden
KILLARNEY last Sunday was always likely to be a fork in the road for Mayo’s summer and that’s exactly how things have panned out.
A combination of fatigue from playing three tough games in three weeks, the sweltering hot day which was energy-sapping in its own right, the absence of so many strong runners and line-breakers, and the fact that Kerry produced their most impressive performance for years all added up to a heavy beating for Mayo.
And from where I was standing on the terrace at Fitzgerald Stadium, I have absolutely no doubt that the Kerry management, players and supporters enjoyed handing out a good hiding, following the two defeats earlier in the season.
Kerry were more aggressive and more physical than I’ve seen them in a long time. David Moran and Adrian Spillane around the middle were a case in point, and if they can deliver that sort of performance consistently then Kerry can go a long way in this championship. Because they have the forwards to hurt anyone.
The closer the game got on Sunday, the more I didn’t expect Mayo to win.
I started to get worried when I heard the changes being announced to the Kerry team before the game. That’s when it dawned on me that they were going to be playing with seven defenders.
The minute I heard that news, I feared for the amount of space that was going to be in the Mayo full-back line because Kerry were going to pull people out. And that would leave space in front of Barrett, Harrison and Higgins as well, unless Mayo had decided to drop men back.
But it became obvious from the early stages that the game-plan was to press high and be aggressive in the middle third, and that left the space at the back for David Clifford and friends to wreak havoc in.
That also meant it was extremely difficult for any of Mayo’s full-back line players to defend in one-on-one situations. They were left in a vulnerable position, and I think the smart move would have been to get Colm Boyle to operate as an out-and-out sweeper.
Take all the other jobs and responsibilities out the field off him.
It didn’t look like that was the case to me.
Mayo would have been better off having Boyle ‘double teaming’ Clifford with Brendan Harrison than playing him out the field.
One thing that frustrated me from an early stage was that Mayo wanted to play the game at such a high tempo, and I don’t know if that was such a great idea in the circumstances. I know it’s what this Mayo team are good at, and what they’d like to do in a normal situation, but this wasn’t normal.
This was going away to Kerry in boiling 25 degree heat, having played three difficult games back to back, in the middle of an injury crisis.
Mayo were much too anxious to play the diagonal kick pass into the ‘D’ in the first half and about four of them got cut out. And that killed them.
They would have been much better off in that situation retaining possession, keeping the ball for a minute or so, maybe winning a free, taking some time off the clock, because they were playing into a slight breeze in that first half.
They needed to show patience and game-management, but they weren’t able to.
There may be a temptation among some people to blame David Clarke for the kick-outs that didn’t go to a Mayo man, but I wouldn’t be one of them.
There will always come a time, in any game of football, where a good team will pressurise you and you won’t be able to get short kick-outs away.
And then it comes down to a physical battle in the middle of the field for possession, which Kerry won hands-down on Sunday.
Overall, Mayo looked tired and they just didn’t have the energy in the legs they needed. But that’s understandable given their hectic schedule recently.