Billy Joe Padden
CROKE PARK here we come, again. Another chapter in the story of this Mayo football team was written last Saturday evening and they showed all the resilience, character, ability and experience that has made them so hard to write off.
They will need to roll up their sleeves and do it all over again, but better, against Dublin next Saturday evening if they’re to have any chance of ambushing the All-Ireland champions.
From a Mayo perspective, there’s no escaping the fact that only having five or six days to prepare for this All-Ireland semi-final is a negative. Firstly, because of the impact the intensity of that game against Donegal will have had on their energy levels.
But I also believe that there is no group of players better qualified to put a plan in place to beat this Dublin team in Croke Park than this Mayo team. They’ve come closer than any other group to doing it over the last three or four seasons, and they’ve played with the intensity required for 70 minutes on a few occasions.
They’ve also played some really good football in those games and, yet, they’ve still come up short. That’s how good this Dublin team is.
But James Horan, the management team, and the players will be hoping they’ve got enough energy in the tank to produce another big performance. And they’ll also be hoping that Dublin will be slightly undercooked. Because the reality is that Dublin haven’t had a game that was played at a frantic championship pace yet.
But for Mayo to push Dublin into that red zone, they have to play at a very high intensity because Dublin are so good that they can keep you at arm’s length just by controlling the game and playing it at their pace.
So for all of us on the outside looking in, we don’t know if Mayo can produce another high-energy performance that will put them in a position to be in the game with 15 minutes to go.
Either way, they are going to need impact off the bench. It’s a terrible shame that Jason Doherty is going to miss the semi-final but Horan is lucky that he’s got lads like Kevin McLoughlin and Fergal Boland to bring in.
I’m fairly sure that not a day has gone by since he came back as Mayo manager last year that he hasn’t thought about what he would do to try and beat Dublin if they crossed paths this summer.
So I’m sure that he’s got a good idea of how he wants to go about things next weekend, the pity is that he’s only got a matter of days to try and implement it.
It’s vital that he gets the match-ups right again: Paddy Durcan on Jack McCaffrey; Lee Keegan on Ciarán Kilkenny; Aidan O’Shea on Bryan Fenton; Seamie O’Shea on MDMA for 50 minutes are the ones that spring to mind.
I feel that we won’t know for sure if Dublin are feeling the pressure of the ‘Drive For Five’ until somebody puts them in a position where the game is in the balance with 15 minutes to go. What I’d hope for from Saturday’s game is that Mayo are that team, whatever happens after that.
And regardless of how things pan out against Dublin, this team deserves everyone from Mayo to get behind them again at Croke Park.
Jurgen Klopp uses a term about his Liverpool team, he says they’re ‘mentality monsters’. The mentality that Mayo showed last weekend to beat Donegal, to bring intensity, fight and aggression — when so many injuries have gone against them this season — and to dominate the game the way they did, is remarkable.
That mental approach will be required again against Dublin, and 50% more.
Would you bet against them doing it?
I certainly wouldn’t.
Would I understand if they’re not able to replicate it again? Yes, I would, considering the run they’ve had this summer and the careers so many of them have had.
You can be sure as well that Dublin will see this game as an opportunity to put Mayo to the sword again in a big championship game, and in doing so cement their status as a team for the ages.
Patience will be needed in abundance
SO what do Mayo need to do next Saturday to be in with a chance?
Be patient is the first thing. I noticed that Sky Sports’ sideline reporter, Senan Connell, picked up on James Horan preaching patience against Donegal. It will be the same against Dublin.
Think of Jason Doherty’s score last weekend when Mayo held on to the ball for up to a minute, moved it left and right, recycled, and then there were a couple of quick handpasses to set up Doherty to shoot from 45m out, straight in front of the goal.
Against a team like Dublin, that may be as good a scoring opportunity as you can hope for sometimes. And it will be crucial to keep them off the ball for as long as possible.
At the other end, Mayo will have to defend the centre of the pitch really well. They’re going to have to allow Dublin to have the wide areas because you can’t defend the whole width of Croke Park. And you know that Dublin are not going to take too many of these low-percentage outside shots, so they may have a lot of possession in wide areas, but Mayo have to hold their concentration and patience to make sure they don’t get moved around.
Jim Gavin will be drilling his players this week to work the ball into the areas around the ‘D’ that allows them to increase the likelihood of scoring. So Mayo need to defend that area at all costs. If Dublin start kicking screamers from the sidelines, and beat you doing that, then so be it. But they can’t make it easy for them if Mayo are to have a chance of winning the game.
Get ready for more ‘Horanball’, get ready for another big day out!