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It’s time for Mayo to tighten things up

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Mayo captain Keith Higgins and Dublin’s Kevin McManamon have eyes only for the ball during Saturday night’s National League clash in Castlebar.
ONE-ON-ONE
?Mayo captain Keith Higgins and Dublin’s Kevin McManamon have eyes only for the ball during Saturday night’s National League clash in Castlebar.?Pic: Sportsfile

It’s time to tighten things up


Talking tactics
Billy Joe Padden

WHAT went wrong on Saturday night? The short answer is everything. There was something wrong with every aspect of Mayo’s play against Dublin. We were totally outplayed. It was demoralising, and Mayo looked demoralised from early on in the game.

Defensive dilemmas

WE saw at first hand why teams play with so many bodies back against Dublin. Because they’re so dynamic and have so many players who can score, you cannot afford to leave yourself open against them. When you play the Dubs, your first priority is to ensure you’re hard to score against. We’ve got to take that lesson on board.
I’m looking for positives after Saturday and the most obvious one is that at least we know that now. If we’re to play Dublin again or other top teams, we can’t set up the way we did on Saturday night. We have to be harder to score against, more defensively sound.
I’ve been saying for a long time that Mayo need to be able to play a more counter-attacking game, with loads of players in a defensive shell. People lambast that system, and I’m not a fan of it myself, but given the way Gaelic football has developed, we need to add it to our arsenal.
I suggested last week that this was the game for us to play defensively against Dublin. I didn’t expect it to happen, and it didn’t. It’s not as easy as people think. It’s not simple to coach, not merely a matter of getting loads of men back.
All 15 players have to know their responsibilities. They have to know what decision they’re making for nearly every eventuality in the game – an opposition kick-out, a free in the opposing half-back line, a sideline ball in a certain area. Decisions about who puts pressure on the man in possession and who drops back have to be made on the training ground, and Donegal and Tyrone have spent years at it.
What’s the good news? Well, Mayo still have loads of talented footballers. They’re a group that have had success, and I think they’re crying out for another challenge. Maybe this is exactly what they need – to adopt another tactical system.
Mayo were five points down after 15 minutes on Saturday. At that point, I’d have pulled 13 men back into our own half to tackle and defend, leaving Aidan O’Shea up with one other forward. Before we could even think about clawing those five points back, we needed to try and knock Dublin out of their rhythm, just to stem the tide.
As an old-timer (from Meath, of all places!) said to me on Sunday: “If you had a hole in your roof, you’d stop the water coming in first!” That’s what we needed to do. Holding the margin at five – even if we didn’t score – was preferable to going in at half time ten points down.
I can totally understand Mayo’s reluctance to change, because the system needs to be worked on over a number of weeks at least.
But I think the players, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly will now recognise it’s something we have to do. If we had had previous experience of playing that system, would we have switched to it after ten or 15 minutes?
Of course.

Midfield malfunctions
MAYO were really poor on their own kick-out in the first 15 minutes on Saturday. We used to be among the best in the country at winning clean possession or breaks in midfield.
But we struggled in the area, and Dublin cleaned us out early on. Dublin won the first four breaking balls, and one of their goals came directly from a break won under the stand.
It’s used to be one of Mayo’s strengths, but we’ve neglected it – Kerry dominated the breaks in last year’s two semi-finals. Now it’s an area we need to focus on. It can be rectified, because Mayo have the players in that area. We need to start winning clean possession and breaks around the middle of the field.
Part of the problem is that Mayo have used three different goalkeepers in this league campaign. Every goalkeeper has to develop a relationship with his team-mates in terms of where the kick-out is going. The guy who’s going to contest the ball in the air, and the three or four who should be competing for breaking ball, all need to know what the goalkeeper is going to do, and where the ball is going to go.

Trouble with turnovers
BECAUSE Mayo decided to go toe to toe with Dublin, our half-backs and midfielders were required to get forward, get scores and help out the attack. And that created a lot of problems, because there was not a lot of precision in Mayo’s game.
There were too many players taking touches on the ball, and our transition from defence to attack was horrendously slow. I re-watched the game on Sunday, and counted 15 times in the first half where Mayo turned over possession in the Dublin half.
And that just played totally into Dublin’s hands. Once they got the ball, Mayo’s half-back line were completely out of position, and two or three quick Dublin passes later, the Mayo full-back line was completely exposed. That’s how the second goal came about.
The half-back line is not working as well as it did in the past. They didn’t really add much in an attacking sense on Saturday. That’s down, I think, to the wrong game-plan as well as poor play.
We’ve got a great half-back line, and I think they would benefit from having a more restricted role; not asking them to do so much. We ask them to do an awful lot.
Without Cillian O’Connor, we’re not at full strength in attack, which is another reason why we should play defensively.
Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan and the O’Sheas are good at playing off the shoulder. So let’s get loads of men back and try and adopt a counter-attacking game.
Let’s play to our strengths.