Liam McHale has watched Longford at close quarters
WITH Mayo flying high in the upper echelons of Division 1 of the National League during the spring, there were very few people in this part of the world concerned with the nuts and bolts of Division 4.
While our lads were mixing it with the likes of Galway, Tyrone, Kerry and Dublin, there was precious little time to be worrying about the affairs of Limerick, Sligo, Antrim and, believe it or not, Longford. The All-Ireland Qualifiers were the last thing on our minds...
Luckily, there was at least one Mayo man immersed in the finer details of the National League’s basement division — Liam McHale. It was in his capacity as Clare coach that he came up against Longford in a run-of-the-mill round seven league match three months ago at Pearse Park.
Clare won the game, a tough, hard battle, by 0-12 to 0-9. But that is only half the story. Last week the former Mayo midfielder, and senior selector, gave an insight into what makes teams like Longford tick and offered his assessment of Mayo’s current state of health...
MF: What are Longford like?
L McH: They will put it up to us. If they’ve prepared well and have been training two nights a week, and maybe played a challenge or two, they’ll make it very tough.
When we played them in the league, up at Pearse Park, we went nine points to no score up. But they came back to within a point of us before we ended up winning by a few points. One thing that struck me about them was their forwards; they have big, strong, athletic forwards that could cause our small, light backs plenty of problems.
Plus, like all Division 4 teams, they have two big, strong, hardy, awkward midfielders and their size and strength will be something that will pose problems for the likes of Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons.
MF: How will they feel about playing Mayo?
L McH: Longford will be looking forward to it. They will have their homework done. They’ll have watched the Sligo match and they won’t fear Mayo based on that performance. Being at home is a big plus for them too.
For example, the Clare lads would have loved a crack at Mayo in Cusack Park. A few of them know some of the Mayo guys and would have been keen to play them. The main thing was they just didn’t want to have to travel up to play any of the northern teams.
MF: What Mayo areas will they be targetting?
L McH: If I was planning for Mayo, I would have been impressed with Alan Freeman in the Sligo game. I have no doubt that Longford will focus in on stopping him playing well.
They’ll be confident of winning 50% of the ball at midfield and they will definitely feel they have the better forwards. And they have forwards who will do damage. But the preparation is going to be the decisive factor. Have they prepared well?
MF: How will Mayo feel about going up there?
L McH: Mayo are vulnerable. They were crushed by Meath and Cork in the last ten months and badly beaten by Sligo. That is bound to have had an effect. Morale and confidence within the Mayo group has to be low.
For Longford, playing against a big team like Mayo, at home, they have nothing to lose. If they’re beaten by two points, they’ll get a pat on the back. If they win, they’ll be carried off the field. Personally, I’d have much preferred if Mayo had got a tougher draw.
MF: Would you like to see Mayo make changes?
L McH: Glenn Ryan would have much preferred if Mayo put out the same team as played against Sligo. Mayo should, in theory, have a much stronger team out next weekend. The team that started against Sligo was the poorest Mayo team that’s played championship in a long, long time.
Alan Dillon being back is a huge boost. He’s the best footballer on the team and him being there should mean a better supply for the inside forwards. When he’s in the team, I think everybody plays better.
Fellas like Trevor Howley, Liam O’Malley and Pat Harte should be back in the team too and that will make Mayo stronger.
MF: Is it all about getting the right result for Mayo?
L McH: Playing poorly and winning won’t build confidence. Lads don’t just don’t seem to have any great enthusiasm for the game based on the Cork and Sligo performances.
To be honest, beating Kerry in the league doesn’t mean anything anymore. They’re at 70% and are looking to July and August. That’s what we need to be doing, getting the team right for July and August.
We need to blow Longford away next weekend, beat them by ten or twelve points, so that Mayo lads can start feeling good about themselves again. Get their confidence back and start enjoying their football.
But, after the display against Sligo, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Longford turned us over. They would be a lot edgier about a game against Clare, Wexford or Wicklow. This is a great opportunity for them.