Mayo leave room for improvement
THE official attendance at McHale Park on Sunday was almost 14,500 people.
The fine weather helped but that’s a really good crowd and a sign that the enthusiasm and support for Mayo football remains strong. Unfortunately, the game turned out to be one to forget.
It was a facile and futile exercise in a lot of ways for James Horan and Mayo, and one which will have done very little to advance the plans of either team. I honestly can’t recall a result like it in all my years in the Mayo jersey.
Leaving aside a bright first 20 minutes, Leitrim were totally outplayed. They didn’t seem to have a definite game-plan, were way off the pace in terms of conditioning and fitness, and were very poor in almost every facet of the game, with the sole exception being Emlyn Mulligan.
In terms of getting ready for the Connacht Final, there was very little of consequence that Mayo can take from this exercise.
Despite the big margin of victory, I felt only a handful of players hit their best form. Barry Moran had an outstanding game at midfield, winning as much ball as he wanted, but Leitrim were out of their depth there all day.
They had nobody to match up to the powerful number eight, but Barry will know it will be a very different story on July 15.
Other positives, for me, included Cillian O’Connor’s unerring accuracy from frees in the second half; Alan Dillon’s energy and enthusiasm; and the link-play and intelligence of Kevin McLoughlin who has become such a big part of the game-plan.
It was also nice to see Ronan McGarrity back in action, pushing for a midfield spot, and kicking one of those trademark points.
But that was about it.
APART from the first quarter, the Mayo backline wasn’t under any serious pressure and kept Leitrim to just three points in the second half.
At the other end of the field, clocking up 4-20 is obviously a good day at the office but the full-forward line didn’t get a huge amount of direct ball to work with.
Andy Moran took his goals well but, overall, wasn’t involved as much as he would have liked while Jason Doherty and Alan Freeman, with the exception of his well-taken goal, would have liked to get themselves into more scoring positions.
We were very rusty in that first quarter and it showed on the new scoreboard in McHale Park as the game was fairly evenly-balanced until that first goal flew in.
That was inevitable after an eight-week lay-off and the positive sign for me is that we pulled ourselves out of that slump as the game wore on.
Most of our attacking play again revolved around a plan of carrying the ball into the attack from deep positions.
We rarely deliver the early, direct ball to the full-forward line these days and prefer instead to let the likes of Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan and Kevin McLoughlin drive forward in possession.
Our style is based on runners coming through the middle but I’d love to see us mix things up a little bit more by servicing the inside line a little quicker.
That way, runners like Keith Higgins, Keegan and Vaughan could cause even more damage when they arrive on the scene close to goal.
THE next couple of weeks at Mayo training are going to be pretty intense with the O’Shea brothers on the road to recovery and everyone on the panel chomping at the bit for places.
If I were them, I’d forget all about last Sunday, throw away the DVD, and start thinking about Sligo. It’s a very similar scenario to the one Galway were in after their easy win over Roscommon. Again, Sligo are waiting in the wings, planning an ambush.
James Horan may be planning to squeeze in a challenge game before the Connacht Final but I get the impression the internal ‘A’ versus ‘B’ games are where places will be won and lost.
From my own experience as a player and a manager, these trial matches, at certain times of the year, can often replicate the intensity of championship.
There will be a great bite to these games, which are often played out in four periods of twenty minutes, and with places up for grabs in both midfield and attack, there will be skin and hair flying.
Even in defence, it’s not entirely clear who will line out in the half-back line with Richie Feeney showing up well off the bench.
HE’S a shrewd operator but even Kevin Walsh will have taken very little from Sunday’s visit to Castlebar. In fact, he’ll definitely learn more from watching Mayo’s games against Kerry and Cork back in April.
Also, it has to be taken into account that James Horan may well have held something back on Sunday and Mayo’s shape and style could be considerably different by throw-in time on July 15.
In many ways though, Sligo are a good bet to beat Mayo and some bookies might be tempted to make them favourites. They have a settled team and the strong work ethic they showed across the field against Galway is a serious weapon.
They also have a very strong full-forward line and like to keep them supplied with a great supply of fast and direct ball.
Mayo will have to counteract that and this final could be very similar to last year’s in terms of a tight and tense contest.
I do see the possibility of a long summer ahead for us, even if the likes of Dublin, Cork and Kerry are still that bit ahead. There is work to be done but Mayo can upset any team in the country if the right system is in place. The next job is to retain the Connacht title and that’s where the sole focus will be for the next few weeks.
OUR Minors dug out a Connacht semi-final victory over Sligo on Sunday that was badly needed, especially after last year’s disappointing defeat to Roscommon at the same stage. Tony Duffy will be relieved to have got over a difficult hurdle like that and he’ll be looking forward to having a few more weeks to work with the squad.
Tony is in a difficult situation at this time of year with the Leaving Cert’ meaning he wouldn’t have had a full panel together for training for most of the last two months. Now that all that is finished, he’ll be looking forward to three weeks of full squad sessions and maybe a challenge game or two.
Playing in a Connacht Final and an All-Ireland quarter final will really help develop this squad to the point where they can reach their potential after what was a nervous performance on Sunday.
A lot of work is going into underage development in the likes of Sligo and Leitrim and we have to keep pace with them. A solid start for our Minors will do for now.
All in all, not a bad day’s work for all concerned.
Just a thought …
IT will be interesting to see just where the Connacht Final will be played next month. Mayo would love to get Sligo to McHale Park but it looks like we might have to settle for a trip to the seaside in Salthill. In any event, the important thing is that Mayo will be playing!