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Mayo still learning on the job

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Mayo still learning on the job

IT was one of those days when so many fundamental flaws were exposed that you almost despaired of Mayo football. Tyrone outfoxed them, held them scoreless from play for thirty-two minutes of the second half, and when Mayo did dramatically recover they lacked the guile to defend for as long as one minute a two-point lead.
Tyrone, back in Division 1, and in transition, taught the All-Ireland finalists a lesson in how to win. They played the wings to perfection. Their young men stifled almost every scoring opportunity Mayo tried to manufacture. And when they dramatically fell behind in injury-time they held their nerve to eke out a winning penalty.
Let’s recount those moments of drama as the game ebbed to what appeared a foregone conclusion with Tyrone in control and leading by four points.
They had already outscored Mayo by six points to four in the second half. And as Mayo embarked on what looked like another fruitless attack in the 67th minute,  the countdown had begun.
Barry Moran, a half-time sub for Seamus O’Shea, then grabbed the ball on the 45-metre line. The midfielder steered the ball to Jason Doherty. Like a magnet, the defence surrounded the full-forward, but for once failed to spot Keith Higgins stealing in behind them, and from an acute angle the corner back did what no forward could do . . . rifle the net.
For once in the match a Mayo player had shown leadership and a piece of creative thinking, and the goal sparked off the urgency for more.
Donal Vaughan, released from the bench in a last desperate bid by the mentors to salvage something from the wreckage, tossed over a point to level the scores. And as the game entered injury time, Doherty tacked on two from frees.
Mayo, astonishingly, were ahead by two. A signal surely for an all-out effort to secure that lead!
From a clearance, Stephen O’Neill, who had moved from his position at full-forward, gathered the ball out on the right wing. It was a chance for Aidan O’Shea to become ruthless, to foul O’Neill, as Tyrone would have done in similar circumstances.
The experienced O’Neill managed to slip the Mayo man, however, and fire a dangerous cross toward the square where Mark Donnelly grabbed the ball and was fouled. And that was that. O¹Neill, well-versed in dealing with moments of crisis, calmly tucked the penalty into the corner of the net.
On the run of play the visitors deserved that one-point win.
Mayo did not lose for lack of possession. They lost for the want of astuteness. They got mentally trapped by Tyrone’s power to close them down, and could not find an antidote, or a way out. They were pedestrian and unimaginative. They adhered rigidly to a solo and a pass. They got themselves backed into disadvantaged corners and their unforced passing errors left you speechless.
Unlike Tyrone they had no one to score from long range . . . or no one to take on the responsibility. It took their ever-reliable defender Keith Higgins to show the way. Nor was any sub produced in time to amplify their efforts as Martin Penrose did for Tyrone in the second half.
What the end result might have been if Aidan O’Shea had not dominated midfield is anyone’s guess? Once more the Breaffy man was a tower of strength and resilience.
Until he was yellow-carded and eventually replaced, Seamus O’Shea was an ideal midfield complement to his brother, and Barry Moran triggered the recovery with a fine catch and delivery.
The Mayo half-back line flagged badly, and clearly lacks the defensive qualities of Lee Keegan. At full-back Ger Cafferkey competently policed Stephen O’Neill for most of the match and it was good to see Kevin Keane return to his familiar diligence.
If the experiment of converting Keegan into a successful forward is beginning to pale, so too, is the selectors’ choice of Kevin McLoughlin as a corner-forward where his style is cramped and his free-flowing technique missed.
It was no fault of Richie Feeney that Mayo lost, and Jason Doherty and Michael Conroy also strove to put some semblance of shape on the forward line.
But that destructive streak is still missing. And while it is Mayo will continue wobble back on their heels.

If players keep talking, refs should keep walking
ONE recommendation of the GAA’s Football Review Committee is the launch of a recruitment drive for referees among recently retired players as a matter of urgency.
In the absence of any published reason for the suggestion one can only conclude that the committee harbours some real concern about the overall quality of the decisions being made by those who take charge of our games.
It seemed to suggest that newly retired players would have a greater understanding of the rules and thus more authority in implementing them, and meting out punishment commensurate with the offence.
Nothing I have seen of late convinces me that the three-card proposal to go before Congress would make it any easier for referees to categorise offences . . . or indeed sometimes to understand what an offence is.
No amount of rules can deal with incidents like that which occurred in the All-Ireland final when Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor was blatantly fouled close to the Donegal goal, and a free given against him from which Donegal indirectly scored one of their two goals.
No amount of regulations can explain why a referee’s understanding of the same rule differs in the same game; why one referee whistles for over-carrying quicker than others; why one has a different meaning of the tackle; why Charlestown were not allowed retake the free kick knocked down by an opponent too close to the ball in their All-Ireland semi-final; why what happened in 1996 when Mayo came out the wrong end of a bad decision made by a referee regarded as the best in his day, a decision that clearly influenced the out come of the All-Ireland final.
It is not easy to decode some of the tackling in the modern game, but referees are constantly assessed and graded. Yet the likes of that decision in the All-Ireland final leaves a lot of question marks hanging over the system that appoints them.
A further recommendation of the Review Committee is that all offences currently attracting a 13-metre sanction should be changed to 30 metres, the player who concedes the foul to place the ball on the ground immediately.
Now there’s a proposal that if passed by Congress, needs no cerebral distinction to understand. And it ought to apply to all players who remonstrate with referees about their decisions.
Donegal men challenged every decision given against them in the All-Ireland final . . . . even those fouls that were blatantly obvious. It was a ploy tantamount to intimidation for which they were not taken to task.
If the proposed 30-metre sanction deals with psychological infringements of that nature it will be seen as the proper weapon for calling to heel anybody who questions the referee irrespective of whether the official is right or wrong.
I have never seen a referee change his mind. Players have got to accept his decision and be prepared to treat the official in charge as the 16th man on the opposing team without question.

Just a thought …
WE wish Vincent Neary all the luck and patience that will be required of him as he takes up his new post as Mayo GAA Board’s secretary. He brings admirable qualities to the job.