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Kevin McStay says Longford is a no-win game, but Mayo must win

Kevin McStay
Kevin McStay

A no-win game, but we must win

Kevin McStay

I WAS very disappointed with Mayo’s performance in the Sligo game – and the attitude. I’m sure the Mayo players realise by now that neither was acceptable. They’ll be very nervous until the team for the Longford game is chosen. Because very few of them can feel safe.
I’ve heard talk of five or six changes. John O’Mahony doesn’t generally go for those kind of clean-outs, but it’s probably merited, because there are some lads whose form has been poor match after match. I’d be surprised if there are as many as five changes – but there has to be some change. John O’Mahony has to let the team know that he’s not going to put up with the sort of performance we saw in Sligo. And we’re going to see some big names tumble.

The opposition
I SAW Longford play Louth, and they were very poor that day, but they only lost by a couple of points against a team who now look like they could be in a Leinster final some day soon. Longford have regrouped since, and Glenn Ryan is making very positive noises. It’s a nice, small, compact venue. Longford tend to get well supported no matter who’s in town. The fact that Mayo are visiting will even add to the usual crowd a bit, but there won’t be many away supporters.
Longford won’t be bad. They’ve a couple of good forwards, and they’re a tough team to beat in the qualifiers. They’re no mugs, and they might sense that Mayo are vulnerable. Mayo would be a massive scalp for them.
The problem is that if Mayo win it, people will say ‘big deal’, and if they lose it, that just confirms how far back we’ve gone. That was why I was hoping to get a tough draw, because if it was Armagh in Crossmaglen and you come back with a victory, then you’d have known that you’re back up on the horse.
Before the championship started, I’d have put Mayo around sixth in the national pecking order. Now? Around tenth or 11th. We’re going to really struggle to make it to the last 12 this year.

The ‘slow burner’
THAT said, I think John O’Mahony would have been very happy with the draw. It’s very similar to Galway getting Wicklow in 2001, so the manager might see Longford away as the perfect launch pad to get his best 15 out on the field and tweak them a bit more. Then he might get a mid-range team in the second round of the qualifiers. That might be the way they’re approaching it – the ‘slow burner’ approach.
But what Mayo fans don’t want is a couple of handy draws, false optimism that we’re back up again, and then coming up against a big hitter in round three or round four.
Remember, Cork will be in the second round draw, and the vast majority of games in the first round draw has paired strong teams against weaker teams. That means that round two will be bereft of weak teams.

The danger of complacency
IF Mayo go to Longford with the same attitude as they showed in Sligo, then this becomes a really tricky match. Because they’re away from home, they’ll have no support and they’ll probably be feeling fairly down on their luck. So this is all about attitude and performance from a Mayo perspective.
John O’Mahony will be worried about this, because he knows the Mayo psyche. The default position among Mayo people when they heard the draw was ‘We’ll beat Longford’.
That automatic feeling goes for all of us – supporters, players, pundits. And it’s that feeling that can lead to complacency. It sneaks in under the radar, almost unknown to you as a footballer.
Now, after the Sligo performance, there really shouldn’t be anything near complacency. But then there shouldn’t have been any complacency before the Sligo match either, yet Andy Moran said in these pages last week that there was. It’s in the Mayo psyche that we’ll beat Sligo, Leitrim, Longford or Roscommon – regardless of how either team is shaping up!

Looking for a reaction
THE last two weeks will have been very tough for Mayo players, because the media criticism has been hard. But it was always going to be, given how poor the team was against Sligo. Johnno will play on the siege mentality – look what they wrote about us and said about us – and if there’s anything in them, we expect to see it next Saturday. But all that has to be juggled with the fact that the management will be looking at a new team, and that’s going to have its own dynamic within the squad.
I’m sure that players were on the receiving end of some harsh words from people. The performance was so poor, and there’s a lot of anger – or something verging on anger – over the whole thing. But I would expect a big reaction from everyone involved in the Mayo squad – management and players alike. Hopefully that reaction will prompt a really good attitude, so that attitude should lead to a very good performance – or certainly a winning performance.

Shuffling the pack
DONAL Vaughan could go to centre back for Saturday’s game. John O’Mahony has to get him out of the corner anyway – that’s a no-brainer. Seamus O’Shea, I think, will definitely go to midfield – he certainly has to get out of the number 11 slot.
What would constitute a good evening’s work? Well obviously a win – a decent win – and the new selections and positional switches going well on the night. That would be about as much as you could hope for. That there would be a bit of morale restored to the squad, and that we’re in a better place for round two of the qualifiers.
In an overall sense, the Longford game is almost a no-win situation – but it has to be won!