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Walking the walk

Kevin McStay
Galway’s Padraic Joyce celebrates his goal
PURE CLASS Galway’s Padraic Joyce celebrates his goal during last Sunday’s Connacht Senior FC Final at McHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile

Team Mayo must walk the walk

Kevin McStayKevin McStay
WE said it would be close — it was — and if we felt Mayo might get the nudge, forgive us. They could have just as easily won this game as give way to Galway by a single point.
This was a real final, a big and appreciative attendance, a well-contested match and an atmosphere to match any of the great finals before it. That will be of small consolation to the Mayo players today but they need only look inwards to see why the cup went south. Yet again, a close Connacht final has ended up with the cup in the hands of a Galway captain.
The shocking opening by Mayo did most of the damage and it was Galway’s to lose after that. They nearly did. Down seven points within the space of 20 odd minutes playing with the wind, the rest of the match was fire brigade stuff as first management attempted to correct some selections, and then the players set about contesting the game in a real sense.
To their eternal credit, the Mayo team did this and when Aidan Kilcoyne availed of a Tom Parsons knockdown to goal, the recovery seemed complete. Mayo really should have kicked on from there but a few bad wides and poor use of opportunities meant the gap was not opened and in a tight finish the better marksmen are always fancied.
Where are we this morning then? Further on, further back or just treading water? See, if we say we are not progressing, then by extension, we are saying the same about Galway and few will argue the winners are going nowhere. After all, a bounce or a break, a referee’s decision or just a bit of good luck might have ordained a different result.
It is true we have developed significantly as a group. There is certainly a better sense of morale and togetherness, a tighter camp in most aspects and a belief that an All-Ireland winning manager can point this group in the right direction.
But I often think Mayo teams need good coaches more than they need good managers. Let me put it this way: if Mayo forwards were presented with the two goal opportunities Galway converted, I believe they would have settled for points. The Mayo player would be pleased with himself, the team would push on, the supporters would cheer and management look forward to the kick out.
But the inability to create and take the goal chances continues to be a serious problem. We get our fair share of goals but very few are contrived; they are the result of breaks and mistakes. One cannot rely on this type of goal as you go further in the championship; good defences rarely cough them up.
So, you must be able to create them and when only a few present in any top class game, it’s best you take them. I am not convinced Mayo even recognise them as goal chances anymore. Seems to me to be a case of ‘Take your point because the goals won’t come’.
Look at Sunday and see if you recognise the gilt-edged openings: two early Trevor Mortimer bursts on goal yielded a point when two goal chances might have been explored; BJ Padden’s first point had James Nallen riding shotgun if he had played the ball to his right; Conor Mortimer’s effort near the end had Alan Dillon screaming for a pop across the goal for a one-on-one with the Galway goalkeeper.
It is significant that both Padraic Joyce and Michael Meehan were involved in the Galway brace. It is true Joyce availed of a fortunate break of the ball from Nicky Joyce’s heel but when it presented only one result filled his imagination. Recall the manner in which he dropped his tacklers with the dummy to his good foot and the clinical shot to the net.
Remember Meehan’s feint to take the goalkeeper and a Mayo defender out of the action? Perhaps we just don’t have players of this class but I am convinced this type of composure can be coached.
Let’s have a closer look at the other sectors and issues of the day. David Clarke was superb in goal again and can be the Mayo goalkeeper for as long as he wants to be. His save from Nicky Joyce prevented a certain goal and his general husbandry of the area in front of his goal was top class.
The backs started dreadfully, improved dramatically and finished poorly. Outside of Keith Higgins, each player can reflect on periods when they struggled. In the finish Mayo ended up with four veterans, a full-back line that was dis-assembled and the knowledge that a new half-back line will be required soon, when the never say die Heaney and Nallen can take no more.
But that scenario is for another day and the immediate requirement is to get the selection corrected for Round 3 of the Qualifiers. The solution was probably on the pitch when the referee sounded the final whistle.
Midfield contested well and if they never dominated in the way we hoped and expected, perhaps that says more about our analysis than the performances themselves. We certainly expected too much from Tom Parsons and hindsight, it being a wonderful tool altogether, suggests young Parsons might have been subbed early in the Sligo win to avoid this dreadful ‘Man-of-the-Match’ award and subsequent hype.
Last week I wrote about the Mayo forwards need to make a statement about their prowess as a unit. If you cannot score consistently, you have no chance of survival at the top levels. We asked for a decent level of points from play but alas, no forward could muster the three that might suggest a serious contribution.
All the forwards had chances to make that mark, but the reality is none succeeded. Two Galway players, Joyce and Bane, got a hat-trick apiece. For Mayo, Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer and BJ Padden hit doubles but missed great chances to make a winning total. This is not criticism; BJP did superb when introduced and Dillon was our best player yet again. Conor scored two beauties but the bottom line remains: Mayo continues to spurn really easy chances.
To conclude then. Mayo are not so far away as to say the season is busted. But the attitude concerning the Qualifiers is nothing short of shocking and John O’Mahony needs to put a sock in the mouths of a few of his high profile players.
Management has carefully choreographed the media utterances of the squad from the off but some of the stuff I’ve read in recent weeks would make you cringe. Somebody took their eye off the ball.
To turn your nose up at a second chance in the championship is nothing short of disrespect for your county jersey. No doubt many of the Mayo squad retired on Sunday night reflecting on the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas of the 2008 final. No doubt they convinced themselves they are every bit as good as Galway.
And who is to say Mayo are not? Why then might you want to pull the ripcord and parachute off to another place? This attitude and approach must not be tolerated by JOM and players need to cop themselves on.
In my opinion Mayo are as close to the Connacht champions as makes little difference. In time we will find out how good both teams are in a national context but for now we must believe we can have a big say yet in the 2008 championship. But only if every player puts their shoulders to the wheel. Now is not the time to abandon ship.