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Backs drive Mayo forward

AT A STRETCH Mayo's Aidan O'Shea jumps with Roscommon's Michael Finneran during Sunday's Connacht SFC Final at Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon. Pic: Sportsfile

Backs drive Mayo forward

Noel Connelly

AFTER all the trials and tribulations of the last few years it was great to see a Mayo captain lift the Nestor Cup last Sunday and be cheered to the rafters by some of the most loyal, long-suffering and rain-soaked supporters in the country!
Alan Dillon made a fine acceptance speech and it was interesting to hear him refer to James Horan as “the man who reunited Mayo football”.
What a difference twelve months can make!
I heard Peter Canavan say after the game on TV3 that James will be wondering just how Mayo ended up winning what was a very close encounter.
I’d have to say I agree with that assessment.
It was a very, very poor game. The conditions were terrible, the wind and rain made even the most basic skills difficult, and overall it was a scrappy spectacle.
I said last week that I wasn’t expecting a classic. What I didn’t mention was that I wasn’t expecting it to be the wettest day of the year!
As a Mayo man I’m delighted we won. It was vital for the young Mayo players that they picked up a Connacht championship medal as early as possible in their careers.
Now that’s done, and as the days and weeks go by, confidence will start to build within the group. Winning brings momentum and breeds confidence.

AS a former member of the ‘Mayo Defender’s Union’ I know I’m probably biased, but I believe that it was the Mayo backs that ultimately won the game. The forwards dictated what the winning margin was.
In the first half, in particular, Mayo’s defence was outstanding and Keith Higgins set the tone from the start. He won a ton of ball early on and drove out the field with it. He was starting attacks when there wasn’t a whole lot happening up front.
Alan Feeney and Tom Cunniffe also did well on their direct opponents, Donie Shine and Senan Kilbride, in the first half. There was a lot of ball coming in and while Shine got two smashing points from play, Feeney did very little wrong on him. Kilbride was completely tied up by Cunniffe.
The decision to get Trevor Mortimer to pick up Cathal Cregg worked out well too. Cregg was nullified in the first half and had very little influence on the game overall.
Fergal O’Donnell’s decision to put him in front of Roscommon’s full-back line after half-time seemed odd. It played into Mayo’s hands.
On the flip-side, there were a few times when Mayo backs brought the ball into the tackle, and gave away frees which Donie Shine more often than not converted. That needs to be addressed before we meet one of the better teams who are all carrying quality free-takers.
Roscommon should have been much further ahead than four points at half-time. I think the longer the game went on the more those missed chances in the first half started to weigh on them.
And with Cathal Cregg, his team’s most creative link-man, deployed so deep it was no surprise that Mayo’s backs coped well with most things that were thrown at them.
Richie Feeney became a very dominant figure, sweeping around Mayo’s half and picking up an awful lot of breaks.
In fact, Mayo ended up picking so much possession and had so much ball that they almost had to convert it into scores. Mayo must have had 80% of possession after half-time.

THE new Connacht champions have Cillian O’Connor to thank for guiding them home through the wind and the rain at Hyde Park.
The teenager deserves great credit. To play in your first Connacht Final and score eight points from nine frees is some achievement. They were all pressure kicks on the day that was in it.
Mayo were chasing the game for a long time and needed to get those scores. Hopefully the free-taking issue has been put to bed now.
Worryingly, though, Mayo didn’t put together too many other moves that led to scores.
In the first half the ball going into our forwardline wasn’t good enough. A lot of it was poorly struck, along the ground, and didn’t do the lads inside any favours.
Plus, the forwards weren’t getting out in front of their men, and the support play that you’d expect from half-forwards and midfielders was too slow in arriving.
The inter-play between the forwards, the runs they make, and their ability to make space needs a lot of work before we hit Croke Park and the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals.
I can’t remember Jason Doherty or Alan Freeman getting on ball and looking dangerous in the first half. It was only when Andy Moran went in there before half-time that the ball started to stick and chances started to be created.
I think Jason is starting to realise that there’s no comparison between National League and championship football. His goals during the Spring have made him a marked man this Summer and he’s finding it harder now to get away from defenders and find space to work with.
Sean McDermott was all over Jason last Sunday and I thought the umpires could have done more to help. The Roscommon defender was pulling and dragging out of Jason when the ball was nowhere to be seen and he needs to learn how to deal with that. By whatever means necessary.
Alan Freeman found the going tough too. Mayo’s one good goal chance would surely have ended up in the net if Alan had been more careful with his handpass to Trevor Mortimer. Those simple basic errors against the bigger teams will cost you.
Both Alan and Jason are capable of doing serious damage but the conditions didn’t suit them and I’m looking forward to seeing them in Croke Park on a dry day.
Midfield needs to be looked at too. As a partnership I’m not sure about Seamus and Aidan O’Shea at this level. They’re two very similar players; big and honest and hard-working, but I don’t know if they complement each other. Ronan McGarrity may come into the frame now.

THERE’S no place to hide from here on in. It took a certain amount of intensity to beat Galway and Roscommon, but Mayo are going to have to go to a whole new level for a Quarter-Final. They’re going to have to be twice as tenacious in the tackle and twice as smart on the ball.
The Mayo players and management won’t have been overly concerned on Sunday about anything other than the win but, when they sit down and analyse the match in detail, I think they’ll realise just how much room there is for improvement.
James won’t be shouting it from the rooftops, because it’s not his style, but he’ll also be delighted to have won a Connacht title at the first attempt. It will give him a lot of self-belief and the confidence to push on with his ideas and his way of doing things.
James has done a lot of hard, unseen work since he got the job. This Mayo team is not where he wants them yet, but they’re on the right track.
And they have nothing to lose from here on in.

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