Mayo continue to confuse us
IF the league is about learning, what knowledge have Mayo acquired from this 2013 campaign?
It ended on Sunday after a six point defeat to the Dubs, a margin which was quite flattering to James Horan’s men, and encompassed five defeats out of the eight games played.
The Kerry win almost feels like last year so far back is it, but the crucial victories over Donegal and Cork, keeping Mayo in the division as they did, have a much better nourishment value as time ticks down to the championship opener against Galway in Salthill on May 19.
This week James Horan and his management team will be sitting down and planning precisely for that showdown. So, what have the last few months taught them?
They’ll know how much of a loss experienced players like Alan Dillon and Andy Moran have been. Mayo’s build-up play was often naïve and lacking composure in their absence, although the return of Cillian O’Connor did help.
Michael Conroy and Jason Doherty had good leagues inside, although Doherty’s form did abandon him somewhat in recent weeks. You’d like to think that with Moran in there winning ball, they’d have done better still. So too with Dillon probing out the field. The Galway game may come too soon for Moran though.
In terms of new forward options, only Cathal Carolan has stood up as a contender for the championship starting fifteen. Maybe early defeats forced Horan to field stronger teams but he certainly didn’t use the league to have a considerable look over a lot of the other forward options at his disposal.
At midfield Mayo have a huge conundrum — what to do with Aidan O’Shea?
The Breaffy man has been tried at centre-half forward but Mayo do appear to have performed better when he’s at midfield. He’s probably Mayo’s best centre-half forward but you could argue the same about midfield. There are a lot more options at midfield than number 11 so you can see Horan’s logic.
Sunday was further proof though as to why he’ll be better utilised at midfield, excelling when moved there for the second half after an indifferent first half on the forty.
Further back the team is at its most settled where we know that, barring injury, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan will start. Donal Vaughan will probably start too but Mayo have to find a way of maximising what he can offer with his powerful attacking play.
On the front foot on Sunday he was superb early on but, again, was loose at the back. His direct opponent Paul Flynn picked up three Dublin kick-outs in a row at the start of the second half when making runs for Cluxton’s missiles. We think he will have a better chance of contributing positively from the wing, perhaps with Keegan at six.
Further back Chris Barrett, Tom Cunniffe, Kevin Keane and, possibly, Michael Walsh, will joust for the right-corner back spot while behind them David Clarke underlined again why he is one of the best shot-stoppers in the game with another collection of important saves.
Ultimately Sunday underlined that you never can quite know what you’ll get from Mayo. We’ve spoken before about their oscillating form – it borders on schizophrenic. When they’re good, they can be very, very good but when they’re bad, like the little girl with the curl, Mayo can be horrid.
Teams will always have purple patches in games. But Mayo can leave themselves so open defensively that teams can make hay from such dominance. Yet again on Sunday we saw far too much space in the Mayo defence. While Colm Boyle did sit deep early on, the half-back line generally likes to attack and there was a shortage of cover any time they did.
It was mainly old school man-on-man defending and against a team as potent as Dublin, plainly naive.
When Mayo hit top speed, they are undoubtedly a match for anyone. One thinks of their league and championship displays against the Dubs last year as evidence of this.
But if Mayo don’t have the ability to sustain that intensity, as we saw after their opening three points on Sunday when Dublin went on to hit 2-9 to 0-2 in an 18 minute spell, Mayo can be very vulnerable. With this type of inconsistency, you can take nothing for granted this summer.
Anything could happen.
Mayo continue to confuse us