Billy Joe Padden
SOMEBODY asked me on Sunday where this Mayo team are after beating Clare last weekend.
Honestly? I don’t know, but I do know that we’re closer than ever again to ‘who’ we are as a team.
This Mayo team was built on some core principles and that second half in Ennis showed us what they can do when they play to their strengths.
Stephen Rochford deserves immense credit for changing things up at half-time against Clare.
Because not only did Mayo play with drive, pace and physicality (right from the James Horan playbook) in the second half, but they also held possession patiently and recycled the ball at times.
Being able to ‘rest in possession’ is something that Rochford has got this team doing since he took over, and being able to blend the cut and thrust of the old days, with some patient football, is what Mayo need to do to win the big games now.
Possession is always going to be crucial for this team in the weeks and months ahead, because they’re not big scorers.
But what a difference a half-time team talk can make.
I’d love to know what the message was to the Mayo players all week from management, but I’m dying to know what the message was from them at half-time.
That was a very impressive second half performance and, with the exception of the first 20 minutes, there was plenty to admire about Mayo’s second win in seven days.
They got back to being physical around the middle of the field, they retained possession better than they have in any game this year, and they finally started running the ball from all angles.
The whole thing was so synchronised in that second half that it really reminded us how good this team can be when they play to their strengths.
Everybody was moving the ball forward, starting in defence, and continuing until we got into the scoring zone.
For the key scores, look at the angles guys were coming from to take the ball; Diarmuid O’Connor’s goal was the perfect example.
Let’s take Kevin McLoughlin, who personified the transformation. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that McLoughlin ‘rehabilitated’ himself in the second half.
He had played with such a complete lack of confidence in the opening half and seemed racked with indecision.
I can only assume that he probably enjoyed the change of tack to running the ball in the second half, and he seemed liberated by the fact that it took the pressure off him to deliver a ‘killer pass’.
After half-time he just got the ball, gave it, got it back, and went by some Clare lads, burning them off. His confidence started to soar and he looked like his old self.
I really don’t think being told, ‘You’re our best kickpasser so go out there and play killer passes’ suits him at all.
I was utterly baffled and pessimistic by our performance in the first half, especially the first 20 minutes.
My mood wasn’t helped when RTE flashed up a stat at half-time that said Mayo had just 41% of possession in the first 35 minutes.
I’ll let you in on a secret: Mayo won’t win any game with just 41% of possession. They just don’t have the firepower.
The reason Mayo had so little possession was because they tried to do everything so quickly in the first quarter, and ended up kicking most of it away.
I’m struggling to remember too many times when we worked the ball around, went from side to side, and were patient in possession in the first half.
Instead we persisted with trying to kick the ball into a full-forward line that isn’t exactly packed with speedsters, and it was a complete disaster.
Mayo let it go too long (0-1 to 0-6 behind) before they changed it, but the main thing was that we finally got it right.
‘Little McGregors’ cut Clare down to size
ONE snapshot from the second half of last Saturday’s game summed things up for me.
The TV camera picked up a few of the Clare lads jogging back out to the middle of the field to get ready for a kick-out, and I thought they looked to be in physical pain.
It got me thinking about what it must be like to come up against this Mayo team on a roasting hot day when they are playing at a high tempo and hitting anything that moves.
Clare might have thought they were ready to match up, but you often don’t realise what you’re coming up against until you’re in there mixing it with the O’Sheas and company.
If you think about it, even Mayo’s smaller lads are like little Conor McGregors! Small ‘Mr Muscles’ like Chrissy Barrett and Colm Boyle who are built like brickhouses and would take your head off as quick as look at you.
We will need more of the same again now against Cork, a team who have always been dangerous opponents for Mayo over the years.
Mayo always struggle to beat them in championship, even when we’re better than them, and the Mayo players will know that. They won’t take Cork lightly based on history.
The focus over the next few weeks needs to be on building on our strength around the middle, fine-tuning Keith Higgins’ role as a sweeper, and making sure our running game is ready to roll again.
PS: Everyone knows at this stage that I’d prefer to see Andy Moran on the field for the last 20 minutes of Mayo games, but we’d have been lost without him in the first half in Ennis. He scored three points and led the line brilliantly.
And congratulations to Kevin McStay and Liam McHale in Roscommon on their Connacht Final win, I’m delighted for the both of them.