Billy Joe Padden
THERE were a generation of Mayo footballers who enjoyed little or no success against Cork in big matches.
I was reared on stories of the 1989 All-Ireland Final defeat and I am just about old enough to remember the 1993 All-Ireland semi-final massacre.
In my own Mayo career, with the honourable exception of our 1999 All-Ireland Minor semi-final win over the young Rebels, we never had too many memorable wins against Cork either.
Thankfully, Mayo’s recent record against them is much better but, even allowing for Cork’s current poor form, seeing Mayo installed as 1/6 favourites next weekend looks unrealistic to me.
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the argument that this is a good time to play Cork either because, despite what their results this season suggest, they have a lot of talent in their squad. At some stage, you’d imagine, they’re going to fire.
And for all their underperforming, the big fear is that the sight of the Green and Red jerseys will bring out the best in them. If that happens they could well deliver the display that upsets Mayo’s best laid-plans.
In my experience playing against Cork, their players certainly never suffered from any lack of confidence or inferiority complex when they played Mayo.
But the reality now is that this current Mayo team can physically dominate the likes of Cork and can run them off the field if they put their minds to it. Cork don’t have players better than the likes of Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea or Cillian O’Connor in their ranks right now.
Cork’s confidence has also been rattled big time after their Munster Final humiliation. They wilted so badly in such an important local derby that their morale will be on the floor.
I expect a reaction from Cork on Saturday, they will be playing for pride and, in many ways, have nothing to lose.
That’s why it’s so important that Mayo eradicate the complacency and lack of focus that saw them start so slowly against Clare. They need to crush any thoughts Cork might have of pulling off an ambush good and early.
In that regard, I think going to Limerick is a good thing from a Mayo perspective. After what happened there against Kerry in 2014 it will help to focus the minds of players and just might be the trigger they need to spark a big performance.
The reality is that there aren’t many games left for Mayo where they can get away with zoning out for 20 minutes, and then picking up the pace when it suits.
They might well get away with it against Cork, but once they get into Croke Park, Roscommon or Kerry won’t be so accomodating.
Reflecting back on the Clare game, maybe I put too much emphasis on tactics in last week’s column.
Maybe going to extra-time against Derry, and the fact that these Mayo players find it hard to get up for games against certain teams these days, were the main reasons behind their lethargic start.
We’ll find out for sure next weekend.
I think Mayo will beat Cork but I also think that for this team, and their future in this championship, they need to show progress from that second-half display in Ennis.
They need to build on the improvement against Clare and hit Croke Park with some momentum behind them.
Cillian needs to use free time
THERE’S been a lot of talk about Cillian O’Connor since the Clare game. All I’d say is that I hope he doesn’t retaliate again at any stage to the extreme and excessive physical contact that he’s been getting off the ball recently.
Some backs don’t even bother looking at the ball, and spend the day pulling and dragging and pucking. They need to be clamped down on by umpires. Enough is enough.
We don’t have access to his GPS stats, but we’ve seen with our own eyes over the last few months just how hard O’Connor has been working for the team.
He takes the captaincy seriously, and between his tackling, turnovers, chasing, pressing and scoring, he has emptied himself in all four games so far. That’s why he’s one of our main men.
But I’m starting to think that all that work, and all that honest endeavour, is starting to come at a price — in the shape of some erratic place-kicking.
Look, it’s only natural that Cillian’s unnaturally high scoring rate from frees would start to tail off a little at some stage in his career.
He’s still second only to Dean Rock in terms of numbers, but there were a few missed place-kicks against Galway, Derry and Clare that suggested O’Connor is no longer operating at the peak of his powers in that department.
Some of it I think goes back to a few missed kicks in big games, like in last year’s All-Ireland Final replay, which undoubtedly would affect anybody’s mental strength and confidence in their own ability. But there’s also a physical toll from the kind of game that Cillian now plays for Mayo; the pressure he puts on goalkeepers trying to play short kick-outs, the chasing down of defenders, the tackling back that takes him into his own half, and the relentless physicality that goes with playing in crowded forward lines in the modern game.
A free-taker needs to have plenty of air in his lungs when he’s standing over a free, but that’s not always possible for the likes of O’Connor these days.
Think back to that first free he missed against Clare. A guy of Cillian’s ability has to be getting that one, and watching it back I think it had a lot to do with his routine.
I kick frees for the club, and I know how important routine is to the whole thing. The technique has to be tight and that feeds into the psychology.
If I was to say one thing to Cillian, it would be to commit 100% to his routine and his technique and don’t feel under pressure about the time it might take.
Go back to slowing everything down to his pace again around a free, and don’t worry about people kicking up about time.
It seems to me that he might be rushing himself a small bit around his place-kicks recently, and all those little things can add up on the big days.