Billy Joe Padden
WHEN I look at Mayo’s National League fixtures, I think the same thing as probably the majority of supporters, players and team management — it’s all about the four home games.
And when you consider how poor Mayo’s home form has been over the last few years, it creates a fascinating backdrop to the upcoming games against Roscommon, Cavan, Galway and Monaghan at MacHale Park.
Personally, I feel that the surface there, and the actual dimensions of the pitch, haven’t suited the way this Mayo team have played football over the last seven or eight years.
But at the same time, there comes a time when you have to start grinding out results at home.
Mayo are going to have outrageous support in Castlebar, and having Roscommon and Cavan coming in the first and third rounds means they have games they can target for points.
By the time Monaghan arrive in round seven, ideally you don’t want to be under pressure to get the win against a team like that.
So that’s why it’s so important to get points on the board at home to the Rossies and Cavan, the two teams who have just come up from Division 2 with two new managers in place.
The second round match away to Tyrone may be an opportunity for points as well, seeing as Mayo have done really well up in Omagh over the last few seasons.
Overall, I think James Horan will be looking at the first three games as a package with six points being his ideal target — but the bare minimum requirement for Mayo will be four.
The home matches, and those first three games, will define how Mayo’s league campaign pans out in the end.
Realistically, it’s going to be very difficult to win away to Dublin and Kerry so what you’re really looking for from these games, especially from the young players, is can you perform and acquit yourself well.
When I was a young player with Mayo, and making one of my first appearances, I remember marking Seamus Moynihan in a league match down in Tralee.
I was disapppointed that we lost the game, but I also took a lot from the fact that I broke even against a fella like Moynihan with only a handful of games under my belt.
I saw it as progress, and I think that’s how a lot of fringe players have to approach the Dublin and Kerry matches.
Can you show your worth away to the big teams?
I don’t believe for a second that James Horan will be talking in the Mayo dressing-room this week about winning a league title. Maybe if they win the first three games, then his attitude to it may change.
But Horan is not going to target a possible league title if it means he has to flog the likes of Diarmuid O’Connor, Seamie O’Shea, Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran, Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle — guys with high mileage — to win it.
Do you really want to be driving those guys for 75 minutes for seven league matches and on into a league final?
And where will that leave you going into the summer if you do?
But if it was young players who were driving the thing on, then by all means, if Mayo find themselves in a league final, then that’s a different story!
I don’t honestly think that winning a league medal at this stage will mean a lot to the older players, and what it would require from them to win it would probably end up costing them at some stage during the summer.
A realistic target for me for Mayo would be a top four finish.
Survival is a must, and staying out of a relegation battle would be the preference after a few close calls in the last few years. But getting enough points to stay up, by hook or by crook, should be the main priority.
Mayo can make a winning return to action
THE ball gets rolling on Saturday night against Roscommon, a game that James Horan and his management team will have been planning for and talking about for weeks and weeks.
In terms of how Mayo are going to set up, I have no doubt that defending well is high up on the list of Horan’s main objectives.
Roscommon’s strength is in their attack so we can expect to see an extra man in the Mayo defence.
I’m also expecting to see plenty of physicality and aggression so that Mayo can get the upper hand around the middle third and dominate possession.
Putting pressure on the Roscommon goalkeeper and his kick-outs will be crucial if Mayo are going to get on top.
If those two things happen, then Mayo can get the platform they need to play a lot of the game in the opposition half.
Then it’s up to the Mayo forwards to kick the match-winning scores.
But if the Rossies break 50/50 around the middle, then they have the forwards to outscore Mayo in a shoot-out.
I have a feeling that James Horan will have been reminding the players about what made them so hard to beat during his first spell in charge, and we’re going to see a lot of those characteristics again over the next few months.
It will be all about work-rate, physicality and aggression.
In terms of experimentation, I’d be keen to see Stephen Coen tried out at full-back in certain situations. I think he has a lot of the skills-set needed to play there and he might be the best man to solve that problem area.
It’s absolutely vital that Mayo win next weekend. Anything less, and they’re immediately under pressure heading up to Tyrone a week later.
I think they will win.