Billy Joe Padden
THERE are plenty of positives about living in Newry, and the draw for the All-Ireland Qualifiers on Monday morning added another one to the list!
With Mayo coming to town to play Down on Saturday week next, it will be nice not to have to pack an overnight bag to go and watch Mayo for a change.
When I heard the news on Monday morning, I have to admit that I felt it was a good draw for Mayo. After avoiding a trip to Clones to play Monaghan, everything else was a bonus really.
Not that I mean to disrespect Down, this won’t be an easy game for Mayo. In fact, I actually think Down are a decent team, they’re at home in a pitch that won’t really suit Mayo, it’s quite small and can be slow if it’s wet.
But at the same time I think a match like this is great preparation for whatever comes next.
Whoever wins, Mayo or Down, they will have had a right good game under their belts and will go into the next round of the Qualifiers having had their mettle tested.
I think that’s a key thing for any team that have lost a game in the provincial series.
Mayo need to get some of their more experienced players back into form, and they’ve got to see if some of the young players who did well against Roscommon can continue to improve. Individuals and the team need to get some momentum going again.
I was actually in Pairc Esler the day that Down lost to Armagh last month in the Ulster championship.
And from where I was standing, Armagh had the superior talent but Down played the better football. With Paddy Tally, their manager and Galway’s coach last year, they seem very well schooled. They defended well in numbers, when they had the ball they didn’t do anything silly with it, and they maintained possession very well for the most part.
I’d expect them to try and do something similar against Mayo, because they will know that dynamic Mayo can be when they have lots of the ball.
So, as a defensive tactic, it makes sense for Down to keep it for as long as they can.
Down will rely a lot on Connaire Harrison and Donal O’Hare to get the scores for them, so it’s absolutely critical that Mayo have a plan in place for marshalling those players.
O’Hare is a very tricky forward who can create space for himself and is a goalscorer.
Harrison is a different sort of operator, big and brave, very physical, dynamic, and a good ball-winner. So they’re two very different players who will need to be tied down.
But if Mayo get their match-ups right, and keep them both quiet, I think it’s going to be difficult for Down to get enough scores to cause an upset.
Another player that James Horan will need to have a plan for is Caolan Mooney; he’ll play around the middle, he’s fast and makes late runs. So maybe this is the chance to put Diarmuid O’Connor into that area, get him to track Mooney, and the two of them can have a bit of a running match. Matthew Ruane would also be suited to that sort of job.
Defensively, Down are compact and solid, but not the biggest players in the country.
So if Cillian O’Connor is ready to tog out then this sort of game could suit him, because he’s so physically strong.
My initial feeling is that Mayo will get a really good test in Newry, but that they will win the game. I think the sort of pressure that they will put on the Down midfield will ultimately crack them. Mayo are more physical, better at winning primary possession in that area, and they will put a squeeze on the Down kick-out that will come as a big shock to the homeside.
The sort of pressure that a tuned-in, fired-up Mayo could put on all over the field would be overwhelming for a team coming from a base in Division 3.
On the flip-side, if Mayo sit back and get caught up in a cagey type of match, then maybe Down will have enough possession to frustrate them.
And then, who knows?
Maybe they could rack up a score that would have Mayo in bother.
My approach would be to go after Down, put them under pressure right from the start.
I know from talking to friends of mine up here after the draw was made that they are relishing the opportunity to see Down get a crack at one of the best teams in the country.
There will be a huge crowd at the game and Pairc Esler will be rocking.
But Down fans don’t really expect to see their team turn Mayo over.
You can be sure though that Paddy Tally and the players won’t see it like that.
This is one of those times when Mayo need to play to their strengths and get it done.