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McLoughlin reminds us of his quality

Sport

SUPER KEV! Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin shoots the decisive match-winning goal against Meath in Sunday’s National League clash in Navan. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

A BAD refereeing decision and a lot of steps notwithstanding, we have Kevin McLoughlin to thank for keeping Mayo in Division 1 back in 2018 after that equaliser up in Donegal.
Maybe when we look back on this league campaign we’ll have him to thank again for keeping Mayo’s heads above water once more.
Because I have no doubt in my mind that last Sunday’s victory was absolutely huge in terms of Mayo preserving their long stay in the top flight. And the part that Kevin McLoughlin played in a hard-fought win cannot be overstated.
Just look at his goal – and not just the way that he finished it. In the build-up he was the Mayo player being proactive and putting the pressure on the Meath defender to drive him backwards. It was McLoughlin who forced him into the mistake and the ball being intercepted by Ryan O’Donoghue.
O’Donoghue’s contribution to the goal needs to be acknowledged too; he delayed the pass to McLoughlin just long enough to allow him get into space, and the finish was as good as you’ll get. In fact, given his goalscoring record over the last ten years, I’ll pose a question: has there even been a better goal finisher for Mayo?
I remember Noel Durcan wasn’t bad back in the 1980s, but the way that Kevin McLoughlin finishes goal chances time and time again is second to none, in my opinion.
And make no mistake, without him last Sunday I don’t see Mayo winning that game.
Trying to draw any major conclusions from last weekend’s games all across the country, from a technical and tactical point of view, is virtually impossible because of the horrendous conditions that they were played in.
So all that mattered last weekend was picking up points, getting the result.
That is all that will matter at the  end of March as well when the points are tallied up.
It’s been very difficult for James Horan and the team over the last few weeks because there’s been so much rotation in the forwardline and different combinations being tried.
A lot of players have got opportunities but nobody really has grasped them with both hands. Sure, there have been flashes at different times from different players but they haven’t had enough time together as a unit to develop the sort of relationships that leads to smooth, efficient attacks.
That’s going to take time.
You also have to remember that the modern game is all about possession and space.
When there’s no space when you’re attacking, you have to keep possession. Like on Sunday when Mayo kept the ball for more than two minutes and put together over 30 passes before Kevin McLoughlin kicked a score.
That’s what you have to do.
When there is space, then you can play the ball in a more direct way. And when you’re counter-attacking into space then the game opens up for you. You can use your running power and you can play the ball more directly.
For me they have to be the bread and butter of what this Mayo team have to try and do. They can’t be kicking the ball into congested defensive areas and hoping that James Carr as a ball-winner is going to make it stick. It’s just not what we’re good at.
These are the principles that Mayo have to keep driving home, especially when you have an unfamiliar forwardline trying to gel together.
I think James Horan will be happy going into the break week with three points in the bank. He can reassess now, he’s given a lot of young players game-time, and if he can keep Mayo in Division 1 while doing that then it will be a job well done.
The ‘down week’ will also give management a chance to do some ‘self scouting’ and see what’s worked, what hasn’t, what can be improved on and where points can be picked up in the last block of games, starting with Monaghan in two weeks’ time.

Wind blows a few myths away again
BEING from Belmullet, I feel I’m well qualified to talk a bit about what it’s like to play in windy conditions. After all, I played most of my career on the edge of the country with a gale from the Atlantic blowing in across the GAA field.
When teams would come back to us from South or East Mayo, it used to always amuse me that when they’d have that wind they always seemed to think that they could just blaze ball from 60 yards into their full-forward line. But more often than not you’d see balls flying over lads’ heads or bouncing out over the endline and wide.
I used to enjoy watching them all fall into the same trap, because we used to have our own mantra about playing with a wind like that behind you. You only do two things differently: you put more pressure on the opposition kick-out and you have more liberty to take a shot for a point from 40 or 50 yards out. You don’t change the way you play otherwise.
Where teams fall down is when they get this idea that a half-back can come driving out of defence and launch a 70 yard delivery in on top of the full-forwardline. That hardly ever works — and you saw that in the first half for Mayo last Sunday. I also saw it with Kildare on Saturday night when they had the wind against Armagh.
Meath, to their credit, used the wind much better when they had it in Navan.
On a separate note, after the first three games, I think one Mayo player deserves a special mention — Fergal Boland. He’s been consistently good, he’s worked hard, used the ball well, and chipped in with scores whenever opportunities have arisen.
He’s marked himself out as one of the key players in this team.

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