Billy Joe Padden
THE first weekend off in the National Football League gave everyone a chance to take stock.
You can be sure that James Horan, Ciaran McDonald, James Burke, Martin McIntyre and Martin Lally were doing the same thing behind closed doors as they reflected on three very different Mayo performances and results from the first three rounds.
Overall, I think we’re at level par. The least any Mayo supporter, player or member of management would have hoped for at this stage would be to have three points in the bag.
I heard James Horan make the point that given how Mayo had ‘performed’ he was happy with the three points. It’s a fair assessment, given how up and down the displays have been — even within games.
I think most managers think like that, they plan out where they’d like to be at different stages in the season. The Meath game was a bit closer than anyone would have liked, you’d have liked a better performance there, but the result was ultimately all that mattered.
I’d call the point that Mayo got up in Donegal a ‘bonus point’ while the Dublin game was always going to be very difficult after Jordan Fynn’s sending-off. So it’s very much a case of having three points on the board and just moving on. Those first three games are gone.
It’s about developing and improving now, getting some of the older fellas back, and getting more productivity out of some of the younger players.
That’s why I’d say — despite the bad weather — it’s been a very busy week for James Horan and company. They’ll have been looking back over what’s gone well and who’s gone well, so far, and what sort of combinations deserve a go together against Monaghan next Sunday.
He’ll obviously have more information on that based on what’s been going on in training, and that’s such an important part of the job — trying to create those combinations and relationships between players.
In terms of the two goals that Mayo conceded against Meath, I’m very tempted to give the defence the benefit of the doubt and say that the outrageous wind did them no favours.
They got caught on the wrong side of the ball twice and paid the price.
The reason I’m content to write those goals in Navan off is because of the fact that I thought they defended really well, for the most part, against Dublin with 14 men.
But I can see why some people might be wondering about the irony of a Meath team who aren’t exactly blessed with plenty of scoring power cutting Mayo to shreds twice — including the three-on-one for the first goal — while up at the other end, Mayo are struggling to create any moves that looked like that.
One of the big things I think that some of the young players will have learned from the second half of the Meath game is that you just can’t rest on your laurels in division one of the National League.
You can’t drop off, you can’t let the percentages fall, you have to keep working and grinding.
You have to concentrate for every single minute of the 70 or 80 minutes.
If you don’t, you’re going to be put under pressure by any team, even by Meath.
The fact that there were quite a few young players on the field, plus some of the older lads wouldn’t be as well conditioned as they’d like to be just yet, would have contributed too.
Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan aren’t anywhere near full tilt yet and Kevin McLoughlin only came off the bench.
You didn’t have the likes of Colm Boyle and Cillian O’Connor, of course either.
And the fact remains that Mayo are a different animal without those type of players.
Improvement needed to beat Monaghan
ANYBODY who has seen footage or highlights of Monaghan’s first three league matches will know that they have hit the ground running.
And after beating Tyrone and drawing with Dublin (after being nine points up at one stage), they will be feeling pretty good about themselves ahead of their first match in Clones this spring.
Monaghan are very well-conditioned and in good shape, and they’ll be absolutely gutted that they didn’t see it out and beat Dublin last Saturday week.
The last time that Mayo went to Clones they needed a late point from Paddy Durcan to effectively ‘rob’ a point and they’ve done that a few times now in the last three or four years.
But Mayo have to improve, they have to. It’s not realistic or sustainable to think that they can keep playing the way they’re playing and stay in the division.
Not to mention something positive happening in the summer.
It’s at the stage now where we need to start seeing Mayo’s levels of performance improving because, more often than not, the results will start to come then too.
They’ve got to do better around the middle of the field, they’ve got to be more competitive in that area all through games. And that ties in with the debate around the goalkeeping situation.
It’s hard enough to get a sophisticated goalkeeping strategy going when you have one goalkeeper taking every restart. Chopping and changing goalkeepers means that each of their restarts are reduced plus the opportunity for players out the field to develop a relationship with one of the ‘keepers is reduced as well.
But the big thing for me is that we’ve got to start to see some patterns and rhythms in the forwardline to create scores. We’ve seen flashes here and there, whether it’s been Tommy Conroy, James Durcan, Ryan O’Donoghue or Kevin McLoughlin, but there’s no consistency there. That’s what Mayo are going to have to try and develop — starting next Sunday.