Billy Joe Padden
THERE’S a lot to get our heads around after Mayo’s game of two halves against Kerry but the bottom line is that was a huge opportunity lost for Mayo to snatch a point.
It could turn out to be a very costly point in a few weeks’ time because they have a mountain to climb now to avoid being relegated.
Sunday’s first half performance could turn out to be a season-defining half of football yet.
Because given the final result it overshadows everything that came later in the match.
This was yet another one of those occasions when you come away from a Mayo match with mixed emotions.
They produced a great second half fightback, played some really good football to put themselves in a position to be chasing an equaliser right to the bitter end, and showed the sort of character and resilience that we’ve come to expect.
But like so many other recent games Mayo also let themselves down by long periods of below-par and unacceptable play. To go nine points down playing with the breeze in the first half is just not good enough at that level.
The greatest skill of the best county players is the ability to perform well consistently, week in and week out. Bad days for top-class players are still seven out of ten performances and that has to be the level that Mayo’s young players are aspiring to.
Those top-class players are the ones that this team has been missing recently; players like Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle, Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty.
James Horan’s Mayo teams are at their best when they play front foot football. If they’re passive then they’re just not going to be competitive.
It’s just a shame that it took the prospect of being humiliated at home by Kerry to spark them into life last Sunday. Unfortunately, you can’t wait until you’re in that position to start making a game of it at inter-county level. That won’t cut it.
Mayo’s level of performance in the second half improved dramatically, and some of the team’s big personalities — like Aidan O’Shea — were pivotal in that improvement.
But where were the big players in the first half?
Keith Higgins going to centre-forward at half-time was one of the moves that helped to get Mayo firing in the second half and Lee Keegan did his best to get forward and drive through that middle third.
In my opinion we really shouldn’t be reverting back to a situation where either Higgins or Keegan are stationed in the Mayo full-back line. It’s robbing the team of too much attacking intent and playmaking ability around the middle of the field.
Mayo can’t win games without those sort of players in the middle third.
A lot of pundits and commentators have got into the habit of saying that Mayo are in transition at the moment. And sometimes it sounds like they are using it as an excuse for the team not performing well or getting results.
I certainly don’t see it that way and I don’t think James Horan does either, because even though you are in transition, and you’re using a lot of young, inexperienced players, and you’re missing a plethora of your battle-hardened veterans, you’re still looking for a more consistent level of intensity and aggression.
Because when you bring new, young players into a squad like Mayo’s, you want to teach them the right habits and mentalities and standards that are required when you play senior county football. That’s been lacking at times in every game that Mayo have played this year.
Unless they can start producing that level of performance across 70 minutes against Galway and Tyrone then we all know how this league campaign is going to end.
Young guns try to make up for absent friends
YOU can put a certain amount of Mayo’s problems in the first half down to attitude and application, but there were also numerous examples of poor defending and organisation that were very similar to what happened a week earlier up in Monaghan. The intensity that’s needed to go and pressure the man on the ball at the right time was also lacking far too often.
To my mind there’s absolutely no doubt that the absence of Brendan Harrison, Chris Barrett and Colm Boyle are all major factors in most of the defensive issues at the moment.
Lads like Oisin Mullin and Eoghan McLaughlin are doing their best, but they’ve only played a handful of league games between them.
They lack the physicality, experience and understanding of what you need to do at that level at certain times — and against teams in Division 1 you are going to be exposed.
In terms of positives ahead of the Galway game next Sunday week, that second half display and fightback will give Mayo confidence to draw on.
So will the fact that a young player like Oisin Mullin can go out there and show what he can do on a player like David Clifford. We all know how good and how highly-rated the Kerry captain is, but Mullin held him to two points from play (Clifford’s other point came while his marker was in the sin-bin). That’s good going for a 20 year-old starting just his fourth game of senior football.
The same goes for Eoghan McLaughlin, Eoin O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy, who all made the most of their opportunities when they were brought in at half-time.
McLaughlin has great cut to him and the way he took his goal and his point, and the pressure he applied to turn the ball over in the first place for the goal, suggests he’s thinking the right way to make it at that level.
More of the same will be needed in the next two matches.