THE MEN BEHIND THE MASKS Mayo’s Oisin Mullin and Mark Moran make their way into Tuam Stadium before last Sunday’s game. Pic: Conor McKeown
Billy Joe Padden
NOW that was worth waiting for, particularly if you’re a Mayo footballer or supporter!
It was great to be back watching football again and it was even better to see the exhibition that Mayo put on in Galway’s backyard in Tuam.
Hopefully it was a taste of things to come.
The obvious question after a game like that though is, ‘How much of it was down to Mayo being very good or Galway being very poor?’
Let’s consider how Galway were down a few men in advance of the game, including their captain Shane Walsh, and then they lost Damien Comer and Johnny Duane in the early stages. Those sort of things didn’t help their cause.
But Mayo were much more mentally ready for Sunday’s game, and maybe that was understandable because they were the team with the relegation worries.
Galway did quite a few things in the first half that showed me they weren’t mentally tuned in or prepared to do what needed to be done.
So them being mentally ‘off’ has to be factored into any analysis of Mayo’s victory.
Mayo were ‘let play’ to a certain extent and we can’t be certain they will be able to get to that level of performance again. I would be fairly sure that Galway will improve though.
From the opening seconds of the match, Mayo were doing everything right in terms of their concentration levels and energy levels. They were bouncing, up on their toes, tearing to get stuck in. And James Horan deserves a lot of credit for that, especially considering that he had so little preparation time going into these two back-to-back competitions.
As I said a few weeks ago, you had to decide what your best team and best game-plan is very quickly ahead of the knock-out championship. And that’s obviously what Horan did.
I found the way he set Mayo up from the start to be both interesting and impressive.
Take Aidan O’Shea’s positioning in the full-forwardline, which was as good as I’ve ever seen it. I liked the fact that he took up deep positions either side of the large parallelogram, to give the players out the field a better angle to play the ball into him. It also made it much harder for the Galway backs to defend it.
He could have done more with a few balls that came in, but I think him being in there, along with Cillian O’Connor and Tommy Conroy, gave Mayo a real threat in that area.
I don’t think any of us thought in advance that Conor Loftus was actually going to play in midfield, but in hindsight being out the field suits his attributes. He’s not comfortable with his back to goal and Mayo got the best out of him in a deeper position.
Matthew Ruane also gives them something different out around there; his ability to run with the ball and change pace, carry it long distances and be comfortable doing it, really gave Mayo some ‘go forward’ momentum against a Galway midfield that weren’t as mobile as he is. And that was something that Mayo missed badly when he got injured.
I was very curious to see how the new-look defence was going to blend together.
To pick out two of the most inexperienced backs, Oisin Mullin and Eoghan McLaughlin, they both had outstanding games and showed some of the trademark attributes of Mayo backs of the last ten years.
The ability to drive out with the ball, putting their markers on the backfoot every chance they got, gave Mayo the momentum they wanted. That’s the sort of football that James Horan wants Mayo to play and those two lads were absolutely critical to the game-plan.
Sunday also showed just how less of an advantage ‘home advantage’ is going to be when there are no crowds at games. And that’s something to be mindful of next weekend when Tyrone come to Castlebar. But you can be sure the Mayo players will be up for it.
Can Moran be the missing linkman?
DEBUTANT Mark Moran was the name on everyone’s lips after Sunday’s match and it certainly was a dream debut. His first fifteen minutes were like something out of ‘Roy of the Rovers’ between scoring his goal and kicking a screamer of a point.
But I actually liked the rest of his performance more. We’ve all been there as players where everything comes off for you early on and you think you’re flying.
I’ve been saying for the last few years that Mayo need a playmaker, somebody who can retain the ball like Alan Dillon did in his prime.
So it would have been understandable if Moran was snatching at things a little to try and nail down his spot in the team, trying to do the spectacular at times.
He did hit a few lovely passes during the course of the game, but I was just as taken with the patience he showed. He generally did the right things at the right time, held on to the ball, recycled it and was willing to let the game come to him.
And that’s important for him because there will be days when you don’t get the scoring opportunities, you don’t get the goal, but you will have to do a job for the team.
I thought he was really impressive and I was glad he stayed on for the full 70 minutes, because he needs every bit of experience he can get over the new few weeks.
Something else that struck me was that Mayo have dominated the last two high-profile games between these teams, last summer’s knock-out championship match and last Sunday’s primetime league game. And that is good for them in the long-run in terms of trying to tilt the balance of power in this fixture after a few years of Galway dominance.
The new young lads, in particular, need to feel like they can beat Galway anytime and anywhere, and last Sunday’s display and result will help achieve that.