NO PAIN, NO GAIN Mayo’s Ryan O’Donoghue reacts after being tackled by Tyrone’s Kieran McGeary during Sunday’s National League match in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
ALL good things must come to an end and it was inevitable that Mayo’s long stay in Division 1 of the National League was going to finish up at some stage.
But the frustrating thing about the defeat to Tyrone last Sunday was that it was avoidable. With better game-management, Mayo would have won.
Going back for the best part of ten years, Mayo teams seem to be at their best when matches are fast, loose and high-scoring. But it’s hard to get any consistency when every game is played like that because eventually you’ll get caught out.
And Mayo got caught out on Sunday and conceded three goals.
Unfortunately, some of the negatives that cost Mayo dearly and saw them relegated will overshadow a lot of the positives from the win over Galway.
There were a lot of different elements that contributed to Mayo ending up in Division 2, but if you look at the big picture, losing the three home games was a huge part of the problem. Mayo’s league record at MacHale Park really is horrendous. It’s been consistently poor over the last 15 years.
In terms of the smaller details, Mayo’s game-management has been poor as well, and there were clear examples of that again in the first half against Tyrone. Defensive mistakes cost the team too and just showed that we were right to highlight the chances that Galway had, and some of the scores they got, despite being clearly second best.
That was a concern and it came back to haunt Mayo on Sunday.
But the first thing I’d like to talk about is all wrapped up in one, and it’s something that’s really hurt Mayo in the home games and where conditions haven’t been great.
Against the strong wind, and particularly when you don’t have Cillian O’Connor, I think it was a mistake to play Aidan O’Shea away from the middle of the field.
When you look at the three lines of the team, especially in bad conditions, you really need the middle of the field to be operating well and retaining possession.
Against the wind it’s never a bad idea to take time off the clock doing nothing with the ball.
But again on Sunday we weren’t able to do that, we were trying to do everything at a hundred miles an hour, lads racing up the field, lads racing out of the full-back line and then getting caught trying to go the other way.
But it didn’t make sense to me that Aidan O’Shea spent as much time as he did at full-forward on Sunday given the way the game was panning out.
Mayo had an inexperienced midfield, Kevin McLoughlin was inexperienced at number six at that level, and Mark Moran and Bryan Walsh have less than a handful of senior games between them. So in those three lines you only have two players with experience in their specialist positions, Paddy Durcan and Diarmuid O’Connor.
In a game where you’re trying to avoid relegation, I thought that was a big mistake and it cost Mayo. They needed to hold possession in that area of the field, especially in the second quarter, but they didn’t and the game ran away from them during that period.
Mayo needed to be more patient. As they call it in American football, Mayo needed to play ‘situational football’. That means you deal with the situation in front of you.
And the situation for Mayo, an inexperienced team playing against the wind, against a Tyrone team that are reactive, what you need to do is to try and make them force the issue. The last thing Mayo needed to do was to try and force the issue because that played into Tyrone’s hands.
There were plenty of things in pre-Covid matches that didn’t help their cause, but I believe the first half approach and display on Sunday went a long way towards Mayo ending up being relegated.
Lessons to be learned in defeat
THERE were some positives to take from Sunday too for Mayo and their supporters.
Overall, Tommy Conroy again looked like he’s got potential. There were times when he ran down a blind alley but I’d never tell him to stop taking on his man because he’s dynamic and he makes things happen. He created his goal out of nothing, won a few frees and scored a couple of nice points as well. He’s getting stronger with every game and he’s a real threat when he has the ball on his hands.
But there are things he has to learn as well; I thought there were a few opportunities for him to take his own points. In fact there were lots of examples of a few different Mayo players taking the wrong options in that second half, and that’s down to game management and a lack of cool heads or experienced heads on the field.
It was in those instances where Mayo really missed Cillian because he’d come out the field and retain possession when it was needed.
Another thing that struck me was that while some of Mayo’s off-the-shoulder running was very good, it felt to me sometimes that they were risking too much to create those nice patterns. And they were totally exposed at the back then when they broke down.
James Horan will have learnt a lot from Sunday. He’ll be concerned that some of the older players were so off-form so close to championship, he’ll be concerned that Cillian is injured again. This team can’t afford to be without him at this stage in their season and development.
Mayo are going to be relying on the likes of Oisin Mullin, Conor Loftus, Ryan O’Donoghue or Tommy Conroy to get them out of Division 2 whenever that happens. It won’t be Aidan O’Shea, Lee Keegan or Cillian O’Connor that leads them back to Division 1.
The question is, will those new young players be able to do that?
That is now a question for another day.