NO HOLDS BARRED Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea wins possession despite being held by Roscommon’s Enda Smith during the 2017 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final replay at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
WHATEVER about beating Leitrim on a wintry day in Carrick-on-Shannon, getting the better of the Connacht champions Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park is going to be a totally different sort of test for Mayo next Sunday.
You can be sure that the semi-final is going to be a very physical game.
Anybody who watched any of the matches last weekend, especially with the conditions the way they were, will have seen that if a team wins the physical battle they have a good chance of winning the game.
If Mayo are to beat Roscommon they will have to get much more physical around the middle of the field. They’re going to have to pin them in and win kick-outs when their goalkeeper goes long.
I haven’t seen Matthew Ruane or Conor Loftus do that over the last three weeks. I love the fact that they’re both very mobile around the middle, but they’re going to have to start picking up more breaks. And there’s going to be a lot of breaks next weekend because winning clean possession in the air is going to be very difficult in these wintry conditions.
Breaking ball is going to be critical and that’s an area of the game, and the field, that Mayo have dominated against Roscommon over the last few years.
That’s where Seamie O’Shea, Tom Parsons and Aidan O’Shea have dominated. Roscommon haven’t had players able to match Mayo in that area, and I’d hate to see us take a backward step in that sector. If we do it’s going to make winning a lot harder.
Maybe Sunday is the day that Aidan O’Shea spends more time around the middle.
I would give serious consideration to playing him there, especially early on, if the conditions are bad and Mayo find themselves playing against the wind.
I don’t think using him in the full-forward line worked against Leitrim.
I counted two occasions when he was given good service, but the rest of the time he was chasing balls out to the sideline. That’s not what you want him doing.
I honestly think O’Shea could have had more of an impact out around the middle, helping to retain possession and driving forward.
Last Sunday was a day when James Horan could afford to continue with the project of posting O’Shea close to goal, but I don’t think they will be able to leave him in there for the whole game in The Hyde.
In terms of James Horan’s approach to this championship, I really hope he’s being influenced by the sports science in terms of starting the younger players so that he can feel he can give them game-time again when the acid tests come in the weeks ahead.
That way if the likes of Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle or Kevin McLoughlin are fit and available next weekend then Horan has 22 to 25 players that he can inter-change in and out.
Because you’re going to need energy in the last 20 minutes against a team like Roscommon.
Endurance is going to be a factor too in terms of teams playing week after week and next weekend is a fourth game in a row.
So maybe the reason we haven’t seen some more of the ‘old guard’ over the last few weeks is because James Horan is saving their legs for the likes of Roscommon.
If it turns out that those guys are not playing well, or maybe carrying injuries, well then he’s just picked the best team available to him. And that’s what he has to continue to do.
Like all Mayo supporters, I’m intrigued to see what Mayo team is picked for next weekend because that will go a long way towards telling us what the last three weeks were all about.
That selection will also tell us whether or not Mayo can get the better of the Rossies.
O’Connor’s display the big positive
THE biggest positive for me out of last Sunday’s game was the performance of Cillian O’Connor. It was very impressive.
Physically, he looked as good as I’ve seen him in a long time. He kicked his dead-balls off the ground with conviction, covered a lot of ground, and looked like he enjoyed himself. That’s a massive thing for him and for the team.
Having him back in the team showed what Mayo were missing against Tyrone. His decision-making, his overall contribution, and the leadership he provided were sadly missing a week earlier. He was the man that other players looked to give the ball to. Ultimately he was the difference between the teams in very difficult conditions.
Cillian also showed that he’s able to play those sort of conditions very well. I always remember him against Roscommon in his first Connacht Final in 2011 in really wet conditions when he nailed some very difficult frees.
That showed the mental strength he had, as a very young footballer, and the skill-set he had to be able to stand out in a testing environment. If he can stay fit then he’s going to be vital to Mayo beating the Rossies next weekend.
In terms of how the debutants performed in Carrick-on-Shannon, it was more solid than spectacular. Tommy Conroy gives you something different and took his goal well and Oisin Mullin is a dynamic athlete.
But the jury is still out on the others at the moment to be honest.
It didn’t come as a surprise then that one of the best pieces of play in the second half came from two of Mayo’s most experienced players – Paddy Durcan and Matthew Ruane — who put together a nice piece of combination play going up the field.
Because that’s what was on; the long ball inside wasn’t on at that moment.
They played what was in front of them and that comes with experience.