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Mayo’s young guns must drive on


NO HOLDING BACK Mayo’s Tommy Conroy takes on Dublin’s Michael Fitzsimons during the All-Ireland SFC Final last December. Conroy must build on his impressive debut season. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

THERE was plenty to take from James Horan’s recent interview in these pages, but one topic that I found myself drawn to was when he spoke about the importance of the ‘development’ of players.
I’d agree that it’s absolutely integral to what he’s trying to do.
When I think of lads like Oisin Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy last season, we could all identify areas of their game that they could improve. And they could too. All of them had impressive first seasons but there’s always room for improvement.
I think that such is James Horan’s skill at developing players that he will have been able to communicate the importance of that to the squad over the last few months. So I expect Mayo to be in a good position to hit the ground running when we get the green light to go again.
When you break into the team like Mullin, McLaughlin and Conroy, and you have a good first season, you’re not the finished article, and you know that.
I remember reading something about the Liverpool Academy, that you’re not considered to have been ‘developed’ until you’ve played 100 first team games.
In an environment like that, in a professional sport at a top club like that, it’s extremely difficult.
But what if you applied a similar standard to Mayo? I would suggest that you can’t consider yourself to have moved from ‘prospect’ to ‘recognised player’ or ‘seasoned player’ until you’ve played 20 or 25 games.
What I’m saying is, now is the challenge for Eoghan McLaughlin and Oisin Mullin to improve again and get better. And for Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy to be more impactful.
They need to take that next step to cement their positions in the team and move towards the level of a Cillian O’Connor, Lee Keegan or Paddy Durcan.
That’s how you replenish the quality in the squad and you drive on.
And the younger players that we haven’t seen yet, we’ll be looking for them to make an impact in 2021 like Mullin and company did in 2020. But we can’t expect that. Not really.
But we can hope for it.
If that happens then this time next year you’re talking about another one or two players having emerged, played at that level, and Mayo are in a good place to replenish the squad again with more players retiring.
That’s the key challenge, it’s always about development. It’s never a case that you’ve arrived after one good season. You have to continue to develop and improve and be relied upon.
Then there are the players who had solid campaigns in 2020 but might improve at a faster rate than some of their team-mates this year. Maybe that’s somebody like Mattie Ruane or Mark Moran. I certainly think Ruane could consistently be one of the best midfielders in the country if he can find that extra 15 percent. He has an awful lot going for him.
It’s going to be hard to find the next Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor because they are some of the best Mayo footballers to ever play the game.
But there’s no doubt that there’s so much potential in the next generation; they just have to keep developing. Whether they have one season under their belt or three, they can always improve and keep raising the bar.
Paddy Durcan is probably at his peak in the squad and recognised as one of the best footballers in the country. Can the likes of Mattie Ruane or Oisin Mullin reach that level?
That’s the target for those players.
The positive thing for Mayo is that so many players have shown potential, so there’s a real opportunity for two or three of them to really elevate their game and become key men over the next number of years at an All Star level. That’s what they have to strive for.

The little things can make a big difference
THIS time of year usually means lovely evenings for training so I’m sure players, especially the younger ones, will be getting frustrated that they can’t get out and train together.
But they should understand the situation and put that out of their mind because they have no control over when Covid lockdown and restrictions will be lifted.
That why’s the experience of the older Mayo players is so vital at a time like this; they have the experience of maintaining a certain level of conditioning that’s required to play at the top level.
Some players around the country may have seen the conditioning programmes they’ve been asked to follow over the last few months as a chore. And it is a chore, it’s not as enjoyable as going out training with your mates.
It reminds me of the comparison you hear sometimes about the typical British soccer player and the typical Latin soccer player; the British player is a shift worker, he clocks in, works extremely hard, and then he clocks out. Whereas the Latin soccer player is an artist, he works on his craft, he tries to create something beautiful.
And before anybody panics, I’m not going to ask and encourage Mayo players to go out there and make a piece of art! But when they’re on their own and they know they have an amount of conditioning work to do, they can’t forget the beautiful side of the game, the skills.
Your kicking, handpassing, catching, your weaker side, your left foot, your left hand, the little things. They’re not all easy things to do on your own, but they can be done.
It’s especially important for the younger players to recognise that because they may see the physical preparation as the most important element, and maybe it is, but it’s not the only element of it.
The same goes for all the club players reading this too!

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