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Only way is up for Mayo

Sport

COMING THROUGH Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor bursts past Dublin’s Niall Scully, left, and Ciarán Kilkenny during last year’s All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile


Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

ONE thing all football people can agree on is that we’re mad keen to get going next Saturday.
And the great thing for us as armchair supporters is that we know that once it starts, it will keep going until the Sam Maguire Cup is presented on Sunday, August 29.
From a Mayo perspective, it’s absolutely crucial they get off to a good start against Down.
So I think James Horan will lean on experience as much as he can at this stage, and when you look at the make-up of the team now, the players he’s going to lean on are the ones we all expect to play 90 percent of the minutes.
So you’re looking at Cillian O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea when he gets back from injury, Paddy Durcan, Mattie Ruane, Diarmuid O’Connor, Lee Keegan — they are the guys I expect Mayo to be looking to in the first few rounds.
I don’t think we’re going to see too much of players that we haven’t seen up to now over the next few weeks. James Horan blooded so many players through last season’s games that I think he’ll go back to that group that includes Oisin Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy, along with fellas like James Carr and Darren Coen. Players that have a certain amount of experience under their belts.
It’s a short season so you won’t see anyone being held back. So Colm Boyle, and Brendan Harrison and Jason Doherty when they are passed fit to play, will all be back in the mix.
And the players who are going to get Mayo out of Division 2, I believe, are lads with between one and three or four years of experience; I’m thinking of Mullin, Conroy, Mattie Ruane and Conor Loftus.
Mayo will be in a good place if they can beat Down, Westmeath and Meath, and it comes on the back of some good performances from those players. Because when you add that to the experience and quality of the tried and trusted warriors, you have a formidable unit.
That’s what James Horan will be looking for.
Anything else, like unearthing more outstanding young players, will be a bonus.
When I look at the retirements, and I think about the middle of the field in last year’s championship, it seems to me that James Horan has a clear idea of what he wants to do.
He wants the mobility that Mattie Ruane, Conor Loftus, Jordan Flynn and Diarmuid O’Connor brought.
And I think he’s going to persist with that.
So maybe the impact of losing Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea can be reduced.
But it’s a different story in the full-back line which is a key focus now. When you take away the goalkeeper, David Clarke, plus Chris Barrett and Keith Higgins, that’s huge.  
So of all the players coming back from injury, Brendan Harrison is arguably the most important. It’s crucial he comes back in good shape and good form because Mayo need his experience and leadership in that area of the field.
Sure there might be opportunities for someone like Eoin O’Donoghue, and Oisin Mullin may start back there as well even though a lot of us would love to see what he can do further out the field. But stability in the full-back line is the key thing the team needs in the wake of the retirements of players from that sector.
It’s very important that Mayo get out of the division and get promoted.
It’s the only place for young players to learn and for Oisin Mullin and Tommy Conroy and company to develop, and test themselves against the very best.
Mayo will go into their three group games this month as favourites, and sometimes you just have to deliver.

Down up for their trip to Castlebar

I WAS putting out the bins at my house in Newry last week when one of Down’s longest-serving players, Kevin McKernan, spotted me and wasn’t long in letting me know about how much he’s looking forward to going to Castlebar next weekend!
I got chatting to him for a couple of minutes, and the one thing that came across to me as we shouted back and over across the fence was that he’s a player that’s been around for years, and has won his All Star, but he can’t wait to get down to Mayo to test himself.
That’s a good window into the mindset of this Down team next weekend.
Mayo would be a big scalp for them. Mayo have been at a much higher level for the last 10 years and Down see this as an opportunity to test themselves against one of the best.
They go into the game under no pressure, especially away from home, and they will be mad keen to spring an upset.
The way Down set up, with McKernan operating in a sort of sweeper role, is something they know has frustrated Mayo teams down through the years too, especially in MacHale Park.
Having played for Armagh, and living in Down, right on the border, it’s a unique situation for me in terms of the rivalry here because living in Belmullet I couldn’t have been much further away from Galway and Roscommon!
You don’t bump into people from those places too often down there.
Whereas when I was playing for Armagh, I couldn’t go to the shop without meeting someone from Down who’d be reminding you, in a good-natured way, about the local rivalry.
They love their football in this part of the world and beating Mayo would be a great reason for them to give me plenty of stick next week!

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