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Plenty to take from the Royals visit

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FUN AND GAMES Mayo’s Michael Plunkett, left, and Stephen Coen share a joke after Sunday’s win over Meath in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile


Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

THE initial temptation after last Sunday’s game between Mayo and Meath might be to write it off as a ‘dead rubber’ played largely at a challenge game pace that taught us nothing we didn’t know already. Funnily enough, I wouldn’t see it that way.
I thought there was lots to take out of it in terms of what this Mayo team can develop into.
If we’re going to have a championship structure in the future that’s going to give you 15 games a season, then you’re always going to have a few matches where they might not be a whole lot to play for. That means the focus turns to things like which squad players or young players are getting a run.
And for supporters and media, we start to hone in on how young prospects like Paul Towey or Jack Carney get on. Or what kind of shape James Carr is in. That’s what I did watching last Sunday’s game, and I have to say there was plenty there for me to enjoy.
Of course, we’d all like every game to be ‘do-or-die’ edge-of-the-seat thrillers, but those games will come.
One man who I would predict was delighted with the way things panned out is James Horan. Last Sunday gave him a chance to rest a few of his big hitters and take a look at some squad players without the pressure of a ‘win at all costs’ game to worry about.
But it’s important to note that Matthew Ruane and Diarmuid O’Connor, along with Ryan O’Donoghue and Cillian O’Connor all played.
The reason I think they did is because Horan is keen to develop the relationships between those four players. Because there’s no doubt that what Ruane and Diarmuid add in terms of ability and mobility, and getting forward to join attacks, added to the fact that there’s a relationship developing between Cillian, Ryan and Tommy Conroy, meant he wanted them on the field.
Plus, the type of player that Cillian is, when he’s going well it’s very hard to drop him because he gets all his fitness work and shooting practice and free-taking practice done in a game environment. He looked sharp again, and is really sharpening up week on week.
James Horan wanted a mobile, ball-playing midfield and he’s got one.
Right now, if you take Brian Fenton out of the equation, then Matthew Ruane is up there with the very best of the rest given his current form.
I think there are definitely some places up for grabs in the team right now.
Did James Carr do himself any harm against Meath? Absolutely not. We know the talent he has and the ability he has to score goals which is always valuable.
I’d imagine that James is probably frustrated in terms of how his career has gone so far in terms of injuries. Sometimes when he’s played, he’s done some spectacular things.
Remember that goal against Galway in Limerick?
Other days he’s been much quieter.
Watching him on Sunday reminded me just how much of an instinctive player he is; his two goals were great examples of him just doing things instinctively.
But he has to tidy up the decision-making aspect of his game and if he can get fit and stay fit, then maybe he can get the run of matches he needs to develop his game even further.
I’ve been impressed with what Bryan Walsh has done. I like the fact that he really hugs the sideline and that he’s a safe pair of hands when he gets the ball.
He has a really nice side-step too, and I think he’s put himself in a good position.
He’s not as ‘all-action’ as Jordan Flynn or Fionn McDonagh, but he’s probably been more consistent and secure in possession.
He’s a more reliable finisher as well when chances arise.

So where do you play Aidan O’Shea?
ONE question that will have to be answered soon is, where do you play Aidan O’Shea now that he’s fit again?
I’m certainly not one of those people who feel he should be an impact sub. Why? Because we’ve never seen him make an impact off the bench. We don’t know if he could.
We do know he’s a big strong player, and he’s the best tackler on the team, a really good link-man, very secure in possession, who can win frees and drive forward.
One thing I don’t think he’s good at is playing with his back to goal.
For that reason, I don’t want to see him in at full-forward this year.
I’ve no problem with him being named in the full-forwardline or the half-forwardline if he does a lot of his work around the middle of the field.
I thought Mayo looked vulnerable through the middle of the defence in all three league games, particularly on counter-attacks. So if you’re asking Aidan to play around the middle, and drop back as a second six when he needs to, and use his tackling ability there, I think that helps to shore up the defence.
He’s such a good tackler too that I could see him turning over ball and counter-attacking himself. That’s how I would use him in the months ahead.
On a separate note, I think there’s a few questions to ask about the full-back line.
Oisin Mullin and Lee Keegan are not natural full-back line players, but what’s the alternative at the moment? I think James Horan feels a bit of security knowing what Oisin and Lee can do back there. I understand completely where the decision-making is coming from. It’s an area where Mayo haven’t built the depth that they would like.
And now they just have to cut their cloth to suit.

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