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Promotion is the golden ticket

Sport

MIDFIELD GENERAL The likes of Matthew Ruane, seen here in action against Westmeath, needs to be playing in Division 1 of the National League to develop as a player. Pic: Sportsfile


Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

THERE might not be any trophy handed out for winning next Sunday’s league promotion play-off, but a victory for Mayo would be just as big as lifting the Nestor Cup later in the summer. That’s my read on just how vital this game against Clare is.
I really think getting back to Division 1 again is as important as anything that Mayo will do in the championship. Would it equate to a Connacht title in July? I think it would.
In terms of the long-term development of this squad, getting promoted is absolutely critical. Division 1 is where Enda Hession, Rory Brickenden, Ryan O’Donoghue and James Carr, and so many others, are going to thrive and improve and develop.
Playing in a normal league season, across six or seven games, against the best of the best.
A promotion play-off like this is ideal preparation for championship too.
With so much at stake, two teams going hard just a few weeks out from their first round games gives everyone, managers and players, a chance to gauge where they are.
Just watch the team that James Horan picks; I can guarantee you that he will treat this like a championship game. And the fact that Clare are a better team than Sligo will also inform his approach. He knows there is very little margin for error next weekend.
We all agreed at the start of the league that getting promoted was the objective, and we all knew under this revised format that it would ultimately come down to winning one game.
The team standing in Mayo’s way now just happens to be Clare and there’s no doubt that it’s a more pressurised situation because it comes down to one match, one performance.
Think of the way that Brentford won a Championship play-off final a few weeks ago to get promoted to the Premier League.
You have to be able to deal with the pressure of winning a one-off game and, for me, that’s where Mayo will have a considerable advantage.
Just remember how they went on their championship run last year in a knock-out competition; they were controlled and measured and relied heavily on their team leaders.
Cillian O’Connor immediately springs to mind, the way he made the right decisions in the attacking part of the field, took his scores and kicked his frees.
That was all critical and it will be again next Sunday.
The mobility and athleticism of Matthew Ruane and Diarmuid O’Connor around the middle of the field means that Mayo should be able to play the game at a quicker pace than what Clare are used to.
Although having watched Mayo’s first three games, a lot of the time they haven’t been playing at ‘Division 1’ pace and there is always the nagging worry that may leave them undercooked when the pressure comes on.
Sunday will be a chance to see where Mayo are at in that regard too.
They got it tough for a long time in an All-Ireland Qualifier down in Ennis back in 2017, and how many times over the years have we seen matches like this turn into an arm-wrestle for Mayo?
Sometimes they start well and then switch off for a while, other days they start sluggishly.
Think of championship games against Fermanagh, Derry, Clare, Kildare over the last few seasons. Where Mayo have had to dig deep to wrestle control of a game that they were expected to dominate.
That’s not a situation that Mayo will want to be in on Sunday. It needs to be more concentrated and focused right from the start.
Clare will hurt you if they’re allowed to build up a head of steam, so Mayo’s objective will be to get on top early and stay there. All things being equal, they should be back in Division 1 again on Sunday evening.

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