FACES IN THE CROWD Mayo supporters Seamus Moran (left) and Willie McDonagh from Westport were among the 200 people who attended last Sunday’s National League clash at Cusack Park in Ennis. Pic: Conor McKeown
Billy Joe Padden
Mayo’s first objective this season was to get promoted back to Division 1 of the National League and they deserve credit for achieving that aim.
It was done by beating every team that was put in front of them, trying out lots of new players, and with some of the older players showing they’re in good form.
They also put up some big scores and, of course, conceded some big tallies too. We’ll circle back to that topic in more detail later but I think James Horan will be getting his first 18 or 19 players clear in his head over the next few weeks and will be working with them on defending better as a team and as a unit.
Because when you’re moving players in and out of the team, as Mayo were over the last month, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page.
But if you want to look at the positives from last Sunday then you don’t have to look any further than the dynamic front-foot football in the first half that led to so many Mayo players getting scores. Creating overlaps and getting players driving out of the middle third looked great and created the platform for the match-winning scores.
Mayo played the game at such a frantic pace that they forced the turnovers that hurt Clare.
It was vintage ‘Horanball’.
Unfortunately, the flipside of that game is when you leave yourself open at the back and concede costly goals. The margin of victory would have been a lot more comfortable and we would be having a very different conversation if Mayo had defended better. But maybe they’re the sort of harsh lessons this team needs in order to be better later in the summer.
We all know how James Horan wants his teams to play, and it was good enough to get us promoted. It will also be good enough to beat both Sligo and Leitrim, I’d imagine, and if you go to Croke Park you have to have that dynamic sort of ball-carrying ability.
So it’s not that I’m saying Mayo are going nowhere and are at nothing.
But the defensive side of the game-plan is something that has to be worked on, and you can be sure the manager and the players know that.
It’s blatantly obvious and we’ve seen a systems failure too often in the last few weeks.
Mayo look very disjointed in the middle third of the field at the moment.
Clare played with a lot of heart, intensity, aggression and quality, and they kicked some great scores, most of them in the first 10 minutes and the last quarter.
From Mayo’s point of view, I thought the second quarter was very impressive, the way they controlled the game. Aidan O’Shea being out at midfield and Cillian O’Connor were both central to that. Aidan spent a while early on in at full-forward and I didn’t think he was very effective. Regular readers of this column will know my feelings on him in that role.
And then there’s Lee Keegan. I’ve been kind of hinting at how he looks and how he’s been moving lately, but last Sunday he really rolled back the years.
He was outstanding and really stepped up when the team needed him.
The result and promotion aside, the big downside to last weekend was the realisation that it’s going to be very difficult to win a provincial championship without one (or both) of the O’Connor brothers.
The same goes for achieving anything beyond that.
Diarmuid and Cillian are so integral to what Mayo do well and what they want to do. So it’s going to be a nervous few days and weeks until we hear more details about their injuries and when they will be back in action.
The countdown to Sligo on Saturday week starts now.
Defensive side of team’s game need work
IF I’m being brutally honest, the concession of the two Clare goals were absolutely horrific from a Mayo defensive point of view. When you concede goals there’s usually more than one person who could have done something better.
In these instances, that is certainly the case.
The first Clare goal, in particular, was a bad one to concede. Rob Hennelly called for the ball but didn’t manage to go and get it, which meant the fact that nobody had moved to cover the goal-line compounded the problem.
The big Clare midfielder, Darren O’Neill, should never have been allowed to run across the goalkeeper or, at the very least, should have been put under more pressure by Mattie Ruane or Aidan O’Shea, whichever of them was picking him up at the time.
It’s basic elementary underage defending of a high ball into the square, that we were all taught.
The players closest to the Mayo goal when the ball ends up in the net will have some explaining to do during video analysis this week.
The second goal could (and should) have been defended much better too. It came from a break down through the middle of Mayo’s backline, an area that Clare had identified as a weakness, and they exploited it.
Sure, so many Mayo players getting forward and kicking scores is a positive, but it leaves you terribly exposed at the back. And because Mayo hadn’t converted all the goal chances they had created in the opening half, conceding so much space in the middle of the field was always likely to cause problems.
Okay, you don’t want to be taking back the licence that Lee Keegan or Paddy Durcan or Oisin Mullin have to counter-attack, but you have to have other players like Aidan O’Shea, Jordan Flynn and Bryan Walsh to drop back into the deep midfield position and clog up space when Mayo don’t have the ball.
It has to be somebody’s job to see the danger.