BIG BLOW Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor limps off the field in Ennis with Mayo physio Mark Gallagher. Pic Conor McKeown
The importance of Cillian O’Connor
THIS week’s news that Cillian O’Connor requires surgery on an Achilles injury is devastating to Mayo’s chances of retaining a Connacht championship.
We don’t think there’s any other way to dress it up.
Fully free from injury last Autumn for the first time in years, the signs were on O’Connor as he earned a most deserved (and overdue) second All Star.
He struck a staggering 5-40 in five games, an average of 11 points per game and of that, 4-13 came from play.
In this year’s league we’ve seen him look sharp too. While the scoring burden may have been shared a bit more around the full-forward line, O’Connor’s input has still been significant.
Considering he was taken off at half-time against Meath, and had gone off injured before half-time against Clare, he has scored 2-24 in less than three full games.
His leadership in the full-forward line was very apparent at the behind closed doors games as he talked his colleagues through the game.
And we have him down for missing just three dead balls in that time, two of which were ‘45s.
So his 2-20 from dead balls (two penalties, one mark, one ‘45 and 18 frees) means he had a conversion rate of 88 percent from dead balls.
They’re exceptional numbers, and the big question is can Mayo find anyone to replace his reliability from frees, his killer instinct from play, and his leadership in the forward line?
It’s a huge ask.
The importance of the old tyros
BILLY Joe Padden observed in these pages before the league that it would be good to see the younger Mayo players lead the way and the older players not have to reach top gear in Division 2.
Against Down, that was apparent and encouraging but it has been less so since.
Matthew Ruane was, arguably, Mayo’s player of the league, while others like Oisin Mullin, Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue have starred at various stages.
But in Ennis, Lee Keegan needed to be at close to his best (and was) in an inspirational display. Last month, Paddy Durcan was the single biggest reason Mayo held off the challenge of Westmeath.
Kevin McLoughlin excelled in the first half in Ennis, linking play superbly. Aidan O’Shea, clearly not fully fit after his injury lay-off, still had a big impact around the middle, although less so in the full-back line.
Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor’s losses were readily apparent in the second half in Ennis.
So while it is apparent Mayo have some very capable and exciting talents coming through, the leadership of the old tyros is still going to be crucial to their prospects in the short to medium term.
It’s ‘Horanball’ or bust
SHOUTS from the sideline in Ennis of ‘squeeze’ were telling. Mayo were seeking to press Clare high and force turnovers, taking the risk that there might be gaps at the back.
It worked out perfectly in the first half – Colm Collins referenced Mayo mining 2-9 from turnovers out of their first half tally of 2-13.
Getting turnovers in the opponent’s half is the most productive place to get them and they are altogether less likely to happen if your first instinct when the opposition have the ball is to funnel back. It worked less effectively in the second half when Clare were coming back into the game and two poorly conceded goals threatened to make a game of it. Instead of Mayo sitting back, they kept to their philosophy of ‘attack being the best form of defence’ and it was amazing to see Enda Hession or Eoin O’Donoghue frequently isolated one-on-one in the full-back at the town goal with the next nearest Mayo defender practically in Gort.
Mayo tend to struggle to sit back and take the pace out of the game and their opponents, so it looks like the approach this summer will be gung-ho as usual.
We’d love to see a more mixed approach but it looks like we will have to buckle up!
Mayo’s kick-out strategy
AFTER his mistake for the first goal against. Clare, it was apparent from much of the commentary afterwards that Rob Hennelly is going to be condemned to forever being compared with David Clarke.
But what was overlooked in analysis of the game on Sunday is just how good Hennelly’s kick-outs were throughout the game.
He found a colleague with 92 percent of his restarts (22/24) and while 12 of those were short kick-outs, an impressive total of ten of them were trickier kicks to space, many of which were over a long distance. Indeed, Mayo sought to create space and avoid a traditional long kick to a contest almost throughout.
The movement of the players out the field was sharp and it is clear they have been working on this.
Across the four games, Mayo have won 84 percent of their own kick-outs and of the kick-outs they’ve won (75 out of 89 restarts), 45 percent of them have been won by kick-outs to space.
To clarify, that means it’s not a short kick-out to a full-back or a long kick to a contest.
So it might be a player making a run to the sideline on your own ‘45, or a player switching wings 70 metres out the field.
Mayo are consciously trying to find a player in space and able to be on the front foot with the ball.
The health warning of Division 2 opponents applies here but the numbers are encouraging.
Open games lead to shoot-outs
You can tell so much about Mayo’s approach from their scoring returns and shot conversion rates – and those of their opponents.
Mayo’s games have been very open which has led to some big scores on the front foot – and some worries at the back.
It is the trade off James Horan is making, clearly.
Mayo have converted an average of 72 percent of their shots, scoring 7-81 from 122 shots. It’s an average of over 25 points per game and they are getting an average of over 30 shots a game.
They are very good numbers – even if we must place the asterisk of Division 2 beside them.
If they can produce those numbers every time they are out this summer, they will be competitive against anyone.
At the other end, one can assume that higher level opposition might do more damage than some of Mayo’s Division 2 opponents did.
Yet it is worrying to see that while Mayo scored seven goals, they conceded the same amount.
On average they conceded just over 18 points per game for an average winning margin of seven points.
The shot numbers opponents have got off have been manageable in the low to mid 20s, until Ennis.
Clare had 28 shots that day and converted a very impressive 20 of them. Mayo were 24/33 and so their high-octane play created enough of a buffer to sustain them.
Mayo looked more threatening on the front foot this campaign but the problem of the concession of goals at the other end remains an issue that isn’t going away.