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GAA need to fix broken system

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SITTING COMFORTABLY PJ and Ronan Rourke from Westport are pictured at last Sunday’s Connacht SFC semi-final at MacHale Park in Castlebar. Pic: Conor McKeown


Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

THE first thing that has to be said about last Sunday’s game is that it’s very demoralising for Leitrim to see a result like that. To be honest, it saddens me.
For the simple reason that what’s happening now is the result of years and years of neglect from the GAA for counties like Leitrim. And neglect for a proper championship system.
The arrival of Covid, and the lack of preparation and interest in some counties due to the lack of matches, has only served to magnify the reality that the likes of Leitrim and Sligo have fallen so far behind the likes of Mayo.
It’s so sad to see.
And for me the finger of blame has to be pointed firmly at GAA headquarters in Croke Park.
It’s unacceptable the way they have allowed this to happen.
Some people might say, ‘It’s inevitable, with rural populations declining and the country getting more urbanised’. Trust me, I know that more than anyone.
It literally is my day job!
But that’s why the GAA has to do something. And should have done something before now.
If they want to retain the ethos of a championship where 33 teams start out at the beginning of the year with an opportunity to win a provincial title and an All-Ireland, if we think that’s something that’s precious and needs to be retained, then somebody should have been working behind the scenes to devise a championship system that allowed fairness.
Because one thing that’s becoming more and more obvious over the last few years is that there’s no fairness in terms of Leitrim and Division 4 teams being knocked out of the championship in June and not having another competitive game until next February.
How on earth are they meant to develop young players? Or prepare for the following season? It’s practically impossible.
Meanwhile, the likes of Mayo and Dublin and Kerry go deep into late August or September with their championships and seamlessly move into the National League next year.
Any new championship system that is worked on has to ensure that all counties have the same amount of time to prepare for games and play the same number of matches in the initial stages. There has to be a fairness about the system.
In terms of Sunday’s result from a Mayo perspective, the players have to be commended for the way they went about their business in such a professional manner.
They obviously had a difficult and trying week and while the game was played and they got the result, the players are not out of the woods in relation to the difficulties that issues with Covid might present for some of them.
The main priority is that everyone in the squad, and connected with them, is healthy and well and not at any serious risk. That’s the most important thing; football and how it impacts on the team is only the secondary thing.
But I think it will remain a challenging few weeks in terms of preparing for a Connacht Final while those sort of Covid issues are going on in the background.
Last Sunday showed the value of James Horan’s decision to mix and match his team, and give lads game experience, over the last two seasons. Without doing that, the job he had to do against Leitrim (and may have to do against Galway) would have been much more difficult if he hadn’t been able to call on players that had played plenty of minutes in the last 18 months.
That’s something that we may only fully appreciate in the weeks ahead.

Sunday’s game will stand to some newcomers

THERE were a few individual displays last Sunday that I wanted to mention.
It was obviously a very big day for Rory Byrne, making his first start for Mayo, and it was understandable that he’d be a bit nervous early on.
He made a couple of handling errors in difficult conditions. The rain had made the ball greasy which didn’t help and when Rory watches it back he’ll probably see that his footwork could have been a bit better.
But they’re the sort of things that you can be sure he does better in normal circumstances.
And as the half went on, he looked more comfortable and his handling was much better.
To be honest, I would be much more worried if Rory’s kick-outs had been an issue.
The caveat being that Leitrim were putting little or no pressure on them, but they were absolutely fine. The bigger tests in that regard will come another day.
Should Rory have got a league game in the last year or two to get a run-out at this level?
Yes, and the early stages of last Sunday’s game showed why.
Further up the field, Darren McHale caught my eye again.
When James Horan is subtracting the qualities that his Mayo team now has without Cillian O’Connor, it’s the absence of a proven goalscorer that is up near the top of the list.
Okay, Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue have both shown they can hit the net, but you want to fill your team with as many as players as possible who are capable of scoring goals.
I like McHale’s movement, it’s one of his best attributes. But there’s a trend in his movement that I’ve noticed in the last two games; where he follows a move right to the end and makes his run all the way to the edge of the small square.
His goals on Sunday both came from him following up the play and putting himself in the position to score goals. That quality he has is really intriguing and could be very valuable to Horan and the team in the weeks ahead.
It also puts Darren in a really good position going into the Galway game.

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