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Horan makes the right moves


BROTHERS IN ARMS Mayo manager James Horan and Tommy Conroy celebrate after Sunday’s Connacht SFC Final win over Galway  at Croke Park.  Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

ANY Connacht Final victory for Mayo over Galway is to be savoured, but this latest one will have tasted particularly sweet for anyone in the Green and Red corner.
At half-time things didn’t look good for the defending champions, and it took a few different things to happen to change the course of history.
I really think that James Horan’s experience can’t be underestimated in the turnaround.
He knows what’s necessary in Croke Park and he looked very calm coming up to half-time when Mayo weren’t going very well, (I would have been pulling my hair out!).
Horan knows it’s the guts of an 80-minute game at Croke Park, he knows how well-conditioned his team is, and he would have sensed how long Galway could go for.
There was no doubt that Mayo finished much stronger from a conditioning point of view.
The half-time substitutions were also pivotal because Mayo’s collective first half performance wasn’t acceptable. There wasn’t enough penetration.
By bringing on Eoghan McLaughlin and Kevin McLoughlin, Horan sprung two players who can generate that sort of penetration in very different ways.
Eoghan used the straight-line speed, coming off the shoulder, driving forward, and really put Mayo on the front foot. His arrival really energised the middle third of the field.
Kevin brought something slightly different; his impact was about his cleverness, game-intelligence and experience. He picked up breaks, played the ball on, and linked play.
He also got a beautiful score off his right foot where he waits and waits, times his diagonal run perfectly, takes the pass in space and just hits it first-time over the bar.
That’s just know-how and was a thing of beauty.
Then there was the role of Aidan O’Shea in the second half.
I’m like a broken record about him as a full-forward, I’m not a fan of him there.
Obviously winning the ball for the penalty was a key play, and he did really well on that and played the handpass to Matthew Ruane that led to the penalty.
Other balls were played in that bounced in front of him and he laid them off cleverly.
But as Mayo got more comfortable in their running game, you saw that he was more comfortable to come out the field and play his more normal game around the middle of the field.
So I think the way they managed O’Shea in that second half was really impressive, and credit to him and James Horan for getting that impact.
The turnovers from Padraig O’Hora and O’Shea helped to break Galway’s resistance too. And Mayo’s ability to keep pressing and keep pressing might be one of the reasons why Horan looked so calm in the first half. Because he knew they wouldn’t stop.
And they will have to do exactly the same against Dublin. Only more of it and better.
I don’t know what’s going on in Galway, but if a capitulation like that happened to Mayo there’d be war in the county and a lot of people would get a lot of flak.
It was a disaster really for them, how they went from being in such a strong position at half-time to basically not playing in the second half.
The row in the tunnel at half-time didn’t help them in hindsight either, and judging by what we saw of Aidan O’Shea’s reaction on TV, he seemed furious with whatever was said or done to him.
So I would assume that Mayo went into the dressing-room feeling that they had been disrespected and that, in many ways, can be all the motivation you need.
It might have made James Horan’s job of revving them up a lot easier too.
In the space of seven months the conversation around this Mayo team has gone from a raft of retirements to the development of young players, and what they can possibly achieve.
That is to James Horan’s credit too.

O’Donoghue and Ruane the stand-out performers

THERE’S no doubt that the strike-runners that Mayo have — like Oisin Mullin, Paddy Durcan and Mattie Ruane — really had a huge impact in the victory.
Right now, given his form over the last year, I would put Ruane right behind Brian Fenton in terms of the hierarchy of inter-county midfielders. And I can’t wait to see how he performs when the acid test inevitably comes in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Ruane was phenomenal in the second half on Sunday. His engine, the way he carries the ball forward and backs himself, and his tackling, were all outstanding.
But for what it’s worth I’d have given man of the match to Ryan O’Donoghue, just ahead of Ruane. Because, in the first half, when Mayo weren’t going well he was their best player.
He was trying things (okay, not all of them came off) but he kept going. And like all good forwards he seems to have ‘instant memory loss’ and is able to forget the mistakes.
I also thought he was robbed of what looked like a perfectly good (and outstanding) goal.
The modern game is now so dominated by pace and power that we’re losing these little bits of cleverness, like using a little nudge of the backside to get the jump on the defender.
It’s a shame the goal didn’t stand.
And the last word goes to Tommy Conroy, who had a very difficult first half.
He had a bad wide, got caught in possession a few times, made a few wrong decisions, and it would have been easy for him to drop his head. But his response in the second half was much better, he was receiving the ball sideways on and could use his pace to attack a space.
He did that twice to great effect to kick two scores and deserves great credit for staying at it.

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