A WATCHING BRIEF Mayo manager James Horan, left, and selectors Ciaran McDonald, Tom Higgins and James Burke are pictured watching last Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
LEAVING Croke Park last Saturday evening after watching Tyrone upset the odds and beat Kerry, I saw James Horan heading for his car and getting ready to hit the road.
I’m sure there was a lot going through his head as he drove west and began planning for the All-Ireland Final.
I’m not sure that Horan or his backroom team would have done a whole lot of prep on either Kerry or Tyrone before last weekend. The week after the Dublin game would have been all about recovery for the lads who played the full 100 minutes in the semi-final, and the rest of the panel would have been doing fitness work or, as in the case of Conor O’Shea, getting some minutes with their club.
Tyrone are in the same boat this week; they will be in recovery mode after going through a gruelling match that also went to extra-time, so one advantage that Mayo have is the head-start in terms of their preparation.
Mayo will train hard this week and begin their tactical work on Tyrone.
One aspect that will definitely feature in their discussions will be how Tyrone looked much more comfortable than Kerry last Saturday when the game became disjointed.
I remember seeing corner-back Michael McKernan just hanging out at left-half forward at one stage and you could see that Killian Spillane wasn’t really sure what he should be doing.
McKernan was perfectly happy up there and went forward and got a score. So did other defenders, Ronan McNamee and Paudie Hampsey. Tyrone were much more versatile than Kerry and were so much more comfortable operating in an unscripted, unstructured game.
But I think Mayo will be okay with that in the final because outside of most of the Ulster teams, or Dublin who can play the game on any terms (bar the recent semi-final, obviously), Mayo are comfortable operating in either a straightforward format or in a more disjointed game.
Another thing that James Horan will have noted last Saturday was how at all stages of the game, but especially early on, Tyrone were doing their level best to slow the pace.
Horan will have so much faith in his team to play at a high-tempo. He will have complete faith in his players to play and operate in any position they find themselves in on the field.
He will also back his team to the hilt to outwork Tyrone over the 70-plus minutes at a high intensity.
So I feel he will be thinking, ‘Tyrone have come through a really tough game that went to extra-time and lasted more than 110 minutes. They only have two weeks to prepare.
‘And they’ve gone to their reserves more than at any stage in the last few years.’
‘So let’s really raise the tempo here from the word ‘go’. Let’s do everything quickly, let’s not let Tyrone slow the game down, let’s pressurise them high up the field, let’s try and put pressure on Niall Morgan’s kick-outs.’
Now that last part will be a challenge; Kerry tried to do it at the start of the second half last Saturday but they didn’t make enough hay from it.
But you can be sure that Mayo will have learned from Kerry’s mistakes.
Horan will want his players to not allow Tyrone to ‘rest’ on the ball as much as possible, like they were trying to do at stages in the first half the last day, and every time they were down a man on a black card.
Tyrone have a lot of quality players, Mayo have a few injuries to key players, Tyrone look like they will have a full hand to pick from, so I think it’s a bit more difficult for Mayo now.
Halfway through the second half I’d have taken a disjointed Kerry over the rampant Tyrone that took control in extra-time and ground out a deserved win.
So the die is cast, and the All-Ireland Final nobody predicted at the start of the summer will unfold on Saturday week next. It’s going to be fascinating.
A target-man won’t work against Tyrone
GOING to Croke Park in late summer to play Tyrone won’t faze Mayo, and the most recent championship wins in 2013 and 2016 are still recent enough that we can all remember them.
But Mayo have also had some really difficult days against Tyrone over the years, mostly in National League games in Castlebar!
And there’s plenty that can be learned from all of those experiences.
I don’t think that a target-man will work at all against the Ulster champions in the final.
Mayo will need a fluid forwardline that plays with patience, and moves the ball around, which won’t be easy because Tyrone are going to get so many bodies back.
Mayo will need to have a clear idea in their mind that they play the game as quickly as they can; that they restart the game quickly and play quickly off frees and turn-overs. But if they find that Tyrone are back in their defensive shell, then they need to hold the ball.
It’s about that recognition of when you play quick, and when you play slow.
That’s going to be absolutely critical for Mayo.
Their attack is going to have to rotate a lot as well, and use the full length and depth of the field. Against a Tyrone team that get so many bodies back, you can’t have a situation where all six forwards just hang around the ‘45 and expect to create scoring opportunities.
It’s just not going to happen.
Aidan O’Shea is going to have a big role to play around the middle of the field because Mayo are going to need him to put pressure on Morgan’s kick-outs. That’s going to be take a full team effort with the half-back line pushing high, but they’re well brave enough to do that.
Next week we’ll look at how things might play out in more detail.