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Anatomy of an All-Ireland defeat

Sport

TOUGH TO TAKE Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor rips his jersey after the final whistle sounded in the All-Ireland SFC Final defeat to Tyrone at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Mayo’s defeat to Tyrone continues to throw up questions

Analysis
Edwin McGreal

ON the journey east to Croke Park on Saturday, September 11 the sense of hope in the green and red convoy was tangible.
From the Charlestown bypass onwards, every overpass was bedecked with flag-flying kids and adults. Every second person you had met the week of the game declared victory a certainty.
There was a want there, an expectation that the path was clear with Dublin out of the way.
It was an All-Ireland build-up like no other. Despite the county’s unenvious record in finals, many were going up not for a game but a coronation.
As we passed cars full of giddy fans, we said to our co-pilot that we shuddered to think what the despair would be like on the return journey if what we felt was a 50/50 game went Tyrone’s way.
As so it came to pass.
A county pregnant with hope must now face into a winter of discontent.
The difference is vast.
We’re over two weeks on now and the chat hasn’t diminished; the anger has not abated.
People are not agreeing to disagree on this one.
From the outset, this writer has argued the players bear considerable responsibility.
Consider the missed goal chances (four gilt-edged ones for heaven’s sake!). Add in that while there have been criticisms of Mayo’s tactical approach, Tyrone only scored half of their scores (1-7) from turnovers and we will argue further down that many of those scores had more to do with poor execution by Mayo than any accusation of playing into Tyrone’s hands.
Yet with the exception of Aidan O’Shea, who has been pilloried despite being a long way from Mayo’s worst player, we’ve seen little enough criticism of any players.
We’re not suggesting a ‘pile on’ by any means, but we’d argue only two players, Lee Keegan and Stephen Coen, can be very happy with their displays.
Think about it. Thirteen of Mayo’s starting 15 players (and arguably all of the subs) played below their best. Perhaps that’s a failure of management in terms of preparation, but we think that lets the players off the hook far too much.
Can James Horan be happy with his performance on the line? We think not, but we also feel the greater share of the blame in this game rests with those between the white lines.
History is written by the winners and people often ignore the mistakes made by winning teams and hyper-analyse those of the vanquished.
The fundamental question we keep returning to is this: did James Horan set his team up in a way that they could win this All-Ireland Final?
Absolutely.
Mayo win this game if they score two out of the four gilt-edged goal chances they created. They might even win if they score just one. Of course we will never know, perhaps Tyrone would have responded brilliantly to the concession of a goal(s), but the momentum swing from the penalty miss to Cathal McShane’s goal cannot be ignored when examining the trajectory of this game.
Mayo clearly identified a weakness at the heart of the Tyrone defence that saw them cough up plenty of goal chances against Kerry. Kerry didn’t score them and neither did Mayo but the weakness was certainly there.
If you run at the heart of a team who try to feed off turnovers, you run the risk of losing possession if they get bodies back and then you are not set to defend the counter attack.
But if you feel there’s rewards there for direct play when the time is right, then you’re weighing up the risk-reward and going for it.
Mayo went for it – it is what James Horan’s teams generally do. But you have to get a return on your risk or else the debt collectors will come after you.
Mayo created more goal chances than we can recall from any team from the county creating in an All-Ireland Final with the possible exception of 2006.
They scored none of them. It was a damning return. A decisive one.

The misses
LET’S look at each chance and recall that three of them fell to Mayo’s best goal poachers.
Conor Loftus has a rebound after Bryan Walsh’s initial effort is poorly executed. Loftus fluffs it when he needed to either strike through the ball or pick it up and sidestep the cover.
It’s a bad miss.
Aidan O’Shea receives a brilliant diagonal ball from Ryan O’Donoghue. Perhaps a natural forward cuts inside and finishes, or else squares to the incoming Conor Loftus. Or perhaps a more confident Aidan O’Shea does that too. Neither happened and his shot, which looked like he was going for a point, was blocked. It is a poor decision and poor execution.
Tommy Conroy superbly gets around Pádraig Hampsey. You would want no one else in this position. At the point he decided to shoot, there was another solo in it to make the shot easier or open up the chance to square to O’Shea. It is a poor decision and execution.
And then there’s the penalty. Ryan O’Donoghue has been magnificent for Mayo in the absence of Cillian O’Connor. His penalty miss should not define his season.
But he will know it was not the time to be trying a John Aldridge style shuffle. At the time we wondered did Diarmuid O’Connor’s apparent effort to take the penalty (Aidan O’Shea waved him away) unsettle O’Donoghue. Or was O’Connor being shrewd as O’Donoghue was fouled for the preceding free with a high challenge? Or was he trying to deflect the pressure away from O’Donoghue in the way Andy Moran did on occasion for Cillian O’Connor in such situations in the past?
In any event, he missed the penalty and the next score is a Tyrone goal.
No matter how resilient you are, if you’ve missed four gilt-edged goal chances and your opponent’s star sub’ scores one with his very first touch, it is going to give you a sinking feeling.
Oisín Mullin gets caught out in front and Rob Hennelly is indecisive about staying or coming and does neither. McShane was the one in complete control and finished superbly.
It is poor positioning by both Mayo players.
Again, Mayo manage to concede a goal at a really bad time.
Think back to the two in last year’s final, the early Con O’Callaghan goal in 2017; the own goals in 2016; both Dublin goals in 2013 and both Donegal goals in 2012. All badly timed.
The second goal wasn’t much better, timing wise, either.
As good as they were throughout the game, both Stephen Coen and Lee Keegan make errors here. Coen gets caught under the long kick-out from Niall Morgan, and Conor McKenna is unmarked. Keegan leaves Darren McCurry to try to cut out McKenna’s run.
Rob Hennelly comes out to meet McKenna and perhaps goes a bit too far, but he is in position to smother the shot if the easy pass isn’t on. Or, he might tempt McKenna to just fist it over the bar. The pass is on, though, and McKenna squares to McCurry for an easy finish.
Mayo have a habit of conceding these type of goals where defenders get sucked to the ball carrier and allow a simple pass and palm to the net.
Think Con O’Callaghan in last year’s final and Bernard Brogan’s second goal in 2013.
You’ll notice that even though Tommy Conroy was inside Hampsey for his goal chance, Ronan McNamee did not rush to go over and leave Aidan O’Shea unmarked for an easy finish.
He knew that as good a chance as Conroy had one-on-one with Morgan, leaving an easy pass on was considerably increasing the chances of a Mayo goal. Conroy shot wide. Conor McKenna did not have to worry about shooting.

The approach
DID Mayo play into Tyrone’s hands by virtue of their approach?
The fact that Tyrone scored 1-7 from turnovers may suggest this, but it is actually a relatively low number. In the semi-final 65 percent of Tyrone’s 3-14 came from turnover ball.
Here it was bang on 50 percent.
Let’s look at the Mayo turnovers which led to Tyrone scores, and see which scores were down to perhaps a tactical approach and planning by Mayo that may have played into Tyrone’s hands versus those which simply came down to poor execution and decision-making by Mayo. So we’re looking at either systemic problems, in the first instance, or individual error, in the second.
Now obviously the line between both can be blurred on occasions so we will exercise our judgement.
We will start with the most costly turnover, the one which led to Tyrone’s first goal. It came when Conor Loftus was running through the ‘D’ with time to pop the ball over the bar but got caught in two minds and was swallowed up.
That’s a four point swing right away and we feel it was individual error.
Five of Tyrone’s first half points came from turnovers. Each of the below cited turnovers led to points.
On eight minutes, Mattie Ruane played a low kick-pass into Ryan O’Donoghue in the ‘D’. O’Donoghue was marked and there were players around him. It was not the time to probe the full-back line. We feel it was primarily individual error but also partly systemic.
Two minutes later, Kevin McLoughlin’s handpass in the left corner is intercepted but he is well surrounded here as Mayo get trapped in the corner. The almost identical situation happened on 35 minutes, except this time it was Ryan O’Donoghue trying to pass to Stephen Coen when Tyrone had Mayo well cornered.
Both turnovers led to scores and can be classified as more systemic than individual error.
On 29 minutes Ryan O’Donoghue played an ambitious crossfield pass to Kevin McLoughlin which was also poorly executed. There were easier passes on and this is individual error, for us.
And, finally, on 31 minutes, Bryan Walsh plays a diagonal early ball in which Niall Morgan sweeps superbly and his long pass puts Darren McCurry in on goal. Rob Hennelly saves the shot and Morgan points the subsequent ‘45.
It was an optimistic early ball and perhaps indicative of a willingness of Mayo to go direct.
It is more systemic than individual error.
Two Tyrone points from Mayo turnovers came after Tyrone’s second goal and we would argue these two do not carry as much weight because of the stage in the game. One, by Darren Coen, is a poor shot which dropped short while the other, Aidan O’Shea’s handpass to Enda Hession which is intercepted.
We’d argue both are individual errors.
So there’s an argument to be made that of the 1-7 Tyrone scored from turnovers, as much as 1-4 came from individual errors rather than systemic problems.
And, against that, three of the four goal chances came from Mayo going at the heart of the Tyrone defence (the penalty coming from an under-hit free).
The risks involved versus the rewards come out well in Mayo’s favour IF they convert even half of their goal chances.

Questions for management
ONE of the more abstract measurements of management is how prepared they had the team and what the mood in the camp was in advance.
We say abstract because only those inside the walls truly know. We can only opine from the outside. And, by and large, it is a matter for those inside the camp to address.
Was it poor preparation that lost this game for Mayo or did the events during the game take the wind from their sails? We’d argue the latter.
But, without hearing frank admissions from those inside, we’re guessing.
Communication to the outside world has been an issue all year under James Horan though and deciding to say nothing publicly is, we suggest, not the best approach right now either.
More concrete arguments can be made in terms of match-ups and changes in-game.
Pádraig O’Hora struggled on Darren McCurry but, against that, Lee Keegan and Stephen Coen did very well on Conor McKenna and Mattie Donnelly respectively.
Putting Oisín Mullin back to mark Cathal McShane when he came on was clearly a pre-planned move but with Mayo losing, was it robbing Peter to pay Paul? With Mattie Donnelly off, was Stephen Coen a better fit?
That doesn’t mean the goal doesn’t happen in a different match-up and while O’Hora did struggle, you are not going to win every match up.
Perhaps Enda Hession could have started too, instead of coming on at half-time. What was the state of readiness and fitness for Brendan Harrison and Colm Boyle?
We would suggest it is a fine line between being fit to be in the 26 and not being considered useful in this game given your All Star credentials. We’d make the point particularly for Harrison, who is six years Boyle’s junior and was pressed into service in the semi-final. Perhaps there are things we don’t know here. It would be no harm to be illuminated.  
While Aidan O’Shea had an influential first half (recall that he played a key role in four of Mayo’s eight first half points), he was a peripheral figure in the second half.
We wonder what his role at full-forward in the second half was? We recall only one ball played into him, a kickpass by Kevin McLoughlin which Ronan McNamee broke away.
Was he a decoy? Should he have been substituted, as some have suggested?
For us, it made more sense to bring him out to midfield, impose his physicality on the game there, get him back into the game and perhaps free Mattie Ruane from the shackles of Messrs Kennedy and Kilpatrick.  
Was there room for a different approach after the second water break?
There may be plenty of counter-arguments to these that those inside the camp are aware of. Again, would it hurt to bring a bit of clarity?
Of course there are many wider issues worth exploring, which we will, such as the type of footballer we create and the obvious elephant in the room of the burden that rests on every Mayo team who will compete in an All-Ireland Final until the monkey is off their backs.
There’s the question of what difference injured players will make going forward, as much as we might lament what difference they might have made in this final.
Mayo surpassed expectations in getting to the final this year, but most certainly underachieved, underwhelmed and underperformed, in the final itself.
Fundamentally, this was a huge opportunity for Mayo and one they had the means to take based on how the game played out.
They didn’t and the long wait continues.

What do you think?
Get in touch via email: sport@mayonews.ie

 

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