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5 key areas for Mayo to focus on

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NEW ROLE REQUIRED? Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor wins possession in the air ahead of Tyrone’s Brian Kennedy during last year’s All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile


Feature
Edwin McGreal

1 Development over results

ONE of the less talked about aspects of the 2021 season was how little impact being relegated in 2020 had on Mayo’s year.
Sure, you could argue Tyrone were more battle hardened than them, but we’d argue this was more to do with the competitive nature of the Ulster championship, compared to Connacht.
There was a fear in previous years that getting relegated could mean it might be hard to bounce right back up.
Last year showed that there is quite a fall in standard from Division 1 to Division 2.
Coming back up is not overly challenging. While some of Mayo’s league games were not ultra competitive, we don’t think they were a hindrance either.
So while winning is obviously important, particularly with the doom and gloom that pervades after September, we don’t think it is as much a be-all and end-all as it was perceived to be in previous years.
Which opens the door to other options.

2 Stick or twist with team selections
IF the above is a given, then it gives opportunities.
A lot of new players have come on stream in the past three seasons but there’s plenty of players with a lot of miles in the tank too.
How much do we need to see of the likes of Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea, Kevin McLoughlin, Rob Hennelly, Diarmuid O’Connor and Paddy Durcan in this year’s league?
We certainly don’t think they need to see every minute of action.
Perhaps the league presents a good opportunity to run the rule over Aidan O’Shea’s best position. We don’t think it is full-forward. Some might argue as an impact sub but we think a defensive midfielder position could be best.
Also, it might be no harm to look at how Diarmuid O’Connor’s game can be freshened up. Billy Joe Padden suggested trying him at full-forward. It could be a good move.
Quality over quantity should be the approach for the elder statesmen.  

3 Where to play Oisín Mullin
THE news that the Kilmaine colossus has committed his future to Mayo is a huge boost and the timing of it is perfect. It gives the squad a bounce going into the league that might otherwise have been morose, after the All-Ireland Final defeat.
Like Aidan O’Shea, the question about where to play Oisín Mullin remains.
Like the Breaffy man, the All Star defender might find that his best position and where Mayo need him most are not one and the same.
It’s why he has found himself in the full-back line. It is not his best position, but with Mayo possessing an embarrassment of riches in the half-back line, his flexibility saw him moved.
There have been some suggestions about moving him to midfield. Certainly a partnership with Mattie Ruane (suspended for the first two games) would be an electric one in Croke Park, but you could argue the best partner for Ruane would be a big, robust player.
It could be a horses for courses approach.
There’s quite a likelihood that Mullin could find himself moved around, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Centre-half back would appear to be his best position but how often we see him there remains to be seen.

4 Filling some problem positions
THE fact that Oisín Mullin has appeared in the full-back line underlines a continuous issue for Mayo – namely producing enough tight, sticky man markers.
We’ve plenty of attacking, energetic half-backs but few enough specialised man-markers.
Guys like Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan and Colm Boyle have been excellent on the front foot and really good defenders too, but we’ve had few enough backs who are out and out defenders.
Ger Cafferkey, Brendan Harrison and Pádraig O’Hora spring to mind but Mayo need more nailed on full-back line players.
Can they find them this spring? Might Stephen Coen be placed at full-back?
In addition, the second midfield spot is up for grabs while there’s half-forward spots there to be fought for too.
Can Fionn McDonagh stay clear of injury to continue on the promise of 2019? Is Fergal Boland going to be in the mix? What new players can step up?
We will hopefully see both Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor back in the frame too.

5 Vary their game-plans
MAYO have often struggled to perform to their optimum against northern opposition, particularly those who get a lot of bodies behind the ball.
That was the case in the All-Ireland Final – even if Mayo still had the chances to win that game – and it will continue to be the case unless James Horan’s squad can adapt.
There is no doubt what ‘Plan A’ is – move the ball quickly, by foot or through the hands, harnessing Mayo’s athleticism in the middle eight by having support runners careering through the middle.
Mayo have definitely got better at second phase attacks, where their opponents are set defensively and Mayo have to be patient.
But they’re very much a work in progress on this front and need to improve further.
Also while attack has been Mayo’s best form of defence, it would be great to see them confidently see out a game, absorbing whatever their opponents can throw at them.

 

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