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5 big game talking points

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OVER THE LINE Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor is challenged by Galway’s Kieran Molloy during Sunday’s Connacht SFC quarter-final. Pic: Sportsfile


Analysis
Edwin McGreal

1 How bad were Mayo?

IN some ways Mayo have been here before.
On one knee after a Connacht championship defeat. See Galway 2016-18 and Roscommon in 2019.
But this feels far worse.
The 2016 defeat was a smash-and-grab one after a game-changing Tom Flynn goal with ten minutes to play.
Mayo were always chasing the games in 2017 and 2018 with a numerical disadvantage for more than half of those games.
Two Roscommon goals in the first half in 2019 left Mayo chasing and while they should have manufactured a draw there, it was a different type of game to Sunday’s.
What felt worse about this was that Mayo had the game where they wanted at half-time. Having trailed by five points inside five minutes, they appeared to figure out the Galway defence and were level by the break. In the early stages of the second half there appeared to be only one winner … but then Mayo imploded.
The late comeback cannot gloss over the fact that Mayo scored only two points in the first 32 minutes of the second half and that 22 minutes separated those scores.
How bad was it?
We sought comparisons afterwards and Longford in 2010 came up in discussions. Perhaps the Derry game in 2017 was comparable. Maybe, too, the Roscommon drawn All-Ireland quarter-final the same year. Who could ever forget London in 2011? Of course the difference was Mayo didn’t lose those games. The discussion might be different today if Mayo had equalised and brought the game to extra-time.
But something felt different on Sunday. As strange as it might sound, when Mayo were coming back on Sunday, scoring five points in five minutes, something about it still felt different from Mayo surges in previous years. Perhaps it was a flatter atmosphere or the mood is different. You’re drawn back to the All-Ireland Final last year. The shadow still lingers and Mayo are certainly living with their worst Connacht championship defeat since Sligo in 2010.

2 The numbers game
IF you look at the kick-outs and shooting stats, Mayo certainly had the platform for victory on Sunday.
Rory Byrne had a fine game in goal and his kick-outs were very good in the main. He found a team-mate with seven out of eight restarts in each half.
Galway’s kick-out was something many people pointed out as a weakness but they got off to the great start, winning all five of their first quarter restarts, three of them breaking balls.
It was the 22nd minute when Diarmuid O’Connor won Mayo’s first possession from a Galway kick-out and from then on Mayo did very well. They won four out of the seven second quarter restarts and won four out of ten in the second half. Add in the dispossession shortly after a short kick-out in the 70th minute that led to Ryan O’Donoghue being fouled when a goal was on, and Galway were under pressure.
The mere fact they went short at this stage with a four point lead underscores how much pressure they were feeling.
Crucially, Mayo could not turn those kick-out possessions into enough scores and the shooting stats underline the difficulties Mayo had.
Over the full game, Mayo had 29 shots and Galway just 21 but the Tribesmen’s efficiency was far superior.
They converted 71 percent of their shots compared to just 55 percent for Mayo. That’s a huge gulf.
It was even starker when you hone in on the second half. Galway scored eight times from just ten shots. In fact they did not miss once after Paul Conroy’s left footed wide after seven minutes.
By contrast, Mayo scored seven points from 16 shots. That conversion rate of 44 percent is just over half of Galway’s 80 percent.
It is easy to simply say that Galway had the better forwards but recall the space they had most times they attacked and contrast that to the maroon wall that Mayo’s forwards faced. We think Ryan O’Donoghue and co would have had a field day at the other end too. But this raises other questions.

3 What the league taught us
I’VE always been a believer that league results and performances have to be looked at in a certain context.
It is not the primary competition so league games don’t always provide the full insight some people ascribe to them.
What was apparent though in the league – and this should not be not news to anybody – is that Mayo struggle when they are faced with a blanket defence and are not able to impose their preferred high-octane, fast moving style of play on a game.
When a patient, probing approach is required, Mayo are not as comfortable.
So much so that Galway, who had played a quite open style of play all spring, decided to throw that all to one side and go defensive against Mayo in the hope of frustrating them.
It was a big gamble from Padraig Joyce – who had sent his teams out pretty much ‘toe-to-toe’ against Mayo in the last two Connacht finals. At half-time, it looked like Mayo had figured it all out. Following the goal, they were patient, they slowed the game down and they waited, by and large for the best opportunity.
Players like Ryan O’Donoghue, Lee Keegan and Aidan O’Shea punched holes and Mayo’s shooting was really good.
But Galway stuck at it and in the second half, they were much more effective at frustrating Mayo.
The hope was that Mayo’s experience of playing against blanket defences in Division 1 would have them well prepared for an impromptu blanket from Galway. The reality is that getting bodies behind the ball is now the template to frustrate and beat Mayo.

4 Mayo’s injury woes
WE will leave it to those with sports injury and/or sports science background to speculate on root causes behind Mayo’s depressingly long list of injuries. Indeed, any experts would need to see and observe Mayo training to see if there is something systemically wrong or it is just real bad luck. It must be said there is nothing concrete to indicate anything, but the latter but the level of frustration both inside and outside the camp at the growing injury list must be huge.
Oisín Mullin pulled up badly with a hamstring injury three minutes into the second half. Having only returned from injury, it is fair to say his play had been quite tentative up to that point.
Tommy Conroy, Jordan Flynn and Brendan Harrison are all on the long term injured list. How long Mullin remains out for will be known inside the camp this week, although Lord knows when any update will be provided given Mayo’s abject communication on injuries this year.
Paddy Durcan is due back to full training soon while it is unclear how long Rob Hennelly will be out for. Bryan Walsh is still out injured, it seems.
Perhaps the six-week wait until the Qualifiers will be a good thing to allow the walking wounded time to be back.
On the positive side, Diarmuid O’Connor put in a really strong display in his first game back and while he tired late on, his brother Cillian added significantly to the forward line.

5 The battle of the sidelines
IT’S James Horan’s first defeat to Galway as a manager after winning his six previous outings (2011, ‘13, ‘14, ‘19, ‘20 and ‘21).
The winning manager will always get the plaudits and the loser the brickbats, but we think if Galway had lost this one late on, Padraig Joyce would have been largely spared and the players would be in the firing line for their failure to see out a six point lead after 67 minutes.
Ultimately this game came down to two simple realities.
Firstly, Mayo’s failure to be able to adapt over a long period of time to blanket defences and, secondly, the prairies of space that Mayo leave at the back, meaning every time Galway did attack, they looked like they could score.
Both come back to Mayo’s approach and James Horan has to take a good portion of responsibility here.
The lack of Paddy Durcan and Oisin Mullin from the middle eight robbed Mayo of pace in this sector, but with Galway’s defensive set-up, Mayo’s attacking approach needed to marry more energy with game intelligence and knowing when to slow it down, when to speed it up, when to kick (rarely) and when to shoot. They appeared to have the perfect blend in the second quarter but it went AWOL in the second half until that late surge when it was too little, too late.
Joyce won the battle of the sidelines and James Horan now faces his biggest ever test as Mayo manager.

 

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