THE THRILL OF THE CHASE Mayo players try to close down Kildare goalkeeper Aaron O’Neill during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
WHEN Mayo and Kerry were paired in the draw yesterday (Monday) morning, you couldn’t help but wonder what Kerry would have done to Mayo had they been presented with the platform Kildare had enjoyed for three-quarters of the game last weekend.
We think the Kingdom could have been so far out of sight that Jack O’Connor could have the luxury of taking off key players at half-time to rest them.
Of course we don’t have to think back too far to recall what Kerry can do when given the opportunity. The National League final showed us that in full technicolour.
A repeat of the malaise that infected Mayo last Saturday will lead to a savaging on Sunday week next.
We cannot recall as long a period of championship play in the last decade where Mayo were as bad. Execution of basic skills when in possession appeared problematic.
Shooting was abject. At one stage Mayo had scored just twice from eleven shots.
They had six shots which fell short in the first half alone. All this bred anxiety and nerves in Mayo’s play that got worse as the half wore on.
All Mayo’s experience counted for next to nothing.
When Kildare had the ball, Mayo were passive and stand-offish. It was the Lilywhites, smarting from a Leinster Final drubbing, who were playing with intensity, intent and high energy.
We think Mayo showed where their heads were at straightaway. A foul from the throw-in was brought forward and instead of showing a bit of urgency and launching a swift attack, Mayo put the ball down straightaway and called up Rob Hennelly for a low-percentage 60 metre free.
Further long-range frees were left for Hennelly and Cillian O’Connor to take on low percentage shots rather than Mayo trying to work a better chance from a short free.
Even going back and building again appeared a better option. It was as if Mayo did not want the responsibility of creating chances. They missed all three and that settled Kildare.
It got a lot worse before it got better.
Like Galway, Kildare rolled out a blanket defence in a matter of weeks, throwing out their approach for the whole year to that point. And, like Galway in Castlebar, Kildare found that even with little experience of that approach, it was the template to frustrate Mayo.
Mayo have come flying back into games from far back in the past, but Saturday felt less likely because the performance levels were so poor.
Kildare were five points up on 46 minutes when an Enda Hession block stopped a Daniel Flynn goal. Goal there and it was likely all over. Mayo went up and a Cillian O’Connor point brought the gap to four and Lee Keegan followed up with a typically inspirational point.
Mayo have to be given credit for eventually finding their way.
They showed character in that respect at least.
And while shooting was abject in the first half, they kicked some exceptional long-range points in the second half. Four scores from Diarmuid O’Connor, Lee Keegan, Conor Loftus and Fergal Boland jumped out.
They were fortunate too that Kildare goalkeeper Aaron O’Neill had a day to forget. Four of Mayo’s second half points came from bad kick-outs from him.
Would Mayo have won without Oisín Mullin’s brilliant goal? Possibly, but it’s unlikely.
The last three players in that move were all of Mayo’s full-back line. Lee Keegan to Mullin to Padraig O’Hora, back to Mullin who finished superbly. It underscored how Mayo’s defenders were vital on the front foot the last day.
Lee Keegan once more strode forward to kick two colossal scores. Eoghan McLaughlin struck two vital first half points to keep Mayo ticking over.
Enda Hession won turnovers to start moves for each of Mayo’s last three scores of the first half, to go with his match-saving block.
Paddy Durcan had an off day, missing each of his four shots at goal, but the amount of shooting positions Mayo defenders got into underlined how important their role was. Indeed, almost half (15/32) of Mayo’s shots came from defenders or goalkeeper Rob Hennelly.
MAYO’S shot conversion rate, 15 scores from 32 shots. It was 5/15 in the first half and 2/11 at one stage in the opening period.
KILDARE’S shot conversion rate, 14 scores from 28 shots. Mayo might have been askew in front of the posts but they can consider themselves Kildare were not efficient either.
THE percentage of their own kick-outs Kildare retained (14/25), going as low as 43 percent in the second half (6/14). Mayo retained 90 percent of their own kick-outs, 19/21.
Why exactly were Mayo so poor?
THE key now for Mayo is to establish why and how they were so bad and how correctable it is in two weeks.
We felt the overall standard of individual displays against Monaghan were a note for guarded optimism, but individual displays were so ordinary for long stages on Saturday that you would have to be very fearful about where Mayo are at exactly.
Was there complacency against a Kildare side they thought would be reeling from the Leinster Final? Did travelling up on the day of the game, seven days after the Monaghan match, leave Mayo a bit flat? Such factors are recoverable.
More worrying for the Kerry game would be if Mayo are worn out mentally and physically from the travails of the past few years.
James Horan will know the reality better than most.
The availability of Ryan O’Donoghue is key. Should he be ready for Sunday week, it would be a big boost for Mayo.
But there’s a lot to correct in such a short space of time.
Mayo were wiped out at midfield. They looked dodgy under the high ball. For long stages they looked incapable of scoring or even breaking down Kildare. Less than a handful of Mayo players can be content with their displays.
Sure, they will be stronger than they were in the league final where they lined out without Paddy Durcan, Oisín Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin and Diarmuid O’Connor.
How much better though remains to be seen.