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Clifford question is the big one

Sport

DOUBLING UP Kerry’s David Clifford is challenged by Mayo’s Pádraig O’Hora, left, and Stephen Coen during the National League Division 1 Final in April. Pic: Sportsfile


Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

IF Mayo are to have any chance of giving Kerry a run for their money next Sunday then a few things are going to have to change.
From the Kildare game, and also from the last time they ran into Kerry.
After what happened in that League Final most people, myself included, are on record as saying that the next time Mayo found themselves up against David Clifford in Croke Park, they can’t go ‘man-on-man’ at the back.
And that’s still my position.
Whoever is marking him is going to need extra help. Somebody has to be posted at the top of the ‘D’ to cover Clifford and also to protect that area against Seán O’Shea coming through the middle third.
Mayo were far too open against Kerry in that area in the League Final and they are going to have to defend that sector behind midfield, as well as limiting David Clifford’s impact, much better than they did the last time.
Before we consider who the best man for the job on Kerry’s talisman is, it’s important to note that Mayo are in better shape in some respects in that area of the field than they were going into the League Final. Enda Hession has put two good performances back-to-back and he’s really elevated himself to the level he showed last summer. That’s a big positive.
You could also make the case that Lee Keegan is in better form than he was 11 weeks ago. Oisin Mullin, who missed the League Final, is also back and Padraig O’Hora will have learned a lot from his experience against Clifford the last day.
Choosing who picks David Clifford up isn’t an easy decision for me. You could make a case for Mullin or even Hession, and what about Paddy Durcan? He hasn’t been at his attacking best in the last few games but he’s a brilliant dynamic footballer and has shown in the past he can do a man-marking job.
If he went back on Clifford then it might free Oisin Mullin up to be more of an attacking threat from the half-back line along with Lee Keegan and Eoghan McLaughlin.
I think what James Horan needs to do is identify who he thinks is his best ‘one-on-one’ defender and put him on the spot.
Whoever gets the job has to have the speed to disrupt him and get out in front of him, but his lateral movement is so good that can be difficult. That’s why a sweeper is required.
If Stephen Coen starts, then he will probably get the job. And he should.
But if he doesn’t start, then I wouldn’t mind seeing Lee Keegan in that role because I think he reads the game so well.
He’s also an exceptional tackler and I don’t think there’s a better man in the country to come striding out of defence with the ball.
But that only works if James Horan is happy with all the other match-ups; I’d give Oisin Mullin the job of picking up Seán O’Shea because I think he can hurt him going the other way. But the match-ups will all fall into place once one thing is decided, ‘Who is the best man for David Clifford?’
In terms of defending better behind midfield, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to see all three of Mayo’s midfielders start on Sunday: Mattie Ruane, Aidan O’Shea and Jordan Flynn.
In that scenario, O’Shea is the best man to leave in behind midfield at centre-back when Mayo don’t have the ball. That allows the ‘plus one’ to drop even deeper again so that Mayo can clog up that central channel with two bodies.
That’s absolutely critical.
Mayo just don’t have enough forwards playing well right now to go out with six attackers.

Mayo must start and finish with intensity

I HAVE a feeling that Kerry will be quite cautious going to Croke Park because they haven’t been tested yet. The first priority for Jack O’Connor and Paddy Tally will be defensive solidity at the back. So I expect them to be quite cautious early on and leave Tadhg Morley sitting back.
That wouldn’t bother me too much, to be honest, because the Mayo full-forwardline has been struggling to make an impact recently anyway. Hopefully Ryan O’Donoghue gets back in there and gives the Kerry backs something to think about.
But whether he does or not, I still think Mayo’s best chance of putting scores on the board is going to come from those driving runs through the middle third.
More often than not they come from counter-attacks or from Eoghan McLaughlin and Paddy Durcan driving up the wings. Or Oisin Mullin doing something similar on a counter-attack.
It’s not like Mayo are going to be playing a lot of passes into the edge of the ‘D’ anyway.
Think back to the Kildare game; they were very slow and unwilling to play direct ball into James Carr and Jack Carney.
They should have done it more often but I don’t see a major change in that regard on Sunday.
So I think Mayo’s focus should be on trying to be defensively solid, get as many bodies back as they can, hold on to possession when they have it, and then play the running game when the opportunity arises.
It’s always that bit easier to punch holes in Croke Park, even though it didn’t look that way against Kildare. But I think that was as much to do with them getting everyone back along with Mayo’s general lack of intensity, precision in their passing, and overall lacklustre display. If Mayo start like that against Kerry then there is only going to be one outcome.
They have to bring a ferocious intensity from the start, be defensively solid, dominate around the middle and execute their running game.
If all of that happens, we will get a contest.

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