PLENTY TO PONDER Mayo manager James Horan has some big decisions to make before next Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final against Kerry. Pic: Sportsfile
1 Team selection
THE one name everyone will be keeping an eye out for this week is that of Ryan O’Donoghue.
Having him available and close to fully fit would be a huge boost. Missing his influence could be a burden Mayo won’t cope with.
While there will be a lot of focus on O’Donoghue’s availability, James Horan has a few other decisions to make too.
Does he keep Padraig O’Hora on the bench? Or has he a role in mind for him from the start?
The same questions apply to Fergal Boland, Darren McHale and Jordan Flynn. All four impressed off the bench against Kildare.
If Flynn starts, and we think he might, what does Horan do with Aidan O’Shea? Does he go to eleven and drop as a second ‘6’, safe in the knowledge Kerry will drop their centre-half back Tadhg Morley to sweep? Or does he hold him in reserve like he did for the first four rounds of the league? That would be a big call.
It’s a tricky call too with Boland and McHale. We think both offer great impact off the bench. They’re able to take scores better than most and can link play well too.
We’re not sure they’re as suited to tighter exchanges like you might see in the first half. If they did start, I’m not sure those they replace will give the same impact coming on.
It’s a tricky balancing act, but keeping McHale and Boland in reserve gives Mayo more punch coming down the home strait. The key is to still be in the mix by then.
2 Defensive approach
MANY are expecting, or at least hoping, that Mayo will play a sweeper to try to avoid a repeat of the damage David Clifford did in the league final.
They may well go down that road, but from years of watching James Horan set up his teams, we’re not so sure he will.
The way Horan looks at football, he will not see the damage Clifford did as being purely down to Padraig O’Hora’s defending. In fact, sometimes there was very little more that O’Hora could have done.
No, Horan will see the dominance Kerry had in the middle eight and the supply that ensued for Clifford.
When you look at who Mayo were missing in the middle eight – Paddy Durcan, Oisin Mullin (either in the middle eight or the full-back line), Eoghan McLaughlin and Diarmuid O’Connor, it is no surprise that Mayo were absolutely overrun there.
Indeed, you’d have to wonder why, given the resources he had, Horan did not set up a bit more cautiously.
But if he let Mayo go toe-to-toe with a skeleton squad, is he really likely to be more cautious with a stronger squad?
We cannot see it.
You might see someone like Aidan O’Shea or Stephen Coen sitting deep from time to time and a greater effort for bodies to funnel back overall, like we saw against Monaghan.
How effective that might be is the $64,000 question.
SO who goes on David Clifford is he starts? And Mayo will have to assume he will.
For all the criticism of Padraig O’Hora’s display in the league final, where Clifford struck 1-5 from play and ran the show, it cannot be forgotten that in the tighter confines of Tralee, on a wet night a few weeks earlier, Clifford took Oisin Mullin for four points from play and was a real creative presence too.
Right now we think James Horan would be happy if Mayo held Kerry’s ace marksman to five points from play. That’s how good he is.
It’s such a big ask to go to one player that we think a rotation might work better.
Mullin, O’Hora and, perhaps, Lee Keegan could take turns and give the job their entire focus while on him, yet have the chance to attack when freed from the task.
We can’t forget Seán O’Shea was missing from the league final (and a few more). He will need a detail and Paddy Durcan might fit the bill, or Oisín Mullin, which might allow him more scope for front foot football.
Paudie Clifford, Stephen O’Brien, Tony Brosnan, Paul Geaney and Killian Spillane are all potential match-winners too. Whoever is not on David Clifford and O’Shea won’t exactly be spared either.
Recall too the damage Gavin White did in the league final, marauding from wing-back. Would Mayo move a wing-back like Eoghan McLaughlin forward to track him?
Or perhaps Enda Hession?
4 The numbers game
SOME of Mayo’s shooting returns recently have been abject.
In the first half against Kildare, Mayo were a paltry 5/16 in shot conversion. As bad as that conversion rate of 31 percent was, it was lower still if you look at Mayo scoring two of their first 11 shots (18 percent) and 1/8 at one stage (12.5 percent).
Against Monaghan, Mayo went 22 minutes in the second half without scoring before Lee Keegan (who else?) steadied the ship. They missed five consecutive shots in that period, starting with Eoghan McLaughlin’s goal chance.
Against Galway, Keegan was also the catalyst for ending an abysmal third/into fourth quarter spell. Mayo scored just one point in 31 minutes in the second half, from six shots.
Any of those sort of spells against Kerry will be fatal.
But there have been positives periods within those games too.
Against Galway, Mayo had nine points from 13 shots in the first half, a conversion rate of 69 percent.
Against Monaghan, Mayo scored with every one of their first seven shots and were 8/10 at half-time.
Against Kildare, after Fergal Boland and Diarmuid O’Connor missed Mayo’s first two chances of the second half, Mayo were an impressive 67 percent (10/15) from there to the finish.
So which is the real Mayo?
The staggering gulfs between when they were good and when they were horrid is quite something.
To win this game you would think Mayo will need 30 shots, which they’ve been in the vicinity of in two of their championship games.
But will need to convert two-thirds of them, a target they’ve not attained.
Do that and you just never know.