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Forwards march stalled again

Sport

ON THE BALL Mayo’s Jack Carney wins posession ahead of Kerry full-back Jason Foley during last Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Pic: Conor McKeown

Analysis
Edwin McGreal

NEVER has the refrain about Mayo’s lack of scoring forwards felt as real as it did on Sunday.
Often some of the criticism down the years has been overstated. Critics have said Mayo have no ‘marquee’ forwards. A more reasonable conclusion is Mayo do not have enough top-level forwards.
That was as clear as day against Kerry.
It’s true to say that Mayo sorely missed injured duo Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue. They also missed Cillian O’Connor v.2020. The championship’s all-time leading scorer is clearly not back to 100 percent after a serious Achilles injury.
That there was no doubt but that he had to start this game for Mayo tells you plenty.
But while we might yearn for a fully-fit full-forward line of Messrs Conroy, O’Donoghue and O’Connor, we cannot ignore that our forwards beyond those three have limitations.
We are excited about the fact that we might have three top-class forwards.
That’s still a low number.
But when two of them were missing, and one of them is clearly not back to his best, the supporting cast just wasn’t clinical enough to get the scores we needed. Sure, they have other qualities but scoring and shooting was where Mayo left this game behind. Pressure then filters back to midfielders and defenders to take on the scoring burden.
We recall one incident in the first half where Stephen Coen broke through the ‘45 and handpassed to Jack Carney on the ‘21 but no shot accrued. Neither man had the poise to create a straightforward shot that most other top-level teams would have in that position.
That’s not to be too critical on either player; Coen was really good on Sunday, kicked a great score and was very solid at the back.
Carney landed a real tasty point too, but the fact Mayo have tried to make a full-forward out of him is telling. With time, he has potential in the role but with Ryan O’Donoghue out, the Kilmeena man was put in there against Monaghan and in the two games that followed.
He did really well under the circumstances and showed plenty of savvy. But it is telling that when Mayo are short in the inside line, they turn to midfielders like Carney and, on Sunday, Aidan O’Shea, to try to hurt teams.
We simply don’t have the depth of attacking options other counties have.
So when Stephen Coen and Jack Carney linked for that move, it just highlighted Mayo’s limitations in an attacking sense.
Paul Geaney was really good on Sunday, but he was probably the last forward name on Jack O’Connor’s teamsheet. Robert Finnerty was excellent for Galway and is widely considered the third of Galway’s inside forwards.
I’m not sure if any of Mayo’s starting six forwards would get a place in the Kerry team on current form. That they could still have won this game does not say a lot for Kerry.
Consistently we’ve failed to get enough scoring returns from our half-forward line. Sunday was no exception.
Why we struggle to score is something we want to return to in the coming weeks.

Old failings came back to haunt us

WE stated in the pre-match preview of this game that a wasteful scoring spell like Mayo had endured in their three previous games would be fatal against Kerry.
And so it turned out.
To recap, against Galway, Mayo scored just one point in 31 minutes in the second half. Against Monaghan, Mayo went 22 minutes without scoring in the second half. Against Kildare, Mayo were as low as one point from eight shots at one stage in first half.
At half-time on Sunday, Mayo would have been very happy with where the game was at. Despite a black card for Aidan O’Shea – the reason for which (using inappropriate language to an opponent) seem an outlier in how referees enforce black cards – Mayo were only one point behind, 1-7 to 0-9.
They were 9/17 in shots, a manageable if not excellent return. Crucially there had been no long spell without scoring (11 minutes being the longest), no series of draining misses.
Kevin McLoughlin should have found the net in injury time but a point softened the blow.
Furthermore, Kerry looked very unsettled and rattled. They were spilling ball, taking very poor decisions in possession and looked very vulnerable.
With who Mayo were missing, they needed to see Kerry underperform and to create conditions for it. The weather helped, so did a tighter defensive set-up, but much of the blame has to go straight to Kerry. They will talk of being ‘undercooked’ but on the basis of what we saw, they’ve a lot to get right in two weeks. They butchered so many attacks and were absolutely there for the taking.
But Mayo had to keep doing what they were doing after half time – keep the scoreboard ticking over, keep the game tight and make it a test of character going down the strait.
And they had the opportunities to create that platform that but Mayo’s third quarter performance in front of the posts was shocking.
Kerry looked no more settled after half-time, but Mayo could not punish them.
In the second half, they scored just four times from 15 shots. That was an abject return but the reality is that in the first 15 minutes of this game, Mayo let slip a chance to go ahead and try to control it.
They kicked just two points from eight shots in the first 14 minutes when they were dominant. Some of the misses really sucked the life out of them.
Two by Mattie Ruane, from positions he would be confident of scoring from, saw Kerry go up the field and score. A four point swing.
Paddy Durcan hit the post, Lee Keegan and Jordan Flynn kicked wide.
Diarmuid O’Connor dropped one short.
You could feel the momentum and confidence drain from Mayo with every miss. It also allowed Kerry to settle and when they attacked, they were far more likely to score.
They kept the scoreboard ticking in a way Mayo could not.
James Carr did reduce the gap to a point on 49 minutes, but Mayo followed that with an 19 minute scoreless spell. Kerry scored seven times in that period.
It led to a narrative that Kerry pulled away at their leisure. They did, in the end, but they have Mayo’s wastefulness to thank for that.
It was a really poor game of football and a depressing game to lose when too many old failings came back to haunt Mayo.


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