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A different league entirely

Sport

A QUIET WORD Mayo assistant manager Stephen Rochford talks to Jordan Flynn during Friday evening’s Connacht FBD League Final at the University of Galway-Connacht GAA Air Dome. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

SATURDAY evening’s game in Castlebar doesn’t need much selling, does it?
Kevin McStay’s first home league game as the new Mayo manager, against Galway, the reigning Connacht champions and last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists.
Mayo looking to fill the voids left by the departures of Oisin Mullin and Lee Keegan.
Padraic Joyce aiming to keep Galway on top in the local rivalry.
What’s not to like?
In terms of assessing where Mayo are at heading into the National League, we’ve really only got the two recent FBD League matches to go on.
Back-to-back wins won’t have done morale in the group any harm, but two games in the Air Dome doesn’t bear any resemblance to what’s coming down the track.
But it’s worth noting that some of the players who Mayo will need to have big seasons look to be in reasonable fettle.
In particular, lads like Jordan Flynn, Mattie Ruane, Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen Coen and Ryan O’Donoghue showed up well.
But right now there’s so much we don’t know about this Mayo squad.
Kevin McStay said after the game on Friday night that he and the management are still getting to know the players and vice-versa.
It’s still very early days.
One thing we have seen though in the last few games, and especially against Roscommon, is that when Mayo are out of possession they’re much more patient. They’re not looking for instant turnovers, they’re dropping lots of bodies back.
Of course it takes two to tango, and Roscommon adopted the same tactic, so that resulted in the game being quite boring for long spells.
When Mayo didn’t have the ball they dropped everyone back into a deep shell inside their own ‘65 and Roscommon didn’t look to have any impetus to try and break them down in a quick fashion. And that’s perfectly understandable because Mayo wanted to lull them into counter-attacks.
James Horan would be much more inclined to get his team to put pressure on all over the field.
There are still a lot of question marks over Mayo’s team heading into the National League.
The full-back line is still in a state of flux in terms of who’s going to play there. There’s still questions over a lot of defensive positions actually, which is why the form of somebody like Stephen Coen is hugely important.
His experience will be vital.
The FBD League games will be forgotten about next weekend.
The most important thing for a new management team in these early league games is to get some points on the board.
The last thing they will need is to be struggling for results in the first few games, especially if there are a lot of inexperienced players getting minutes.
And they will need to be featuring at some stages because, in terms of the season overall, the National League is going to be more important than ever in terms of developing players because the championship is so condensed and the number of games is high if you go on a run.
But Mayo will still be relying on their big players to deliver and that’s why it’s so important to have Paddy Durcan on the field. We all saw the difference Ryan O’Donoghue made to the forwardline against Roscommon in the first 45 minutes.
His form was the most encouraging thing for me from that game, along with Cillian O’Connor coming on and looking strong and confident.
The expectations on Mayo — inside and outside the county — have changed since Oisin Mullin went to Australia and Lee Keegan retired.
There’s now a real sense of ‘let’s wait and see’ if any of the new players can step up in the absence of the two lads, and that will remove a lot of the pressure on Mayo in the coming months.
Lads like Stephen Coen and Ryan O’Donoghue seem to thrive in pressure environments, when they are asked to lead.
And Mayo will need them to lead this season

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