MANAGING JUST FINE Mayo manager Kevin McStay and Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney shake hands before last Sunday’s National League game in Armagh. Pic: Sportsfile
WHEN Colm Reape boomed over Mayo’s 17th point 67 minutes in against Armagh, it put them five points clear and very firmly in a winning position.
Armagh had only scored four points in the second half and looked like they were fading badly.
Mayo were dominant and appeared in utter control. Keep a clean sheet and it was hard to see anything but two points heading west on the Mayo team bus.
Yet from there on panic seemed to infect Mayo. We had seen a solid defence in only conceding 15 shots and ten scores to Galway. Ditto the first 67 minutes of this game, keeping Armagh to 12 points.
But Mayo’s game management from there on was very poor.
With such a lead there were too many gaps and holes. Armagh could have got two goals, for instance, in that closing spell. Mayo chose to keep trying to go short with their kick-outs. They continued to push up on the Armagh kick-out for most of the game. It was high wire stuff when it didn’t need to be.
Some inexperienced players conceded some frees late on that more grizzled veterans might have been cuter about. They were soft, that’s for sure, but they left referee Fergal Kelly the choice.
Then there was Eoghan McLaughlin’s late shot. It was precisely the wrong thing to do to kick for a point when holding possession would have seen Mayo home.
Instead, the ball goes wide, Armagh subsequently work it up the field and manufacture a free for the leveling score from Rian O’Neill.
If Mayo end up relegated by one point, this game will linger. But, coming at this stage of the year, the propensity to take a lot from this game, both the positives and the negatives, is huge.
Had Mayo held on and won by one point, what would the narrative this week be? Probably along the lines of Mayo withstood a late rally and still managed to grind out a win away to Armagh. The cracks could easily be papered over.
The result means that is not possible. Mayo’s errors and poor game management meant they did not win a game they had done more than enough to triumph in. It has happened too many times over the years that Mayo have struggled to see out a strong winning position.
They have to be hurting and they have to know how this is not good enough.
It was telling to listen to Kevin McStay afterwards.
Speaking to Rob Murphy for The Mayo Football Podcast, he dismissed any talk of a collapse as ‘nonsense’ and that he was not ‘overly frustrated’.
“I see it as being a very important point. A great test for a lot of young lads getting their toes dipped in this level and for the most part came through fine … Can we be smarter and tidier? “Of course we can and I’ve no doubt we will be because they’re quick learners,” he said.
They must learn though, but he is right to say the game will stand to Mayo.
It’s worth noting, as we did last week, Mayo’s inexperience in defence. The full-back line have just 20 senior starts between them. Conor Loftus is playing in defence for the first time.
How Mayo could have done with a Paddy Durcan or Padraig O’Hora back there. Diarmuid O’Connor and Tommy Conroy were missed further forward.
Rob Hennelly is still working his way back from injury.
But Mayo have to be better in such positions.
Mayo started Aidan O’Shea and for three-quarters of the game he was excellent, both as a threat inside and carrying ball from the half-forward line, a place where Mayo struggled to threaten in the last two games.
But he was definitely hitting the wall late on and should have been taken off before the 73rd minute. By then he had coughed up a couple of possessions.
While Jack Carney was not hugely influential, his defensive cover and nous could have been very helpful down the stretch. Would Kevin McLoughlin’s experience not have been invaluable late on too?
Attacking pros and cons
MAYO were struggling in the first half at times, playing into the wind and up the hill. Armagh sat back and invited Mayo on. It was a riddle Mayo struggled repeatedly to solve.
Aidan O’Shea was on the edge of the square and often had two, if not three, men on him. While that should have benefitted Mayo, it also meant that space for James Carr and Ryan O’Donoghue around the ‘D’ was limited.
Mayo had few long-range shooters and their running lines meant rarely were holes punched through the Armagh cover. They missed some of their key hard runners.
When Armagh counter-attacked, Mayo struggled to slow down their point of attack, a problem which would repeat itself before the end of the game.
But Mayo persisted admirably and two injury time points – one of which should have been a goal for Cillian O’Connor – left them just two behind at the break, a good outcome in the circumstances.
Mayo really went after Ethan Rafferty’s kick-out in the second half and had great joy off it although Rafferty’s decision-making has to be questioned too.
O’Shea and O’Donoghue were thriving, Mayo were able to play more direct football and had the mindset and intent to do so. From first-half injury-time to Colm Reape’s point, Mayo outscored Armagh by 0-13 to 0-4.
They were full value for the win that appeared imminent.
But it is never simple when Mayo are in front and we find ourselves talking about learning lessons once more.
Hopefully, as Kevin McStay said, they are quick learners. There were plenty of positives but the nature of the game’s conclusion was another frustrating tale.