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Mayo making marginal gains


ONE THAT GOT AWAY Armagh’s Rian O’Neill celebrates after kicking the equalising score against Mayo in last Sunday’s National League clash at Box-It Athletic Grounds. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics

Billy Joe Padden

MY overall impressions after watching Mayo draw their opening two National League games? I think we’re on the right track.
Leaving the Athletic Grounds last Sunday, of course there was frustration that Mayo hadn’t closed the game out after being five points up coming down the home straight.
But when you assess the two games in a block there are definite signs of improvements; the newer players have gained a lot of experience, and some of the key players are showing they are up for the fight again this season.
There’s a positivity around the new set-up, they are still unbeaten, and they now have two weeks to prepare for Kerry and maybe get the likes of Paddy Durcan, Diarmuid O’Connor and Tommy Conroy back on the field which would obviously give Kevin McStay more options.
In terms of the game itself, there were definitely signs of development and growth at various stages. But the first place that most people will want to focus on in the aftermath is: what happened? How did Mayo not win the game after being five points ahead?
The first thing I’d say is that I thought Colm Reape held his head well and exuded calmness. For a guy starting just his second National League game, I thought he did well.
He got the majority of his kick-outs away to the right areas to the right players, including during those last eight or nine minutes of mayhem.
It was more about what happened out the field that got Mayo in trouble.
There were times when players got caught in possession, got caught waiting for the ball to come to them, and got bottled up without really having any support to lay the ball off to.
That had as much to do with inexperience as anything.
Just thinking about it in the car on the way home, you probably couldn’t have wanted two players more than Lee Keegan and Oisin Mullin during that phase of the game.
They were brilliant at retaining possession, breaking the line and carrying ball upfield.
They also had the physical strength to be able to do that under pressure, and would have been very useful to Mayo in the last five minutes.
Even one of them would have been great!
Of course, there was also one obvious example of when Mayo did manage to break into the Armagh half in the closing stages. . . And people have questions about what happened.
Why didn’t Cillian O’Connor shoot when Ethan Rafferty was out of the goal?
Why did Eoghan McLaughlin shoot for a point when recycling the ball was the smart option?
Mayo didn’t get the same bounce off the bench either that they got against Galway.
Cillian did play well, Aidan O’Shea started, and Diarmuid O’Connor was out injured so he was a big loss.
Those problems we had retaining possession, and moving the ball up the field, in the last five minutes also highlights the issue around Mayo’s half-forwardline at the moment.
If there was a settled half-forwardline, you’d have to think that players would be more comfortable about keeping possession in that area. But Bob Tuohy and Jack Carney don’t look especially comfortable playing in that line at the moment and doing half-forward things. Jordan Flynn, to his credit, does. But Mayo are crying out for somebody to slot in there who’s  a more natural fit for the half-forward line, like maybe a Fionn McDonagh, who did a lot of good things against Armagh. There were a few times when Aidan O’Shea won ball ‘leading out’ from the full-forwardline, and if you had more natural half-forwards, two or three of them might have played off him a bit better.
Maybe the return of Aidan O’Shea to the starting team might free up Diarmuid O’Connor to return to the half-forward line and play in a more advanced position?
It may also help to improve Mayo’s goalscoring threat.

Plenty of reasons to be optimistic
THERE were a few positive things that stood out to me last Sunday.
Firstly, I thought the young defenders took another step forward. There’s a lot of talent in the Armagh attack, and some of them like Conor Turbitt and Andrew Murnin, had their moments last Sunday.  But Jack Coyne did reasonably well on Turbitt and he’ll learn from the experience.
I was impressed with how Rory Brickenden and David McBrien brought the ball out and held their own in a man-marking capacity. They will get an even stiffer test against Kerry.
Conor Loftus did a lot of good organisational work off the ball, but we’ll need to see more from him on the ball as the weeks go by.
Enda Hession was very good on kick-outs, took up good positions, and he drove forward with great intent and pace.
The most impressive aspect of the team though, especially when they were going well in the second half, was around midfield. Aidan O’Shea was immense, Mattie Ruane was good and Jordan Flynn brought a real physical presence.
The three of them seemed to dovetail well together and look like they can be the engine of this team this season.
I thought Aidan O’Shea played his best football last Sunday around the middle of the field, but the best things he did in the full-forwardline was when he was leading out, winning a ball in front and laying it off. That’s an aspect of the game that Mayo have to get better at.
The likes of Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus and Mattie Ruane have got to get more comfortable with that side-footed dink into O’Shea and the others to start creating opportunities for marks and offloads. Because we’re not really creating goalscoring opportunities and maybe it’s going to take somebody like Tommy Conroy, with his electric pace, to create the sort of dynamic movements you need to open up defences.


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