FLYING FORM Mayo’s Tommy Conroy takes on Roscommon’s Conor Daly during Sunday’s National League match at Dr Hyde Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
MAYO’S fast start had a huge bearing on everything else that transpired against Roscommon last Sunday.
And that got me thinking about the mental approach that Mayo have had in their last three games against Kerry, Tyrone and the Rossies. It’s been rock solid.
Often when you make five changes, and swop out one third of your team, that can send a message to the group that maybe you’re not taking this game totally seriously.
Or that maybe you don’t want to show your hand.
But the fact that Mayo were so focussed from the very start proved otherwise, and that can be driven by the entire group or by individuals like Paddy Durcan, Cillian O’Connor and Tommy Conroy who all wanted to show that they were fit and firing.
They wanted to prove to themselves, and to Kevin McStay, that they were ready for action.
I think it’s worth noting that the mental message is obviously landing with this group.
You can’t underestimate how important it is that senior players like Aidan O’Shea, Paddy Durcan and Cillian O’Connor are setting the right tone at training, and in the dressing-room, even when they’re not starting every game.
Mayo’s mental approach and execution of the game-plan in the first quarter last Sunday was really where they set out their stall.
There wasn’t a whole lot wrong with their performance over the rest of the game.
Yes, there’s room for improvement, and when Mayo watch the game back they’ll probably feel they could have been a bit more physical around the middle third and retained possession better in the second and third quarters.
Kevin McStay and the management will feel that Mayo could have spent more time in the Roscommon half either side of half-time; because they were able to punch holes in the defence on those occasions when they were patient and moved the ball left and right.
They just didn’t do it often enough after the first 20 minutes.
You can be sure though that the fact the teams will play again next month in the Connacht championship was the main focus for Kevin McStay.
For me, that game on Sunday, April 9 is by far the most important game on Mayo’s horizon right now. Picking the right 26-man squad for that game is the priority.
Yes, in the meantime you pick the form XV when you have to for these league matches, but developing the game-plan and the squad to attack the summer is the main objective.
And Roscommon are the first team that Mayo will face.
So that made Sunday’s game all the more intriguing; for example, you saw a different approach in the Mayo full-forwardline with James Carr, Cillian O’Connor and Tommy Conroy playing closer to goal and that meant Jordan Flynn, Jack Carney and Fionn McDonagh all ended up playing deeper and more defensive roles.
That wouldn’t necessarily have been the case if Aidan O’Shea and Ryan O’Donoghue had lined up inside because they would have come out the field more.
But you can see from the way all those players are performing that they’re all comfortable with what they’re being asked to do.
Diarmuid driving on again
THAT leads me to Diarmuid O’Connor, a player I’ve been watching really closely over the last few weeks.
I have to admit, I wasn’t convinced that he could still produce the sort of dynamic displays that he’s became famous for. And I know we’re still a few weeks out from championship, but he seems to be really embracing the role that he’s been given by management.
The way he has gone about his work in a defensive midfield role has been absolutely superb. He’s made some really telling interventions, dispossessing opponents, intercepting passes, and tracking runners and shutting off danger.
Just think of his late intervention last Sunday.
The energy and enthusiasm he’s brought to his game in the last five matches suggests he’s managed to rejuvenate himself again. His decision-making has been really good and he looks like he’s enjoying what he’s being asked to do.
I’m delighted for him, and delighted to be proved wrong.
Cillian’s cuteness a huge plus
WHICH brings me to Cillian.
Watching him do this thing last Sunday, I was struck again by how unique his skill-set is.
The cleverness and experience be brings to the attack is invaluable, and I think there is something in the synergy of the full-forwardline when he is in there.
The same could be said when Aidan O’Shea is close to goal, but there’s now a body of evidence to say that they’re better suited to not operating in there together.
The fact remains though they’re both playing extremely well, and that’s very good news for the team.
So is the strength in depth and options that Mayo now have for the inside line.
There’s the lateral quickness and ball-winning ability of Ryan O’Donoghue, the acceleration of Tommy Conroy and the unpredictability of James Carr.
When you pair those things with the skills that Cillian and Aidan have, there’s the potential to have a really potent first line of attack.
The challenge for Kevin McStay is picking the right three.
My hunch is that it will be a horses for courses approach.
Battle on for number one
I WOULD never claim to be an expert on goalkeepers, but I do have some thoughts on them.
Remember there was a time not so long ago, when David Clarke retired, that we were wondering what the future of Mayo goalkeeping looked like once Rob Hennelly had finished up?
But now Mayo have Rory Byrne and Colm Reape stepping up as viable options, along with Rob who hasn’t featured yet, and Kevin McStay has a really difficult decision to make for the upcoming championship.
I’ve been really impressed with Reape’s kick-outs and his calmness in those situations. He’s also struck his ‘45s really well and, in truth, is the best ’footballer’ of all three keepers in the squad. Knowing that you can pass the ball back to him, and that he’ll be comfortable soloing it out, going by an opponent, and playing a pass away is a big plus.
But all three have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s a hard call to say who starts in that number one jersey next month.